Finding inspiration from within the farm community

Sarah and Logan Wray never doubted their future would involve raising beef cattle. The real decision came down to how to make it happen. Four years after setting their course they were able to start buying their first quarter of land near Bashaw, Alta., and the seeds had been planted for FarmOn, a virtual resource centre to support and encourage young farmers trying to get a start.

“We wanted to buy land, but found there were so many obstacles to doing it that we decided to step back and take a few years,” she says. Living in Bashaw at the time, they turned to mentors from the business world in Edmonton who helped them learn the ins and outs of buying and selling properties.

Sarah used that period as well to learn the potential of the Internet and social media for networking, learning and marketing.

Both Wrays were well aware of the long hours and hard work ahead if they committed to a future in farming. They had experienced it first-hand growing up on their families’ farms; she on a purebred Angus operation near Bashaw for the most part, and he on a 300-head commercial operation near Irricana. Together, they have established their own small purebred Angus herd and a custom-grazing operation.

Jobs well done don’t seem like work when they bring enjoyment and satisfaction, and the Wrays definitely put raising animals in that category.

“It’s kind of therapeutic for both of us because it takes us out of the day-to-day office-type jobs to do what we both love, working with animals. We wanted to raise our kids in that environment, too, around animals and taking part in 4-H and youth programs to make sure those values and skills were passed on to them,” says Sarah.

She credits a large part of what she does today to her past involvement in 4-H and junior programming such as that offered by the Bashaw Agricultural Society with marketing, sales and public speaking components. Those experiences ignited the entrepreneurial spirit that underpins her careers in farming, as a founder and ambassador of FarmOn, and her new online store, the Stock Show Toy Company.

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photo: Debbie Furber

The group that gets it

Sarah, executive director Jackie Northey, videographer Ben Wilson, script writer Shannon Scofield, and financial manager Christine Buelow look after the day-to-day activities. The foundation will be filling director vacancies at the upcoming annual general meeting in April and welcomes people from anywhere in Canada with interests in farming, food or business.

FarmOn’s founding mission is to help more farmers to farm. It stands for all farmers, regardless of commodity, production method, or size.

A major focus has been the development of educational resources as one way to help strengthen the succeeding generation of farmers because they are tackling huge challenges in a fast-changing world. Ultimately they will be the ones at the helm ushering in another generation as the world population pushes toward the nine-billion mark.

Already in North America, only two per cent of the population produce food for the other 98 per cent and beyond. The craziness is that approximately 70 per cent of farmers have second jobs just to be able to provide food and necessities for their own families because farm expenses eat up all of the farm income and oftentimes more, Sarah explains.

FarmOn does pull in some content with permission from reputable sources, but most of its content is original. The guiding principles for FarmOn video productions came out of discussions with farmers, by asking them to think of three skills and/or resources they wish they had when they started farming. A lack of time because of second jobs, lack of money, and the knowledge to make the most of what they had were the themes that most often floated to the top.

“Everything we do we keep that in mind, always looking for the junction between economical and efficient,” Sarah says. “On a personal level, to hear their stories and see what they do has been the best education I’ve ever had.”

The videos in the fast-farmer and workshop series feature farmers and professionals who have stepped up to donate time and resources to discuss and demonstrate new ways and innovations as well as tried and true fundamentals in production, marketing, business management and communication. Sprinkled throughout are videos showcasing young producers telling their stories about why they farm, their challenges, successes and hopes for the future.

Their grazing series and case-study videos produced with support from the Alberta Forage Industry Network in 2014 tested a new model for developing content. The FarmOn team talked in depth with each producer beforehand to deconstruct each practice from the very first steps onward to arrive at the essentials that a young farmer would need to know to be able to quickly implement it on his own farm.

“It boils down to, if you didn’t look at these three or four pieces you would be in trouble. If you do, you can figure out the rest, so the information is applicable anywhere,” she explains.

So far, about 70 per cent of FarmOn followers are in Canada, 25 per cent are in the U.S. and the rest largely from Australia and Europe.

Last year, FarmOn and Alberta Farm Animal Care co-operated on producing the first videos in their heart-of-a-farmer series.

A second initiative was the revamp of the FarmOn website at farmon.com.

This year they are showcasing how young farmers are putting ideas presented in earlier videos into practice on their operations.

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