While many are suffering because of the downturn in the oilpatch, the Hansen family is using the slowdown as an opportunity to get into farming.
Kelly Hansen grew up on a farm near Dapp, but left when he was 16 and was happy to put farming behind him.
“But as things changed, I wanted to get back into farming. I want to be more self-sufficient and be more like a farmer, so I don’t have to worry about other jobs working out,” said the 53-year-old.
“The oilpatch slowdown has really pushed us in the last year or two, but I’ve been feeling this way for the last five to seven years.”
Kelly and wife Jocelyn, 52, raised their six children on an acreage near St. Albert but moved to Morinville two years ago after one of their daughters bought property there. Kelly started helping one of the neighbours, who was nearing retirement. When the farmer offered to sell the 160-acre farm to the Hansens, they jumped at the chance.
But after more than three decades away from farming, Kelly knew he had a lot to learn. So he put the land into hay and started a crash course in crop production.
“You can pull it up on the Internet, but I have called back to the place where I grew up, because a lot of people I went to school with all farm, and they are big farmers,” said Kelly. “They are successful farmers and are really good at it, and they’ve been giving me their input.”
He also kept his day job as an oilfield consultant, although that work has slowed down in the past year.
“We’re integrating farming into life as we know it now, and hopefully he can phase out the oil and gas and become a full-time farmer,” said Jocelyn.
Kelly has been slowly buying and repairing used farming equipment, refurbishing some old grain bins, and seeking advice from community members.
“I have a neighbour beside me who’s been really helpful and who still farms,” said Kelly. “I’ve just been going around and talking to a few neighbours and have talked to the grain elevators to help figure out the prices.”
So this spring, he will take the plunge by planting his first crop — 150 acres of hard red spring wheat. He is both excited and nervous, he said.
The goal is to have a mixed farm. The couple will also plant a large vegetable garden this year and intends to build a cold cellar to store their harvest. They also want to offer community gardens for people in their church.
“It’s been quite a community effort,” said Jocelyn. “There’s a lot of relationship building and that’s good.”
Kelly has also been learning about livestock production by helping his neighbour with his cattle. He’s learned how to bale hay and has built a dugout in anticipation of having some cattle (along with a few chickens) one day.
The goal isn’t just to make their living from farming, but to give back to a community that has helped them pursue their dream, said Jocelyn.
“We want to be a family- and community-sustainable place, and share our resources with the community around us, for people who are going to be struggling in these economic times,” she said.