YA Alberta Apprenticeships: Reflections from the Orientation Weekend

Posted by Dana Penrice on May 16, 2017

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A review of the first Young Agrarians Apprenticeship Orientation weekend written by YA Alberta Coordinator, Dana Penrice. 

This year we launched the Alberta Young Agrarian Apprenticeship program with the goal of providing hands-on, practical learning for aspiring farmers and supporting farmers that want have apprenticeship programs at their farm. The orientation weekend was held at Don and Marie Ruzicka’s Sunrise Organic Farm near Killam, AB.

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Nine aspiring farmers came from six host farms across the province including Nature’s Way Farm, Redtail Farm, Prairie Gold Pasture Meats, Steel Pony Farm, Kettle Crossing Farm and Duban Farms. Throughout the summer and fall, apprentices will visit each host farm to see different practices in regenerative and ecological farming.

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We left the weekend with our brains full from a great farm tour with Don Ruzicka. Don transitioned his farm to organic and began focusing on direct marketing chickens and pigs and custom grazing cattle in the nineties.  One of the major projects on his farm has been restoring riparian areas. In the areas above, ecologists have counted over 60 species, a testament to the importance of conserving these areas.

apprenticeship-orientation-2017-8Don has also been planting ecobuffers, shelter belts and pollinator habitat. He has planted things like Buffalo Berry (above) and Sea Buckthorn . In his pollinator habitat he has planted 16 species of trees and shrubs that flower throughout the year so that there is always something available. Native pollinators will travel 150 metres so he has planted them strategically as strips in his pastures to maximize pollination and forage production.

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Sunrise Organic Farm recently installed a water system for their livestock that runs on solar pumping water the highest point on their land which then feeds out through water pipes covering all of the pastures on his land where he can connect his water troughs as he rotates his animals.

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Don custom grazes cattle practicing rotational grazing. Below is his native pasture that he stock pilled for grazing this spring. Only 5-8% of Alberta is native and home to some unique species including sage.

apprenticeship-orientation-2017-4 Don is big into experimenting and working with researchers. Right now, he is working with the University of Lethbridge studying the impact of insecticides use on cattle on the dung beetle populations. They are looking to understand the effects of genetics and pasture management.
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Don and Marie began their journey into regenerative and organic farming when they took a Holistic Management course. They took a complete 180 and turned their farm from conventional grain into grass production with a focus on working with nature. He never thought he would grow grain again, but last year, he decided to try growing organic Red Fife wheat and had a bumper crop. He is now experimenting with a rotation of pasture pigs, grain, and cocktail cover crops.

apprenticeship-orientation-2017-3Along with an amazing farm tour, we got to know some amazing aspiring farmers! As is what happens when you get farmers together we nerded out on farming philosophy and practices. A big theme to the weekend was books that have influenced us and we started an online library catalogue that you can check out here:

https://www.librarycat.org/lib/YoungAgrarians

We’re looking forward to introducing you to our apprentices throughout the year and sharing more from the farms we visit and farmers we meet!

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