An exciting new post-secondary certification program is launching in BC at the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Williams Lake campus this coming January, and there couldn’t be a better time or place.
The TRU Applied Sustainable Ranching (ASUR) program is the first of its kind in British Columbia, and located in the oldest ranching region in Canada – the Cariboo Chilcotin – where over 20% of the province’s cattle herd still resides. The Alkali Lake Ranch, for example, is the oldest in Canada, and still operates today. But times have changed, and the ranching industry – like so many others within agriculture today – is adapting to new expectations of what it means to be a sustainable agricultural operation.
The ASUR program’s creators are doing just that, in a ground breaking way. Young Agrarian, Brianna van de Wijngaard, got on the phone with the program manager – and one of its instructors – Gillian Watt, to talk to her about her extensive ranching and agricultural business experience, the program, and where she thinks sustainable ranching is headed in BC, Canada, and beyond:
Can you give us a brief history of your ranching experience?
After completing my studies in agricultural sciences at UBC, I came back to the Cariboo in the mid-80’s and worked as the Range Resource Officer at the Chilcotin Forest District. I then worked for First Nations bands in the Chilcotin, doing economic development work. In 1994, we bought Black Creek Ranch in Horsefly. During that time, I went back to school at the age of 37 to complete my MBA in Agriculture at the University of Guelph. After graduation, I sold all of my farm equipment to go to custom grazing, no longer growing hay and overwintering cattle in Cache Creek. I began an agritourism enterprise at Black Creek Ranch as well, and started a grass-fed beef business, selling to about 30 stores. I sold my acreage at Black Creek Ranch about 5 years ago and relocated to Kamloops as an Agricultural Accounts Manager with the Royal Bank. Of late, I had been freelancing for BC Meats, working to gain access to markets for both customers and producers.
What got you interested in sustainable ranching practices, and why – in your experience – do you think they’re important?
My father was very entrepreneurial in the beef business, and was an inspiration for me. I think sustainable ranching practices are both environmentally and financially necessary: market demand for sustainable meat products continues to increase.
What do you think is the future of ranching in BC?
I think it is bright. We have a very strong market for ranching here in BC. It has a lot of different climatic regions that support ranching operations in different ways. We also have a wide variety of branding opportunities in BC: the landscape and nature of BC is very marketable. I also see a great opportunity for sheep and other meats in this province, as ethnic food demands increase.
What do you hope to bring to the Applied Sustainable Ranching program, at TRU?
I hope to bring much of my educational background from University of Guelph to the program. It has been instrumental in my ranching work. I hope to also benefit the program with my grassroots education, as all the program instructors will, no doubt – it was designed directly by those in the ranching community. I have been on both sides of the table, and hope to bring this experience in an adaptable format to students in program.
Image Credit: Monica Lamb-Yorski
As for the program itself: It can be done entirely from your own ranch or farm, or someone else’s. After taking the first two required courses – 12 weeks of Sustainable Enterprise and Environmental Sustainability – you can pick and choose which courses you take thereafter, at your own pace, to finish the certificate. Weekly seminars can be done in person, or via videoconference. The program is built to be flexible, and to balance academic study with applied work on a ranch or farm.
Amazing, right? So if you’re working on a farm in the Fraser Valley, and even just thinking of starting or entering a ranching operation, you can do this program from the comfort of your own tractor.
Or, if you don’t already have a farm placement of your own, you can also study and work right here in the Cariboo. The program staff and faculty have established partnerships with local ranches to accommodate ASUR program students during their stay, free of charge. All you pay is tuition.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about this program. You can learn from the best while maintaining your own operations, or get your hands dirty on a ranch in the last intact temperate grassland region in the world.
If you want to learn more about course content, timelines, and prerequisites, check out the program backgrounder HERE.
If you’re in this neck of the woods on Tuesday December 1st there will be an official launch of the program at the Tourism Discovery Centre from 7 to 9:30 p.m, with special guest Her Honour, the Honourable Judith Guichon the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.
Program contact: TRU Admissions
Thompson Rivers University
1250 Western Avenue Williams Lake, BC V2G 1H7
Brianna van de Wijngaard is the owner/operator of Puddle Produce Urban Farms in Williams Lake, BC, as well as one of the Williams Lake Food Policy Council’s Food Action Coordinators. She was also a participant in the 2015 Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Program.