Creativity helps young ag exhibition manager pivot during pandemic

Young Leader Spotlight: Sydney Lake, ag manager at the Lloydminster Agricultural Exhibition, makes the most of her mentorship experience in a challenging year

Being adaptable served Sydney Lake well in a year no one expected.

It allowed her to make the most of her experience in Canadian Western Agribition’s Next Gen Agriculture mentorship program. Lake was paired with Rob O’Connor, the show director of Ag in Motion, who was an ideal resource for navigating the challenges posed by COVID-19 on event-driven organizations.

“It’s been an interesting ride because our whole plan was attending events together and planning some events together,” said Lake, the agriculture manager at the Lloydminster Agricultural Exhibition Association.

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“At the end of the day we were not able to do what we do as our day-to-day work operations were put on hold. So it’s been nice to use each other as a sounding board and to bounce ideas off of each other of what we can do and different things that both of our organizations have tried.”

Lake’s enthusiasm for agriculture and the wealth of possibilities in this evolving industry developed early on. The fifth generation on her family’s mixed farm near Turtleford, Sask., she is proud of being part of a 114-year-old family operation and goes home to help out as often as possible.

She studied agriculture business at the University of Saskatchewan, minoring in agriculture entrepreneurship and obtaining a certificate of professional communications. Her positive post-secondary experience solidified her decision to make a living in the agriculture industry.

Lake joined the Lloydminster Exhibition staff three years ago, starting as the events administrator before moving into the role of agriculture manager. Generally, she plans more than 200 event days each year, though 2020 was an exception to the rule.

Being an “ag events planner,” as Lake describes her job, is fast-paced and provides a lot of variety in the behind-the-scenes tasks required to host agricultural events.

“You get to bring those groups of people together, and not only do you make great connections but you allow people to make connections,” she explained. “Anytime you have either a cattle sale, a trade show, a speaker session, and you get to see those interactions, I think that is very valuable.”

One of her favourite parts of her job is working on the youth programming held at Lloydminster Exhibition, from 4-H events to educational activities.

“To bring 1,500 Grade Ones and Twos in for a day to learn about the ag industry and food production is always really cool, as well as bringing 500 kids in to learn about farm safety,” she explained.

“I have a soft spot for all of our 4-H programming because I know what that program did for me and continues to do for me today, because I still utilize a lot of those connections that I made when I was a member.”

This understanding of the value of continuous learning and making connections led Lake to apply for Agribition’s Next Gen Agriculture mentorship program. She had a few specific objectives in mind, such as building her network, adding to her skillset and meeting others who are just as enthusiastic about the agriculture industry.

Despite many of the in-person components being put on hold for this year’s program, Lake’s mentorship experience provided opportunities she couldn’t have predicted. “I think we had the most unique experience,” she said.

She connected with O’Connor on having to cancel events through the spring and summer, as well as planning the Lloydminster Stockade Roundup in November, working to provide value for exhibitors while meeting health authority requirements.

She’s grateful that the Agribition team worked to keep the program running throughout the year. “Even though we weren’t able to meet in person or go to those different events, they’ve worked really hard to make sure that we stay connected virtually,” she said.

“Some of this stuff isn’t going away, so you have to learn to adapt, and you can still make great experiences out of all of this — you just need to get a little bit more creative.”

As she continues to build her network, Lake is thankful to have been raised on a family farm, and she considers her parents and family to be some of her most important mentors. She also appreciates the informal mentors from different stages of her life and hopes one day to give back to others in a similar fashion.

In the future, Lake plans to return to her family’s operation, and her excitement about her career path in agriculture is reflected by her positive attitude on what’s possible for youth in this industry. “The sky’s really the limit,” she said. “The ag industry is great for that because they’re all about innovation and trying new things and adapting and making things happen.”

“There’s lots of opportunity, and people are excited when you want to be involved,” she continued. “If you show the initiative, there’s a lot of people that are very willing to help you make that happen.”

Lake discusses what it took to hold the 2020 Lloydminster Stockade Roundup in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in the February 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen.

About the author

Field editor

Piper Whelan

Piper Whelan is a field editor with Canadian Cattlemen. She grew up on a purebred, Maine-Anjou ranch near Irricana, Alta., and previously wrote for Top Stock, Western Horse Review, and various beef breed publications.

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