Nichole Van Dyk

Future Family Farming


When it comes to the future of her family’s blueberry farm, Nichole Van Dyk has always known she would be part of it.

The opportunity to become a farmer and a part of the larger agricultural landscape in Canada is a privilege. It’s difficult to start out and even more difficult to maintain, yet most farmers, young or not so young, will tell you it’s worth the work.

What’s even more of a privilege is being part of a farming family and understanding the critical importance of agriculture from the youngest possible age. Nichole Van Dyk is the third generation of Van Dyk’s to be absolutely certain of her lot in life. “To be honest, there was never a time where I thought I wanted to do anything else,” Nichole says of being part of her family’s blueberry farm. “Growing up, I never wanted a summer job off the farm. So, I think I started working at around age 12 with my father on the weekends and school breaks. From there, I always worked on farm whenever I could. I always really enjoyed it.”

Nichole is very quick to say that a big part of her motivation to work within the family blueberry business is her family, both immediate and extended. “My grandparents immigrated from the Netherlands with $200, a kitchen table and four chairs. My grandmother had a few cookbooks, and a few cookware items; my grandfather had a few tools. They started purchasing blueberry land in the early 1960s. The family, the family legacy and working so close with family are why I love what I do.”

Van Dyk is a name synonymous with blueberries all across the province of Nova Scotia, thanks first to Nichole’s grandparents, Cornelius and Henrica, and now thanks to her father and some of his siblings. Together, the family has taken an already thriving business and secured its success well into the future by innovating and expanding the business itself. “My father, Peter Van Dyk, my uncle, Charles Van Dyk and my aunt, Jeannie Van Dyk, own the blueberry production part of our business,” says Nichole. “Then we have our two value-add companies. We make 100% pure wild blueberry juice and that company is owned by a different uncle, Leo Van Dyk and another aunt, Anne Selig. Then, we have a second value-add company which is Van Dyk Specialties, where we dry wild blueberries. We dry them in a microwave under vacuum and get three different products from that production line. We have a chewy wild blueberry, a crunchy wild blueberry and then we make a powder. Then we also have roughly 200 honeybee hives and sell honey products.”

Nichole’s role in the family business varies from month to month and depends on what arm of the business is busy, when. She and her father care for the honeybees, which are used not only to produce honey and honey products but also for pollination across the many different wild blueberry sites the farm owns. “We have land from Yarmouth County all the way to Cape Breton; we’re about 2.5 hours from our Yarmouth land and about 5 hours from our Cape Breton land. As difficult as that can be, it can also be a big benefit for us because each county blossoms at a different time for pollination, and it’s ready to harvest at different times as well.” The Van Dyk family has about one thousand acres of wild blueberries in production, although only half is harvested each year to allow the other half to rest and naturally regenerate.

While every day for Nichole is different, she’s more than happy to be working alongside her family and having a hand in securing the farm’s future for the next several generations to come. “To see where my grandparents started and where we are now, with their hard work and dedication, being able to carry that on makes me quite proud,” Nichole says. “My father is one of nine siblings. There are 20 of us grandchildren and now there are 10 great grandchildren, one of which is mine. Having my daughter grow up and be involved in the business and in agriculture in general makes me very excited.”

For Nichole Van Dyk, helping to build the family blueberry business is definitely worth the work.

“To see where my grandparents started and where we are now, with their hard work and dedication, being able to carry that on makes me quite proud.

Dane Froese

What Matters Most


When it comes to starting your own farm business, you can get by with a little help from your friends – as long as you’ve got some.

Farming is about relationships.

Yes, it’s more typically about weather and crop rotations and grocery store prices and yields. But even those things wouldn’t be possible without the farmer knowing people or working with people. So, farming is about relationships.

Most especially when it comes to starting your own farm business, as Dane Froese well knows.

Although his parents began farming in 1990 near Winkler, Manitoba, Dane has farmed independently since 2014, purchasing his first 80 acres soon after he’d graduated from the University of Manitoba. Since then, he’s slowly grown his business through renting neighbouring acres from those neighbours who own them, again emphasizing the importance of maintaining relationships. Dane also works full time off the farm for Manitoba Agriculture as the Oilseeds Specialist. One might wonder how Dane finds the time to get everything done on the farm if he’s also committed to working full time off of it. “So, what we do is, we trade labour and knowledge and expertise,” Dane says of how things work between his farm and that of his parents’. “Having gone to university for agronomy, I handle a lot of the agronomy and grain marketing and things myself. I make those decisions for both farms. As we purchase and upgrade machinery, I have a share in my parents’ operation and then have access to that machinery. My dad’s a mechanic so I don’t do much of the fixing myself. We split the duties to utilize our strengths. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to run the farm the way I do, not without the other operation.”

While farming is definitely about relationships, it’s also about money. When it comes to starting a farm, Dane understands that growing up as a farm kid makes him one of the lucky ones. “The access to capital and being able to guarantee your first loan if you’re successful enough to buy land is almost impossible without that external guarantor. That initial one or two pieces of land, how do you do it? I think that’s one of the biggest challenges facing young farmers today.”

Relationships are what Dane is choosing to focus on as he considers the future of his farm. Maintaining careers off-farm works for Dane and his wife, an engineer, for now. But it’s the relationships he’s cultivating currently that will hopefully help him grow his farm into the future. “If land goes to tender or to open bid for rent or purchase, you’ve already lost,” Dane says. “The competition for land is intense. Everybody is trying to find a little piece of ground. You have to have those relationships so then when a farmer decides to leave the industry, you have the first opportunity to access the land before it opens to the public.”

There is a succession plan in place for Dane’s parent’s farm, and the fact that they farm “separately but together” ensures they remain successful. “Between what I farm and what my parents farm, we’re close (to 3000 acres). But we’d like to get a little larger than that, just to make sure we can invest in the farm with things like improved grain drying and handling systems and diversifying our crop rotation a little bit more, and to keep a hired hand on full time. But I also don’t want to necessarily rely on my parents’ farm land (to keep farming independently). I want to prove to myself that I can do it, too.”

Maintaining strong external relationships with those around you helps make farming a little bit easier, especially on the hardest days. But that internal relationship with yourself, being proud of your accomplishments, and knowing that you’re always doing your best on behalf of not only your family but also the farm itself, matters just as much. “What makes me the most proud is that we’re always improving. We’re always making something better. This land has been farmed for over 100 years by now, and the fact that it’s still healthy and producing good yields is amazing.”

“What makes me the most proud is that we’re always improving. We’re always making something better. This land has been farmed for over 100 years by now, and the fact that it’s still healthy and producing good yields is amazing.

Travis Hopcott

Back to the Farm


Just because you were born into farming doesn’t mean you will become a farmer – at least, not before you’re ready to be one.

Multi-generational family farms aren’t as easy to come by as they were, say, a decade ago. Farming is hard work. There is no glamour and very little fortune in choosing to grow food for your community and your country (and other countries!). The call of doing something different, something more lucrative, has been strong for many farm kids, and so, we lose them to a life outside of agriculture. Sometimes it’s for good. But in the case of Travis Hopcott, it was only for a little while.

For Travis, the choice to leave his family’s farm in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia – even if only for a while – was one he made early on. “I understood when I was younger that you never, ever should work solely for the family business; without working off the farm. For me, you lose the opportunity to work for others and perhaps even take the family business for granted, what it means to work for family. So, I worked off the farm; I went to post-secondary education for accounting and took an ag tech diploma. I also worked abroad, for a farm in England as their sales rep for Western Canada. I wanted to do other jobs and travel, at the very minimum. But by the end of that phase, I knew that this was the best option for me.”

Travis, along with his sister Jenn and brother Brad, are now the third generation to farm the land they have. “The farm itself was purchased by my dad’s dad, my Poppa,” says Travis. “He bought the farm in 1932 for $9000.” (laughs)

There are now several different branches that make up the Hopcott Farms business, including retail grocery, a bistro, meat counter and soon-to-be abattoir, cranberries, plus a wedding and events venue and even hay and manure sales. Travis is responsible for everything to do with the 72 acres of cranberries they grow each year, selling to the Ocean Spray Cooperative. His sister, Jenn, is the retail manager, and brother Brad is the cattle farmer of the family.

2022 will mark 90 years for Hopcott Farms. While it’s always interesting to look back and see where you’ve come from, Travis and his family are already looking forward. “When it comes to sustainability, the business has to be environmentally, economically and socially stable. So, those three pillars are our focus. People tend to be very quick to call themselves an entrepreneur. It’s very trendy these days, I think. They say a good entrepreneur is someone who has resilience. To me, that’s what Canadian agriculture is all about, which makes me proud to be part of it.”

While some may have the next 90 years planned down to a tee, Travis’ vision isn’t quite that forward-thinking. “It’s the unknown (about farming that I enjoy). Having something in front of you and you know the result will be based on what you put into it and how much you love the job. Agriculture is obviously one of the more riskier businesses to get into because you can’t control weather or price. So, it’s somewhat of the risk factor that I like, too. And also knowing that the people in our community trust our products so much that they want to bring it into their homes with their families. That’s something everyone here should be proud of.”

Having business and work experience both on and off the farm has given Travis a solid perspective of how to continue his family’s 90-year-old farm business. When asked what he’d say to new, first generation farmers, Travis’ advice is helpful no matter whether you’re brand new to farming or were born on one. “Only focus on what you can control. Be proactive, and know when to pivot quickly. Talk to others and make friends in your industry. Even try to have a mentor or a peer group you can bounce ideas off of. Get to know people, because most people are generally very willing and even eager to help. So, get out there and meet as many people as possible.”

“When it comes to sustainability, the business has to be environmentally, economically and socially stable. So, those three pillars are our focus.