Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers (COYF) had to forego the usual flurry of hugs and handshakes at their annual awards week this year, but they still ran an informative online event in early December.
There were no winners to be announced for 2020. That part of the program was just postponed to, hopefully, later in 2021 — if the vaccine works and the creek don’t rise there is a good chance COYF will be able to host a live national awards program in Saskatoon this coming December.
Part of the online program for 2020 was a bit of a walk down memory lane or one of those “Where are they now?” type shows. Seven of the COYF alumni from across the country spent a few minutes before the camera (computer screen) providing an update on where their farm operations are at today since the year when they were named national winners.
Unlike many of the out-of-the-spotlight Hollywood celebrities that get old and fat and are either coming or going to or from rehab, the COYF alumni all looked to be hale and hearty and moving forward in life.
Kevin and Annamarie Klippenstein
Kevin and Annamarie Klippenstein of Cawston, B.C., a small community in the south Similkameen Valley, had a 30-acre organic fruit and vegetable operation when they were COYF winners in 2011. Well they’ve grown to 50 acres of organic fruit and vegetables, added a cider business to the farm, and also now operate an award-winning Row Fourteen Restaurant on the farm that completes the farm-to-fork cycle. They are also building a retail outlet for the farm, which should be open later this year.
Richard and Marion Stamp
Richard and Marion Stamp of Enchant, Alta., about an hour north of Lethbridge, are still involved in the Stamp Seeds business they established in 1978, but it truly has become a family operation. Named COYF winners in 1998, Rick and Marion were the first generation starting out with 200 acres and the farm has grown to 7,000 acres of irrigated and dryland seed production. Somewhere in there four children came along — three boys and a girl — and they are all involved in the farm, or at least some aspect of agriculture.
Now coming along is the third generation of 14 grandchildren. Some of them are already showing interest in being involved in the farm. Along with producing seed of 20 different crops, they also offer seed cleaning, seed treating and a retail operation.
With their three sons actively involved in farm management and operation, the Stamps say they really didn’t have a particular plan when the kids were growing up.
The Stamps involved them in dinner time farm discussions, when the kids were old enough to work, they paid them regular wages just like anyone else, encouraged them all to get a post-secondary education, and encouraged them all to work away from the farm for a while before making their career decisions.
There was no high-pressure sales pitch, but the farm was always there — a viable and attractive career option. And as the three sons have joined the farm business, it’s also time to step back and let them manage things on their own. And if any mistakes are made, that’s all part of learning, too.
Barb Stefanyshyn and John Cote
In Saskatchewan, Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote and husband, John Cote, were grain and oilseed producers near Leask, Sask., for many years and were named COYF award winners in 2001.
About six years ago, they decided to take the farm business in a whole new direction. They stopped farming at Leask, bought an 80-acre parcel about 100 kilometres away, close to Saskatoon, where they built a distillery and now grow flowers. As Barb says, they are in the “booze and bloom” business today. They have established Black Fox Distillery (name inspired by a black fox that used to visit the Leask farm) where they produce award-winning gin and whisky, and also host about 10,000 visitors a year who come to tour the operation and sample products. A lot of work and a steep learning curve, for sure, but Barb says one of the best parts of the job is helping inform and connect urban types to the agriculture industry.
Dustin and Laura Williams
Dustin and Laura Williams from Souris, Man., who were named COYF winners in 2012, are fine-tuning their 4,700-acre Ash Haven Farm in a big way. With increasing land prices in the area, Williams says expanding the land base wasn’t a viable option, so he’s focused on improving the productivity of the existing farm, with hopes of growing higher value crops.
He says fighting feast-or-famine weather conditions over the past 10 years has definitely been a challenge — sometimes conditions are too wet and other times a virtual drought. He’s fighting that challenge from both ends.
He is installing tile drainage on some of the low-lying land, developing collection reservoirs for tile and surface runoff water, and then will use that water to irrigate part of the farm. Along with including a number of soil conservation measures on the farm, he plans to produce higher value, specialty crops.
Dusty Zamecnik of EZ Grow Farms near Langton, Ont., has been expanding his fruit propagation business since he was named COYF winner in 2017. A Phase 2 greenhouse expansion, soon to be followed by a Phase 3 expansion, is producing product for an expanding international market. At one time, producing 100,000 strawberry plants was a big deal, and now he is shipping 20 million plants to south Florida alone.
Along with strawberry growers across Canada, he’s also supplying product to several Caribbean countries, and since he employs seasonal workers from the region, another part of his international business involves setting up greenhouse operations and getting those workers involved in food production in their home countries.
Dominic Drapeau and Celia Neault
My apologies for missing the English translation for Quebec alumni Dominic Drapeau and Celia Neault as they provided an update on their dairy farm at Ste. Francoise-de Lot, about 45 minutes from Drummondville, Que. When they were named COYF winners in 2016, they were milking about 625 head. Their farm has grown — now one of the largest in Quebec, if not Canada, and they have quite a team of employees, which has certainly put more emphasis on their management and HR skills.
Steve and Jessica Reeves
And from Prince Edward Island, Steve and Jessica Reeves of Reeves Farm, owner and operators of Brookhill Holsteins, continue to grow their farm business since being named COYF in 2005. Today, working with Steve’s parents, they are milking 96 head of cows and crop about 600 acres of corn, barley and soybeans.
Steve says it is great being connected to the Outstanding Young Farmer program and having a network of capable and progressive thinkers to call upon. Along with the dairy, they also operate a retail seed business, which Steve says actually stemmed from a chance conversation with one of the OYF members. As part of their seed business, they sell a large variety of seeds, including corn, soybean, grass seeds and cover crop species, such as sorghum-sudan grass and pearl millet to name a couple.
The full presentations are available on the COYF website at oyfcanada.com.