Leia Zulyniak is a Chicken Boss by day and a florist-in-training by night. She’s in a unique position as Young Agrarians Farm Apprentice, where she spends half her day with mentors Jenna and Brett at Lazy T Farm, and the latter half with Nikki at Lady’s Hat Farm. The two closely-knit farms work collaboratively on a community, food-centred initiative called the Prairie Farm Project. Lazy T Farm is a holistically managed farm with a main focus on grass-fed beef, pastured poultry and free-range eggs. Lady’s Hat Farm, just 15-minutes down the road, centres around florals and grass-fed, grass-finished lambs. The two farms are on Treaty 6 territory; Lazy T is in Halkirk while Lady’s Hat is in Castor, AB.
Top Photo: Leia and Nikki having a chat at the top of Lady’s Hat hill.
Bottom Photo: Jenna, Brett and Leia walking over to the cattle at Lazy T Farm.
Leia is currently entering her 4th year of online studies in the Bachelor of Arts program at the University of Saskatchewan. Her passion for her major in Indigenous Studies shines through in conversations with the apprentices; she is the first to bring up challenging topics such as the “land back” movement and her role as an aspiring regenerative farmer who is also a white settler.
She grew up on her parents’ grain and large-cattle farm in Saskatchewan, but never considered herself much of a farmer. The rise of the pandemic played a large part in her realizing the importance of sustainable agriculture. When talking to Leia, she quotes her conversations with her mother: “Farming is simple. Not necessarily easy. But it’s a simple concept of providing food for your family and community.” Hearing that as an adult made so much sense to Leia. Simplicity is what she craved.
The Application Process
By coincidence, she came across the Young Agrarians Farm Apprenticeship program on a friend’s social media feed. It was an exact match for what she was looking for: a fully immersive experience at a regenerative farm. In February, she hunkered down and applied for several farm apprentices via the Young Agrarians website hoping that she’d land a spot at one of the farms. Within a couple of weeks she had a handful of interviews lined up, each about 30 minutes in length. When it came time for Leia’s interview with Brett, Jenna, and Nikki, there was an instant connection with the farmers and by the end of April, she had moved out to Halkirk, Alberta from Saskatchewan to start her apprenticeship on the first of May.
The apprenticeship interviews are an opportunity for the farmers and apprentices to get to know each other and see if there is a fit.
Leia didn’t see herself as a farmer at first but she quickly picked up the chores on the farms. She admits that she was lucky to have grown up on a farm, gaining some exposure to raising chickens, cattle and growing vegetables. Her workdays begin at 7:30 AM — she gets out of bed, puts on a pot of coffee, and gets dressed for the day. We asked her to break down her average day:
Morning: At 8 AM she goes outside and walks 100 metres to work. (Leia lives in a farmhouse on Brett and Jenna’s property, but we’ll get to the details about this later.) The day usually starts with 30-40 minutes of chicken chores at Lazy T Farm. Somewhere in-between, Leia also feeds the pigs on the farm.
The chicken chores include filling up the pails of feed (up to 20 pails per day), loading them onto the truck, and moving the chickens. Jenna drives the chicken tractor while Leia steps in as the Chicken Boss, sweeping the chickens forward, ensuring that they don’t escape or get run over in the process. Each of the four enclosures houses roughly 250 chickens. After each chicken enclosure is moved, the chickens are given a bit of time to forage in the grass before they are fed. “We want them to eat grasshoppers before the grain”. Once they’re fed, Leia checks each of the gravity-fed bell waterers to make sure they’re all in working order.
Jenna uses a tractor to pull the chicken shelters so that the chickens have access to fresh pasture each day at Lazy T Farm.
Next up, Leia heads over to the hens. She feeds the hens, gathers their eggs, and cuddles kittens. “Yes, my job includes kitten cuddling”, Leia enthusiastically says. If you ever visit the farm, you’ll see that the hens are truly free-range, running across the property in search of food to forage.
Midway through the morning, it’s time for a coffee break. Then, Leia works on the list of chores for the week. “Jenna is very organized and sends a text every Monday of chores for the week”, explains Leia. She reads off a list of chores that have previously been assigned to her: “Clean the pig’s water and move their fence. Clean up chicken hoop houses. Harvest garlic and onions. Pull staples from old fences.”
Leia gathers eggs from the hens in the barn as part of her morning chores at Lazy T Farm.
Lunch: Around 12-12:45 PM, Leia heads back to her accommodation to have a lunch break. The length of her lunch break varies day-to-day, but it ends up averaging 45 minutes.
Afternoon: At 12:45 PM, she drives over to Nikki’s farm (Lady’s Hat Farm) to start chores at 1 PM. “Nikki is pretty impulsive like me, so we work well together”, says Leia. The chores range each day and depend on what needs to be done at the time. These chores include moving the lambs, harvesting flowers, pulling weeds, building bouquets for flower subscriptions, and more. At 5 PM, Leia heads back to her accommodation at Lazy T Farm and spends the evening to herself. Her workweek is six days followed by a day of rest.
Leia at Lady’s Hat Farm, showing off the dried flowers in the barn.
Food and Accommodation
Leia stays in a house that is in the same yard as farmers, Brett and Jenna. The house has all the amenities — a fully equipped kitchen, living room, washer/dryer, washroom, wifi etc. — and functions as an Airbnb in the off-season. The combination of creaky hardwood floors and interior design touches by Jenna make it the perfect farmhouse that is “beautiful inside and out”.
Photo 1: Living room. Photo 2: Kitchen space. Photo 3: Frontside of the home. Photos of the farmhouse provided by Lazy T Farm.
“I only go out to the store when I run out of cream for my coffee”, she jokes. Her meals consist of food from the farm; she has access to all the meat, eggs, and vegetables she needs. For example, lately, she’s been picking vegetables straight from the garden for her staple dish, a homemade stir-fry. Her freezer is always stocked full of meat from the farms including beef, chicken, pork, and lamb. Any other odds and ends are purchased by Leia from the grocery store in the town nearby.
Major Learnings and Next Steps
Out of everything that Leia has learned over the past few months, she highlights her new development of land management skills. It makes a lot of sense — Brett and Jenna’s cattle and chickens, Nikki’s lambs — they’re all centred around the importance of restoring nutrients back into the land. “That’s what’s missing from agriculture. The practices that give back to the land rather than taking, taking, taking”, says Leia.
On top of this, Leia talks about the benefits of the apprenticeship farm tours. Each apprentice takes turns hosting the other apprentices for a farm tour. Usually, they’ll spend the day learning about the operations at each farm, engage in conversations with the farmers, and end the evening with a potluck and/or bonfire. Homemade cheese, freshly-picked salad greens, beef burgers — it’s truly a farm-to-table experience.
When asked about her relationship with the other apprentices, she describes her conversations as easy and casual. According to Leia, they often share the same mindset as her and have a lot of commonalities. “It’s really special. [This connection] hasn’t happened much before”.
The apprentices gather on top of the Lady’s Hat hill, the viewpoint from which Lady’s Hat Farm’s name came from.
Leia will be finishing her apprenticeship at the beginning of September and is moving to Calgary where she’ll finish her online studies. She’s not letting go of her Chicken Boss title either; she hopes to get some backyard chickens while in the city. In the future, she envisions gaining more farm experience through WOOFing and in the long-term, wants to go back to her parents’ farm to introduce regenerative practices and farm full-time.
Like many others in the program, she encourages anyone who is thinking about becoming an apprentice to “do it!”. According to Leia, the farmer “[mentorship] is a gift of knowledge.”.
Want to Learn More?
- Learn how you can become a YA Apprentice
- If you are an experienced farmer, learn how to become a Mentor.
- Read more about How To Start Farming In Alberta
Photos by Michelle Lam, New Farmer Engagement Coordinator, unless otherwise stated.