Young farming couples from Saskatchewan and Quebec have been named Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2012
Vance Lester and Susan Echlin, who operate a successful fruit winery near Saskatoon, and Martin Brodeur Choquette and Johanne Cameron, who have built up a flock of 1,200 sheep on their farm near St. Hyacinth, Que., were named winners at the national awards competition held in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Lester and Echlin have been building their award winning Living Sky Winery at Perdue, Sask., since 2005. Choquette and Cameron both began building their respective sheep flocks in their teens and early 20s and combined their love of farming and agricultural skills when they met in 2004. Today they operate a successful lamb and purebred sheep farm — Les Bergeries Marovine — at St-Charles-sur-Richelieu.
Lester and Echlin told the more than 200 OYF alumni and guess attending the national event that while their product is wine, they are farmers first. They grow and make wine from cherries, rhubarb, black currents, raspberries and haskap from a 10-acre orchard which they plan to expand by about 50 per cent over the next couple of years.
They located the orchard by a large pond for the rare times they need to irrigate the crop. “We’re not certified organic, but operate as if we are,” says Sue.
To accommodate processing, they purchased the old Co-op store in a nearby town, and completely retrofitted it into a CFIA inspected facility with tank space for about 11,000 litres of wine at any one time. Production reached 18,000 litres in 2012.
While it sounds like a warn out phrase, “it really is a difficult decision” to select only two from a field of excellent candidates, says Rick Thiessen, an OYF alumni winner from Abbottsford, B.C. who along with OYF alumni Alan Bryson of Que., and former P.E.I. premier Pat Binns were judges for the 2012 competition.
The two national winners are selected from a field of seven regional OYF nominees. Other 2012 nominees include Peter and Nicole Tuytel, dairy producers from Chilliwack, B.C.; Robert and Angela Semeniuk, grain farmers from Smoky Lake, Alta.; Dustin Williams and Laura McDougald-Williams grain farmers from Souris, Man.; Cory and Heidi Van Groningen, beef producers from Cayuga, Ont.; and Mark and Sally Bernard, organic grain and livestock producers from Freetown, P.E.I.
The 2012 event was the first time the national OYF awards ceremony was held in P.E.I. in its 32-year history. Next year the OYF awards will be hosted by the Saskatchewan regional OYF committee and will be held in conjunction with the Canadian Western Agribition livestock show in Regina in mid-November. †