Shaping young farm leaders

GRAINS IN ACTION PROGRAM IS SET FOR ANOTHER GREAT YEAR

farming is so often a solitary line of work. But, like any other industry, it’s important for farmers to keep on top of current trends and explore new opportunities by engaging in professional development and creating a network of farmers and industry representatives to draw on for information and support.

Grain Farmers of Ontario is helping young farmers build these networks and learn more about the entire value chain in their Grains in Action program. With two sessions running at full capacity this winter, farmers and staff are anticipating another successful year of the program.

new participants show promise
Lindsay Menich will be participating in the program this year and as a young farmer, she’s excited to learn more about the different aspects of the industry and meeting other people in the farm community.

Already, Lindsay has been impressed with the farm industry’s response to a young farmer new in the field. “People are extremely willing to help you out and to explain how things work,” she says.

As both a young farmer and a new farmer, Lindsay is an exceptional candidate for the Grains in Action program. This past year, Lindsay and her boyfriend Drew abandoned their successful jobs in Toronto and moved home to her parents’ farm and grain elevator near Delhi.

Although she grew up on the farm, she doesn’t claim to be your typical “farm girl.” After high school, Lindsay left the farm to pursue a university education in structural engineering. She followed up her degree by working in her then-desired field as an engineer.

“I don’t think that I had envisioned coming back to the farm in quite the way that we have,” says Lindsay of her and Drew. “But,” she adds, “I don’t think I’d ever regret leaving Toronto. The fact that we even had the opportunity to come and learn from our family is an opportunity that not many people have.”

Lindsay and Drew work with her father, uncle and cousin on their tobacco, corn, soybean and ginseng farm. They also work on the other side of the grain business at Lindsay’s mother’s grain elevator, Homeland Grain. The young couple have immersed themselves in the farm business and are eagerly trying to learn as they go. “The rest of our family has a lifetime of experience and we’re trying to catch up as fast as we can,” she says.

At the same time, Lindsay doesn’t discount her and Drew’s experiences off the farm. “I think it was a great idea to go out and learn something else. Going to school and working in a high pressure environment broadens your ability to solve problems,” she says.

Lindsay is excited about the Grains in Action program and is looking at it as an opportunity to meet others in the farm community while expanding her base knowledge on the entire grain value chain. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the end users. I think that will be interesting because one doesn’t often get the opportunity to see that side of the farming business,” she says.

past success
The participants of the Grains in Action course will experience the whole value chain with tours of end use production plants like the Dover Flour Mill and Greenfield Ethanol. They will also learn about facilitating grain handling logistics at the Sarnia Grain Terminal and the research side of farming at the University of Guelph Ridgetown campus. New to the program this year is a much anticipated tour of Bunge’s facilities in Hamilton.

Beyond the tours and the speakers, another highlight of the program is the opportunity to network. Grains in Action alumnus, Dave Vandewalle says this was one of the best parts of the entire program. “I always enjoy an experience where you can network with different people throughout the province and you can learn about what they do and what their challenges are,” he says.

PHOTO: DAVE VANDEWALLE WITH HIS WIFE LISA AND SON JEROMY IN THE WOODLOT ON THEIR FARM.

Unsurprisingly, Dave says that kicking the program off with a whisky tasting was a definite highlight – an aspect of the program that will be continued this year. But, Dave points out some beyond-the-obvious benefits of such an event: “As a corn farmer, we don’t necessarily think about the Canadian whisky industry being a major market for corn. It was really interesting to understand the process.”

getting involved
As the Grains in Action program is targeted towards younger farmers, it also serves the purpose of introducing these farmers to Grain Farmer of Ontario and the benefits of getting involved in the organization. Since completing the program, Dave has started to get more involved within his district ensuring that he speaks up at local meetings and making a closer connection with his director.

“The program serves two really important purposes,” says Valerie Gilvesy of Grain Farmers of Ontario. “First, it provides a great learning opportunity for Ontario’s young grain farmers. But, it also gives us an opportunity to encourage our future farm leaders.” •