Even When the Roof Collapsed, These Dairy Farmers Refused to Quit

Amanda and Markus Helhi are a young couple, operating the Helhi Family dairy operation near Rimbey, Alberta.  Markus has been working side by side with his father, Heini Helhi, for his entire life, and they are now in the process of succession planning as Markus and Amanda transition into the driver’s seat of the family operation.

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When we visited Markus and Amanda last month to do some filming at the dairy, we arrived at about 5:15am and they were already hard at work in the milking parlour.  As each cow finished being milked the next would be brought into the double 6 flat parlour system, and you could see that even though they’d been through the motions a thousand times before, Amanda and Markus took great care with each and every animal.  Every teat was carefully cleaned and prepped, and Markus several times would stop to jot down notes on his notepad, tracking details that help him to maximize production and also watch out for the health and welfare of the animals.

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Later in the day, Markus shared with us a story that I cannot imagine having to cope with.  A few years ago during an extreme winter snow storm, their dairy barn’s roof collapsed under the heavy snow load, in the middle of the night.  The way that the Helhi family and their friends and neighbours jumped into action and rallied together to first of all save the animals, and then carry on their operation and rebuild with a new and improved barn, is just inspiring.

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How did the barn collapse?

“From one end to the other was down, the whole barn.  But because it happened in the middle of the night, the cows were in their stalls and the roof rested on the stalls.  So they were trapped and couldn’t get up, but they were okay.”

“It was minus 25C, and we had come out prepared to milk, so we went back and got dressed warmer, grabbed flashlights and called a few neighbours.  We thought about calling the fire department but decided not to, because once they’re there, it’s their scene and they’re most concerned for human safety, where we were more worried about the cows.”

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“We had tractors right outside, so we took the stalls apart and then put halters on the cows and brought them out where they could get up and walk on their own, chased them into the holding pen, milked them, then put them along the outside of the barn.  Our parlour was ok, so we were able to milk.  Had the parlour gone done we wouldn’t have been able to milk.”

 

Where did the cows stay while the new barn was being built?

“It took 3 tractors all day to clean out the hay barn.  We put all the hay and straw outside, and then bedded it up and somebody brought over some panels and got a bunch of tarps and tarped it all off.  So it was really good, people were just right there to help.”

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We all know that farmers work hard, and dairy farmers in particular have that reputation for dependability and determination, as those traits are basically built right into the job description and the demands of their milking schedule.  Markus and Amanda’s story is one that we hope will inspire many young people in agriculture to carry on, no matter what obstacles get in the way.

 

If you liked Markus and Amanda’s story, check out the rest of the#Farmvoice Stories here.

 

 

 

 

This Young Family Has Figured Out the Ultimate Food for the Soul

Ben and Stephanie describe themselves as just a couple of regular people who want to make a positive difference for their community and the environment. But believe me, they are far from ordinary!
Having both grown up on family farms, and now with a family of their own (their two boys are 2 years old and 10 weeks old!), their dream is to build up their grass finished beef business, Grazed Right, to the point where Ben can leave his day job as a construction engineer. Ben and Steph are building much more than an agrricultural business that sells healthy, sustainable, local food to consumers. They are building a business, and building their family, upon a set of core values that will truly resonate with anyone in the business of farming. And when you hear what those values are, I think you’ll agree that if anyone can make it in agriculture – and quit their day job – it’s Ben, Steph and their amazing family.

 

When we were visiting with Ben and Steph as they played with Henry on the living room floor, the topic of “risk” and “security” came up, and the question of “will the benefits outweigh the risks?”.

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Ben’s response was one that I’ve never heard before from a farmer, and it’s one that I think more of us should really adopt!

“When you don’t have a lot, then if it all fails we’ll just be back where we were a couple of years ago. We’ve been behind everyone all our lives you know, we could have finished university when we were 22 and had a job engineering in the city downtown and made lots of cash. And instead you know, we went to Africa and we spent more time in school, and I took a year off and did falconry, and we did all sorts of stuff so we’re way behind anyways. We’re running a different race now.”

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Life Gave This Family Small Pumpkins, But Look What They Made!

Shayne and Vicky Horn are friends of ours, and they have a pretty incredible story.  Their farm, Tangle Ridge Ranch, is a small mixed farm located near Thorsby, Alberta.  They raise pastured lamb and beef and sell directly to consumers and restaurants in Edmonton, Calgary and other communities in Alberta.

We went to visit Tangle Ridge Ranch recently, and after Shayne gave us a tour of the yard and pasture – along with his trusty (and giant) guardian dog, Mojito – we went inside to catch up with Vicky, who had just finished getting lunch ready for the kids.  We sat down to interview Vicky and Shayne in their gorgeous home and I quickly realized this was an interview that I wouldn’t soon forget.  It’s not every day that you hear what it’s like for a young couple to start a farm from scratch, when neither of them even grew up on a farm!  They shared their biggest struggles and frustrations, as well as some valuable insights for other people who might just be starting out in agriculture or thinking of pursuing their dreams of having a farm.  And at 3:15 into the video, Vicky shares a story that will melt you, of what their 5 year old daughter Shelby decided to do with her failed crop of tiny pumpkins.

And Shayne’s biggest piece of advice to other young farmers?

“I think the biggest thing is to talk to people.  Find people that are doing something similar to what you want to do, because I gaurantee you 100% that they’ve been at that same place before.  And so whether it be an older couple that’s doing it or a younger couple that’s been doing it for a while, you know, I would find someone to talk to.  That’s what we did.”

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Why This Farmer Came Back Home After 17 Years Away

Melissa and Murray’s story is a pretty incredible example of how many young farmers are finding their way back to the farm, come hell or high water, or sometimes both. 😉
We’ve been in touch with Melissa for a couple years now, hearing about their progress ever since she shared her testimonial with us and how she and Murray were inspired after watching The FarmOn Manifesto to find a way to take over Murray’s parents’ farm.  It was the farm Murray’s great-grandfather homesteaded back in 1910, and that old red barn where the horses were fed over a century ago, still stands strong.  Walking through that barn I could see various family members’ initials carved into the rough wooden beams.  And now, since Melissa and Murray moved onto the farm just a few months ago, their son Colten calls this place home and he’s the 5th generation in the family to walk into the loft of that big barn and maybe one day add his own initials.

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Keeping up with Colten (doesn’t that sound like a great title for a reality TV series?), wasn’t easy.  He’s full of energy, and just like most 4 year olds, he’s just as full of questions.  So I had a lot of fun with him as we went outside to feed the cattle and bust up the frozen water bowls.

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Before I left, we all piled into Murray and Melissa’s truck and drove through the snow drifts out to their neighbours’ house, where we sat and visited with 80 year old Rod and his wife Carole, both of them real characters.  Gathered around the wood burning stove in the kitchen of their little Eaton’s catalogue home, Rod handed everyone a Coke and within seconds we were all laughing hysterically, listening to Carole talk about the early days of farming with no electricity and no plumbing in the house.  Rod and Carole still have a herd of about 80 head of cattle, and I’d say they’re living proof that farm life keeps a person young at heart.

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One of my favourite lines from the interview we filmed with Murray and Melissa, was when they started thinking about the words of wisdom and advice that they’d want to pass along to other young farmers.  Murray is no doubt extremely happy to be back home on the farm, carrying on another generation of farming in the family, but his answer was simple and probably one that many of you would relate to:  “Don’t live with your parents at calving time!”

Here’s Murray and Melissa’s story, and if you like it make sure you also check out the rest of our #FarmVoices Stories playlist on YouTube.

 

5 Young Sisters Carry on Their Parents’ Legacy After the Biggest Challenge of Their Lives

In 2007, Leona Dargis and her 4 younger sisters experienced the unimagineable.  Their parents, Jean and Joanne Dargis, as well as their grandmother Anita Dargis, were killed in a plane crash near Swan Hills, Alberta.  The 5 girls, two of them still in high school at the time of the accident, were faced with the challenge of succeeding their parents estate and making decisions of what would happen to the family farm.
We had the privilege of interviewing Leona and hearing the story of how these 5 amazing young women not only carried on their parents farm business for the past 8 years, but more importantly, what they learned from the years that they had with their parents on the farm.
“Mom and Dad supported us to be who we wanted to be, and do what we wanted.  It wasn’t to stay on the farm, it wasn’t to go away from the farm, it was totally just ‘pursue your passions and follow your dreams’, and if something doesn’t work out then try something new.”

Leona’s own path has been an incredible journey, including a Nuffield scholarship that took her around the world and added a global perspective to her understanding of the issues facing farmers around succession planning.  And now, her career in public speaking offers her the chance to inspire many more people to live life to its fullest.  But what really took me by surprise was what Leona plans on doing next, which she talks about at 5:06 into the video.  Leona, as well as her 4 sisters, have an enthusiasm for life, a work ethic, and a passion for agriculture that are sure to take them to unbelievable places and make their parents very, very proud.

 

 

Kelsey and John Beasley’s Ranch Story

Working in a large family ranch operation isn’t always easy, but as Kelsey and John Beasley will tell you, it also comes with incredible rewards and advantages. Their story is an example of the passion, determination, courage and wisdom that it takes to be successful in this farm business.

Though John has been a rancher for a long time, it all started for Kelsey when she moved out to the ranch and became a rancher’s wife. Both John and Kelsey grew up in Alberta, however their first experience ranching together was in Western Manitoba. When John’s family ranch in Alberta was divided up they made the decision to move back home, and have been ranching here ever since.
Kelsey and John Beasley’s Ranch Story

Matthew Gould’s Farm Story

When Matthew Gould was young he always knew he wanted to be a farmer. In fact, he made this known to his family from an early age saying that when he was older he would be farming with his Dad. He comes from afarm family, through and through, and all of his siblings have been involved with the farm from a young age.

His familiar, but unique farm story is well worth a watch, if not two! So please, feel free to hit play on the video below and learn about the young farmer, Matthew Gould.


Matthew Gould’s Farm Story

Jen Jenkins’ Story

We’re happy to introduce you to Jen Jenkins.  She’s the new online facilitator.  But more importantly, she has an incredible farm story.

 

A Trip to Africa Inspired this Young Man to Leave the Suburbs and Become a Farmer

Mike Kozlowski had never been to a farm, and grew up like most people in North America, with no clue where his food came from. A trip to Africa changed that, and changed his life forever, leading him on a journey to learn about farming in Canada, and eventually, an entrepreneurial career in agriculture as the founder of Steel Pony Farm!

 

What did you learn from touring farms across Canada?

I’ve learned so much, it’s been really important but I’ve kind of realized the value of coming together around food, and building community around food.  Because I think that right now the food system is so dehumanized.  For the most part we don’t know any of our producers.  We don’t have any sense of where the food we’re eating comes from.  But it seems like once you can start to connect with those people, you bring this power back where you start to take some agency in what you’re putting in your body.

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How did you make the decision to become a farmer?

I felt like I knew enough, and had the skills and I had some of the resources ready to set out on a venture like this, and so I just got in there and I decided to start this farm.  I gathered together a couple of friends to support me as employees and just went for it.  So it was a big leap of faith, but it’s going really well.

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How do you think our food system needs to change?

For me I guess the big question is, how can we start to adjust the way that we’re thinking as individuals about agriculture, but also the way we’re thinking as a larger society about agriculture, so that we can produce these healthy tomatoes and lettuces and radishes to start to nourish society – to grow a society that again is healthy and compassionate and loving and cares about the Earth.

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