It can be tough to find your fit as an up-and-coming farmer — that’s where Outstanding Young Farmers comes in.
“I always looked at Outstanding Young Farmers as a graduate program for people past 4-H,” said regional chairperson Steven Snider. “This is a great place for that generation to connect across all sectors.”
The 35-year-old program recognizes innovative farmers under the age of 40 through a national awards event, where farmers from across the country come together to share ideas and build the industry.
But the heart of the program lays elsewhere.
“It’s a great opportunity to network,” said Snider. “If you have a problem on your farm, sometimes you don’t want to talk to your neighbour. But you can call your friend one or two provinces over and get that input.”
That’s been the No. 1 benefit for 2011 Alberta winners Tara and Matt Sawyer, who operate a mixed farm near Acme.
“Our opportunities with it have been endless,” said Tara. “The personal connections have been very important for our family. We’ve been fortunate to travel across the country on more than one occasion to meet up with Outstanding Young Farmers, and they’ve welcomed us with open arms.”
The group is like a multi-generational family, she said, with the “seasoned alumni” supporting and mentoring the industry up-and-comers.
“When we have an issue, we have people across the country we can call who have been there, done that, and have a suggestion or a solution from their personal experience,” said Sawyer.
“No one else really has that kind of advisory panel for free. That, for our family, has been an advantage.”
The program’s participants are ambassadors for all agriculture, said Snider.
“What the Outstanding Young Farmers program does is find those stories that truly represent what our industry is about,” he said. “If we don’t create the message, someone else will for us.”
“You aren’t going to find anyone who’s more positive than the Outstanding Young Farmers family on where Canadian agriculture is, where it’s going, and what is possible,” added Sawyer.
“We are the experts in our field, and we want to get the true story out. Our passion for farming has grown into a passion for spreading the Canadian ag story.”
The Alberta chapter of the OYF program has received a boost from Pomeroy Inn and Suites.
“If the person making the reservation requests it, $3 from every room night at the beta-test hotels in Grimshaw, Vegreville, and Olds will go back to Outstanding Young Farmers of Alberta,” said Alan Boivin, the hotel chain’s director of operations in Alberta.
The support — the company has also donated $2,000 — was welcomed by Snider.
“We had hit lean years, and having sustainable funding to keep our program strong is always key.”
The pilot test will run until May 31 next year, when the program will hopefully be expanded to all Pomeroy properties in Alberta and B.C., said Boivin.
The Outstanding Young Farmers program is also looking for nominees to represent Alberta in 2016. For more information, visit oyfalberta.com or call 403-224-2077.