Meet ‘Agriculture Today’ blogger and farmer Angela Jones

Angela Jones and her husband Michael operate their farm in North East Saskatchewan. They grow cereal, oilseed, pulse crops and raise bison with the help of Michael’s cousin.

They currently have one other employee and their boys who are 11 and 14, put in shifts when they can. Michael oversees all parts of the operation and handles the marketing, while Angela handles the finances. During seeding and at harvest time though, everyone pitches in! Whether it’s operating equipment, washing windows, fuelling up machinery, running for parts or any other job that needs to be done, everyone participates. Truly, a family business.

Angela began blogging in 2014 after trying to explain farming practices to a young university student. “It was at that moment when I realized farmers were fighting an uphill battle to help consumers understand the challenges facing food production. When blogging it is sometimes difficult to find a narrative that appeals to both consumers and people involved in food production. My goal is to connect with consumers and to be transparent about the parts of agriculture that I have experience with, while hopefully learning from and supporting people in other areas of agriculture.”

RealDirt: How has farming changed since you started farming?

Angela: The changes in farming are too numerous to list! Technology in every area of agriculture adapts and adjusts so rapidly that it is a full time job to keep on top if it all. I think this is why I love farming so much, it never lets you get bored and there is no monotony (well, unless you are picking stones – that’s pretty monotonous). My kids constantly bug me and Michael about the amount of time we spend ‘playing games’ on our phones when in reality I am reading up on the newest studies and advances in crop breeding or pesticides and he is keeping up on the latest marketing news or equipment technology.

RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?

Angela: My husband and I do a lot of volunteering. He sits on the local minor sports board and works with a local group of farmers on an annual crop fundraising project called Farmers and Friends, I help out with the local 4H Grain Club, and we both recently sat on a Cameco Hockey Day Committee that raised over $100,000 for our local recreation centre. We keep busy in the winter with our youngest son’s hockey team. Our oldest son enjoys outdoor activities, so we try to find time to camp or fish when we can.

RealDirt: What has been the most challenging part of farming?

Angela: I have been asked this question before and my answer was the financial uncertainty that comes with farming. There is no doubt that it is tough to put your heart & soul and all your time into something without a guaranteed pay cheque – we cannot set the prices of the product we sell and Mother Nature or government regulation can make things tough. BUT recently I have reflected on this answer and decided that the increase in misinformation about agriculture through social media is by far the hardest part. Time after time I see blog posts & web pages promoting false information about food production in order to sell consumers something, film producers exaggerating claims about agriculture in order to make a documentary more dramatic, or activists sharing untrue messages in order to push an agenda. The question on how to get the truth to consumers often keeps me up at night.  

RealDirt: What is one message you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do? 

Angela: I think the most important message to convey to people not involved in agriculture is just how much we care about what we do. The profession of farming is one based on pride and a deep sense of responsibility and we do not take management decisions lightly, whether that is using hormones, antibiotics, fertilizer or pesticides. So I guess the message I really want to get across is that farmers care. We care about our animals, we care about the soil, we care about the product we sell, we care about our customers, and we care about the environment. We care about those things a lot.  

 

You can connect with Angela on her blog, Instagram, Twitter (@AGtodayblog) or Facebook.

Blogger Spotlight: Adrienne Ivey’s View From the Ranch Porch

We’re putting the spotlight on Canadian farmer bloggers. Each month, we feature a different farmer blogger to uncover a bit about life behind the blog and on their family farm.

Adrienne IveyMeet Adrienne Ivey of Evergreen Cattle Co., located near Ituna, Saskatchewan. She blogs at www.viewfromtheranchporch.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter @adrienneivey and Instagram @aderivey

Here’s what Adrienne had to say about blogging and her family’s farm in our Q and A.

RealDirt: When and why did you start blogging?

Adrienne: Growing up on a grain farm in northeast Saskatchewan, and now owning and operating a cattle ranch have helped me to see that I love all parts of agriculture — from canola to cattle. I started blogging about a year ago to share my passion for all things ag with those not fortunate enough to live this life. Although I had been sharing my story frequently on social media, I needed more space! Blogging also helped me share another passion of mine: amateur photography. Life on the ranch is beautiful, and I love being able to share that beauty with those not as lucky as myself.

RealDirt: Tell us briefly about your farm.

Adrienne: Our farm consists of an 1,100 pair cow-calf herd, a 1,000 head yearling grasser program, and a 2,500 head feedlot. For all of these animals, we manage over 9,000 acres of land.

Our cattle are intensively grazed, and are out on pasture 365 days per year. Forages are the heart of our operation, in fact we like to say that we are not cattle farmers, we are grass farmers and the cattle are a tool to harvest that grass.

Our cows calve in late spring and early summer. The pairs are moved every few days onto fresh grass through a grazing plan that is set out at the beginning of the year. The calves stay with the cows until around February when they are weaned. After weaning, calves are fed in our feedlot until they can be turned out in early spring. Those calves are grazed as yearlings, or “grassers” for the summer. At fall, they are fed in a feedlot until they reach a finished weight.

Our farm is very much a family operation. Nothing makes me more proud then to be raising two small ranchers. Our children are actively involved in the daily chores of the farm, and even own their own goat herd. We like to say that we do not use our children to raise cattle; we use our cattle to raise better children.

Adrienne Ivey 2RealDirt: What is the biggest misconception about your type of farming?

Adrienne: I think that non-ranching people don’t realize just how well ranchers care for their animals. We lay awake at night thinking of ways to improve our herd health, and create a whole-farm system that keeps every animal both healthy and happy. Ranchers are often portrayed in the media in two ways, as uneducated country bumpkins (dusty cowboy hats and manure-stained boots), or as money-hungry corporate types that have little to do with daily ranch operations. The reality is that ranchers are highly-educated (we have over 12 years of post-secondary education on our ranch alone) business people that choose to get their hands and boots dirty on a daily basis. We truly love working with animals.

RealDirt: What is your greatest achievement thus far?  What are your goals? 

Adrienne: It is really difficult to choose our greatest achievement, because most days just being able to live this life seems like the highest possible achievement. One moment that really stands out was being named 2014 Saskatchewan Outstanding Young Farmers. Saskatchewan is full of really amazing farms and farmers, so being chosen for this award was a huge honour.

Going forward we really only have one goal: to build a ranch that is sustainable both environmentally and economically, while bringing the best and most delicious beef to the marketplace.

RealDirt: What do you love most about farming? What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?

Adrienne: I absolutely love that cattle ranching is the art of combining nature and human will. Our vast grasslands are home to so many species of wildlife and birds. We are fortunate to be able to spend the majority of our days surrounded by that kind of beauty. As ranchers, it is our job to take the power of nature and use it to produce delicious and nutritious food. 

As for challenges in farming, there are too many to count! Cash flow and business planning are a constant juggle. Like many entrepreneurs, we are tied to our farm on a daily basis. Whether it’s Christmas Day or our child’s first birthday, our cattle must be fed, and their daily needs come first. To be a rancher you need to be a jack of all trades: accountant, veterinarian, mechanic, mathematician, animal nutritionist, sales manager, teacher, plant pathologist, and much more. Even though we take every opportunity to learn more about all parts of ranching, sometimes it is overwhelming to try to know everything about it all. 


Adrienne Ivey Family Barn
RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?

Adrienne: I am a mom first, and a rancher second. I spend the majority of my time off the farm hauling kids to their activities. Most of my winter is spent in a hockey rink or volunteering at the arena’s kitchen. Summers will find me hooked to a horse trailer hauling my daughter and her mare to horse shows. We are fortunate that our ranch life allows us to make horses a part of our lives.

Because we live in a very small rural community, volunteering is a way of life. We like to spend as much time as possible helping out at the local skating and curling rinks, leading 4-H, or being part of the local school or daycare boards. We also feel that it’s our responsibility as farmers to be active in our industry. I like to spend time with organizations such as Farm & Food Care, Agriculture in the Classroom, and most recently I have been acting as a mentor for the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program.

RealDirt: What is one message you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do?

Adrienne: Ranching is a complex business, and there is no one right way to ranch. Every single cattle ranch is different — from when calves are born, to what breeds are used, to what medicines are needed. Ranchers are highly educated, passionate people that ranch for only one reason: they love every part of what they do.

RealDirt: What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting into farming?

Adrienne: Farming and ranching takes more than just passion — it takes dedication, drive, intellect, and involves so much risk. You need to be comfortable to put everything on the line every single day, and roll the dice that Mother Nature, the markets, and the animals you are caring for will all work in your favour.

Farming is an open community — we love newcomers — but to succeed you must be willing to learn new things every day, work endless hours, and put yourself last. I like to think that farming is like parenting: the moment you think you have it all figured out, everything changes!

Be sure to check out Adrienne’s blog: viewfromtheranchporch.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @adrienneivey and Instagram @aderivey

Blogger Spotlight: Jess Campbell of Run, Farm Girl! Run!

We’re putting the spotlight on Canadian farmer bloggers. Each month, we’ll feature a different farmer blogger to uncover a bit about life behind the blog, on their family farm.

Jess CampbellMeet Jess Campbell of Bellson Farms near Strathroy, Ontario. She blogs at: runfarmgirlrun.wordpress.com and is also on Twitter @runfarmgirlrun.

Here’s what Jess had to say about blogging and her family’s farm in our Q and A.

RealDirt: When and why did you start blogging?
Jess: I began blogging in October 2014. A writer by nature and at heart, I had wanted to start a blog for a long time to foster my writing and create a consistent space to hone my craft. I spent months thinking of the perfect name, the perfect topics to blog about, etc. – basically, a lot of time thinking and planning and no time actually blogging! Then one day, I just jumped in. I took the time to create my blog and set it up the way I wanted so I could start writing again – and I haven’t stopped since.

RealDirt: Tell us briefly about your farm.
Jess: My husband Andrew and I are proud third generation dairy farmers. We have been farming full time since 2012 with my mother and father-in-law at Bellson Farms, just outside Strathroy, Ontario. We milk 50 Holstein cows twice daily in a newly renovated tie stall barn, and farm about 450 acres of oats, wheat, corn, hay and soybeans. Most of that turns into feed for the cows but a small portion gets sold as cash crop.

IMG_5655_smRealDirt: What brought you into farming?
Jess: Andrew and I began farming full time in 2012. Before then, we had been living in Wingham and then in London, Ontario, working full time – me in Human Resources and Andrew in marketing and communications. Andrew was born and raised on the farm but had initially pursued a career in radio (which is where we met). But after Andrew and I had been working and doing our own thing for a couple of years, we started considering the possibility of moving back to his home to farm. We had been helping out on weekends now and again, and it was just really great to get out of the city, be around the family and the cows, etc. Now, I should tell you that I am not a born-and-raised farm girl. I lived in the country as a kid and was in the local 4-H horse club but I didn’t grow up on a large scale farming operation like my husband did. So when we started talking seriously about moving back to the farm, I was excited – and more than a bit nervous. I had no idea what it took to be a farmer and, to be honest, wasn’t sure I could do it! But I trusted in what I knew and in my husband and his family, and in the fall of 2009, we moved back to the farm and began the process of succession planning. We’ve since created a strong partnership, one that benefits and supports the farm and our families.

RealDirt: Who do you farm with and what is everyone’s role?
Jess: As I mentioned, Andrew and I farm with my mother and father-in-law, Phyllis and Wayne Campbell. They started Bellson Farms back when Andrew was just a baby, having purchased the farm from Phyllis’ parents, Alex and Reta Johnson. We live in the same house that both my husband and my mother-in-law grew up in!

Bellson Farms consists of 450 acres across three different farms. A year and a half ago, Andrew, myself (very pregnant with our second child) and our daughter Isabella moved from the dry cow and heifer farm to the main farm where our dairy barn and cows are located, and where Wayne and Phyllis had lived for almost 30 years. This was a very big deal, switching houses – it’s not often that you have to move two families into the opposite house, in one day, for each to have a place to sleep at the end of it all! Moving day was a little wild but, with many helping hands of family and friends, it went better than we could have expected.

Since moving to the main farm, we have undergone a major barn renovation and addition. We added a new tie stall barn onto the existing barn (which is over 100 years old) that is 180 feet long. Where we had room for only 30 cows before, we now have room for 60 cows, and are currently milking about 50.

Andrew gets up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to start chores. This includes feeding and milking cows plus feeding calves, and takes about four hours to complete from start to finish. Wayne and Phyllis come from their farm to ours each morning to help with chores; but first, they do their own chores, which involve feeding dry cows and heifers.

Wayne and Andrew run our cow program and are responsible for breeding, vet care, foot care, nutrition, milking, etc. As well, they do much of the field work – cultivating, planting, harvesting, etc. With this, they also get help from Phyllis and from Grampa Johnson. Grampa, who is Phyllis’ father, is 85 years young and farms with us three days a week doing things like spreading manure, bedding cows or working ground. Phyllis is responsible for our calf program and is in charge of the feeding and nutrition of our calves as well as breeding and genetics. Phyllis also does the farm’s books with help from our chartered accountants.

I help out anywhere I can. I don’t have daily responsibilities in the barn because of my daily responsibilities in the house (cooking, cleaning, etc.), and of course, caring for and raising our two children. Isabella is three and Cash is one, and as any mother knows, that’s a full time job in itself! Often, the kids and I will go out to the barn during evening chores so I can help with small, quick items that need to be done and the kids can help Gramma, Grampa or Daddy with their chores. For example, it’s Bella’s job to feed the barn cats and so that’s the first thing she does when she gets to the barn. Cash is still pretty new to walking and so toddles along with me or one of the other adults, “overseeing” the work being done. 

RealDirt: What do you love most about farming? What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?
Jess: Farming is hard work. That may seem obvious to some but until you are actually farming, it’s difficult to understand what that really means. Our cows have to be milked twice a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. Our calves, heifers and dry cows must be fed and tended to as well, each and every day. That’s a big commitment, and we definitely have to plan our lives around it. But I love that. I love having that commitment and that schedule to guide us every day. I love the rhythm and the structure that exists when milking cows.

What I love the most about farming, though, is that it teaches great lessons. Responsibility. Respect. Time management. Humility. Hard work. Commitment. Trust. Whether you’re working land as a cash crop farmer, raising beef, pork, chicken or eggs, milking cows or goats or something else in between – farming will teach you these lessons whether you want to learn them or not. But you become a better farmer, and a better person, because of them.

RealDirt: What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?
Jess: The biggest challenge for me, personally, is feeling like a contributing member of the farm. As I mentioned, I don’t have daily responsibilities in the barn because I am the caretaker for our two young children. And while I truly cherish my time with the kids, I sometimes feel badly that I can’t help out more. I’m sure other farm moms will understand this feeling!

The biggest challenge for us as a farm business varies depending on the time of year, really. During planting and harvest, the challenge is weather. Other times, the challenge is quota and whether we were able to purchase any that month or not (this is important given that we are still in a growth stage and want to milk more cows). It was quite a challenging time during the barn renovations but now, the cows love the barn and are very comfortable there, as are we.

RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?
Jess: When I’m not farming or blogging, I’m either writing or running. I am a freelance writer and have written all types of pieces geared to many different industries (i.e. fitness, business, technology, music). The other part of my blog, Run, Farm Girl! Run, is to speak to my experiences as a runner. I have been running on and off for over 10 years, and I really do love it. So I run as much as I can, given our chores and family schedules, and write about the both the challenges and miracles of running and being a runner.
I also love to bake (I have award-winning bread, cookie, brownie and lemon bar recipes to my name), get lost in a great book (I’m a member of my library’s book club), or keep up with the Kardashians on the PVR (yes, it’s my guilty pleasure, I’ll admit it!).

IMG_5634_smRealDirt: What is one message you’d like to share about what you do?
Jess: My blog is still fairly new and so to keep it consistent, I’ve developed a weekly feature post that I call Farm Fridays. Every Friday, I blog about something to do with our farm or with agriculture in general. I’ve covered topics ranging from our farm dog, Winnie, to how Monsanto and sunshine is essentially the same thing. The overall message that I try to include in every Farm Friday post, however, is for the consumer to educate themselves about both sides of the farming/ag story before making a decision about what they think they know. There is SO much inaccurate, sensationalized misinformation out there, all geared towards scaring consumers into boycotting this or only buying that. It can be difficult for consumers to sift through all of that and find solid, science-based, factual information about where their food comes from and what’s in it. So I encourage people to ask questions and make as informed a decision as possible, no matter whether that decision is to go vegan or drink milk or not eat hot dogs. Knowledge is power, as they say, and that’s no different when it comes to knowing about your food and where it comes from.

RealDirt: What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting into farming?
Jess: To new farmers, I would encourage them to be the kind of farmer who consumers can ask question of and learn good lessons from. Consumers care about their food, the treatment of animals and how their food is grown so it is imperative for farmers to be ready, willing and able to answer questions about those things.

Be sure to check out Jess’ blog: runfarmgirlrun.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @runfarmgirlrun.