Steel Pony Farm is a vegetable farm in Red Deer, AB that lives up to it’s values of growing fresh, chemical-free food for the local community in a sustainable manner. It’s led by Mike Kozlowski who is praised by his peers for prioritizing mindfulness and mutual understanding amongst the farm team. There are currently two Young Agrarians (YA) Farm Apprentices at Steel Pony Farm, one of which is Annalise Beaulieu, who proudly shares her passion for increasing food security.
Apprentices Landon (left) and Annalise (right) at Steel Pony Farm.
Annalise previously worked in healthcare, helping out in dental offices, but wanted a change of pace. With the rise of the pandemic, she landed a job with Siksika Health Services, coordinating the Emergency Food Security program. She describes her position as a “very, very steep learning curve”, but it’s evident that her personal drive to build food-resilient communities pushed her through the challenges along the way. Through the position, she helped launch a food bank in Siksika while leading a team that ranged from 3 to 16 people.
“At the end of a really stressful day, [I knew] the work I had done had gotten food into the household of people who needed it.“ – Annalise Beaulieu, YA Apprentice
The Application Process
At the age of 34, Annalise is in the middle of a career transition. As part of her career development in food security, she enrolled in the Horticulture program at Olds College to gain credibility for future jobs in the field. The program requires students to participate in a summer placement with a mentor — a perfect fit with the YA Apprenticeship program.
“I was thinking about what my goals were for that summer placement, [and] it was to learn the things I wanted to know that I knew we wouldn’t get in school.”
When speaking about the college program, she describes a lack of coverage on topics like soil health, ecosystem services, and alternative ways of growing food. The YA Apprenticeship program was a way to bridge that gap in knowledge.
“I poked around the website to see if there was any mention of age limits. And it was just like, ‘anyone’s welcome to join’.” – Annalise Beaulieu, YA Apprentice
To apply, potential candidates fill out a form and are asked to answer a question that can be answered in the form of a video or essay — Annalise opted for the video option. The completed application is then sent to the farm mentors, which in Annalise’s case, was Mike. Mike interviewed Annalise and within 3 weeks of submitting the application, she was accepted. A month later, in the beginning of May, she started her Apprenticeship at Steel Pony Farm.
Steel Pony Farm has a Farm Share (CSA – community supported agriculture) program that serves 220 households on a weekly basis. They also work with YYC Growers. Annalise and the team of five people at Steel Pony Farm work Monday through Friday, starting each morning with a check-in.
The day starts at 7 AM. “Everyone walks in, there’s a lot of hugging (people are very huggy) and then we all sit in a circle,” described Annalise. Mike begins the morning by asking a question of the day: If you were a food what food would you be? What was the best thing that happened to you yesterday? What’s your intention for today?
“The purpose for the check in is to remind us that we are all showing up as people and as our whole selves,” Annalise said. “Everyone is very accepting of where other people are. And then throughout the day, it’s just like, I know where I’m at, I know where this other person is.”
Whether they come to work with a lot or little energy, sore bodies, good or bad moods — everyone is open and honest about themselves.
As it is currently harvest season, the team starts harvesting after the morning meeting until 2 pm. At noon, they break for a 45 minute lunch.
The afternoon work schedule varies depending on the days of the week:
Monday: Work continues till 5 pm on the farm.
Tuesday/Wednesday: The Team packs up at 2 pm, loads up the trucks/trailers, and heads to the drop site (where CSA customers pick up their orders).
Thursday: Orders are packed into paper bags and door deliveries are made for CSA customers.
Friday: The team continues with tasks around the farm (weeding, harvesting, etc.) until 4 pm.
Unlike other farms in the area, the Steel Pony Farm team doesn’t work on weekends. “Mike’s just like, ‘I don’t want to work. You don’t want to work. Let’s not work.’”
Annalise is pictured weeding as part of her daily tasks.
Food and Accommodation
The Apprentices at Steel Pony Farm are responsible for finding their own accommodation in Red Deer. Annalise chose to commute from Olds, AB, where she was renting an affordable place while studying at Olds College. Meals are also on their own, although each YA Apprentice gets their own vegetable box (farm share) as a bonus of being on the Steel Pony team. As each Apprenticeship varies, it’s best to read the descriptions for the farm and speak directly to the mentors about food and accommodation details during the application process.
Major Learnings and Next Steps
Annalise grew up on a hobby farm which hosted a large garden, some cattle, and a few horses. “We didn’t know what we were doing about things like pest control, crop rotation or any of it,” said Annalise, describing the hobby farm. Irrigation, machinery operation, dugouts and shelterbelts — there was a lot for her to learn from Steel Pony Farm. On top of this, she highlights her experience observing Mike and learning his techniques for managing CSA subscriptions. “He does a really good job of dealing with upset people and figuring out how to calm them down or manage whatever crisis,” she explained.
Mike Kozlowski of Steel Pony Farm walks through a field of garlic.
Starting in September, Annalise will continue onto her second year of the Horticulture program at Olds College while continuing to work for the farm full-time. This will go on for about 8 weeks, with the Apprenticeship ending around October 31. She plans to continue pursuing her career in food security, with the hopes of showing youth how to grow their own vegetables, getting them outside and involved.
“In my perfect world, I would be helping people grow food that they like and be excited about growing it. And that translates into excitement about eating it.” – Annalise Beaulieu, YA Apprentice
Interested in Becoming a YA Apprentice? Read more here!
Photos by Michelle Lam, New Farmer Engagement Coordinator, unless otherwise stated.