YA Apprenticeship: Reflections from Nature’s Way Farm, Grimshaw AB

Posted by Dana Penrice on February 12, 2019

First of all, I have to thank Young Agrarians for asking me to share my story. I truly believe in what they are doing and if the world is still a nice place to live, then it is because there are people like them.

My journey in Canada, and precisely in the Peace Country started on March 4th, 2017. After I became an agronomist I felt empty, without any goals, and everything around me looked too complicated and overwhelming to find my way. At that point I thought, “Ok Angelo, it’s time to take the risk and see how others do things out there. It’s time to learn a new culture and face the fear of learning a new language.” I took all my savings (there were not that much at the time) and I bought a flight to Edmonton after doing a little research about where to go for growing livestock in Canada.

So I ended up in Edmonton. It was -27°C… It was freaking cold and I didn’t expect to feel lonely and frozen like that. I went out from the airport where nobody was waiting for me and nobody was there. And even though I was a grown-up, that was a quite tough beginning.

The first days I just tried to enjoy the big city of Edmonton and the huge trucks that Canadians have! For me all was quite impressive… I thought, “Oh man! I’m in the giant’s world!”

On the fourth day at the hostel, Peter and Mary Lundgard came to pick me up and bring me to Nature’s Way Farm. At that time I was terrified. I couldn’t communicate properly with anybody. I loved Mary since the first minute – she seemed a quiet and intelligent woman, and Peter appeared like a big, powerful man that could’ve squeezed me at his willing like a sponge. But I had no choice but to trust them. No money, no other contacts other than Peter, no food, no friends, but lots of cold and very bad English.

Despite this situation I never thought to give up, not one time, and what kept me going was the awareness that, even though I was mentally weak, for the first time on my life I knew I was in the right place at the right time.

On my side I can’t say that the beginning on Nature’s Way Farm was awesome and easy, because it wasn’t. Now I realized that I had a fairly closed mind-set and very bad English that didn’t help. But every day I learned something… and there was always something there that kept me never doubting to go back.

At the beginning I fixed some bee shelters, like Peter asked me to do. It wasn’t a nice job, but it was something and I felt like I was useful. In other words: I was making progress.I remember screwing screws in the wood sticks inside the shelter and trying to remember some words in English or count all the pieces in English and think about phrases that I heard from Peter and Mary the days before. Once I finally finished one shelter, I didn’t look at how many were left, but I just kept my rhythm up!

Soon I started to understand what Peter and Mary were saying; I mean not everything, but at least I got the point of the conversation! Peter was always making jokes and I never found them funny (but everyone knew that!).

One of the many things that blew my mind was the pen where the sheep, cows, and pigs were living together. I remember that stuff very clearly in my mind. Since I was alone at the farm, as soon as supper was done, I walked toward this pen to see those animals living peacefully together. I felt fulfilled. I felt kissed by the Peace River sun and cold and I remember me looking at the sky with a big smile on my face. On those days while I was alone on Nature’s Way Farm, I’ve considered that place like it was mine.

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One day Peter introduced me to the soil mineral balancing as Dott. William A. Albrecht taught. While Peter was explaining the main principles of this model, I didn’t understand it properly, but I knew it was something that nobody taught me at the University. I saw his passion on this topic, and later on I made it mine.

Now it comes to my mind the first time I arrived on the farm. Peter showed me the buildings, the equipment, the animals and then he brought me into the incubation rooms. Yes… I said the incubation rooms: the rooms where the leafcutter bees were stored before the incubation process right before the alfalfa bloom. When I first went inside those rooms I couldn’t believe what was standing in front of me: there were millions of little cells with a larva inside each one. Then he told me that those creatures where very helpful in seed production… and I was fascinated.

For all of March I was the only guy on the farm and every night I was walking around the field to see my “new” animals, how they were doing, and I walked inside the main herd. The first time I did that I got scared because the yearlings got too close to me and I wasn’t prepared, but I took a deep breath and even though they were still kicking close to me I didn’t run away, I just walked toward the fence line and stepped out. Then I laughed like a kid for 5 minutes staring at those cute animals.

The farm life kept going and new guys came to help… My time was running out because that year I had to respect my goal to live in 3 different realities. And this is what happened.

I left my dear Nature’s Way Farm with the promise to myself that next year I would have come back to learn all the stuff about leafcutter bees.

On June 7th, 2018 I was on my way back to Nature’s Way Farm! I was excited but aware that it wouldn’t be an easy experience. My bedroom was the same as I left it the year before and as soon as I stepped in, I felt like home again. My English was much better now and I could communicate pretty much about all I needed to know.

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We worked hard. I was sharing my house with Johannes, a young blacksmith German guy! Me, Johannes and Erik, Peter and Mary’s son, got to know each other after a while and we became mates. Now we still stay in touch and for me this means a lot.

One of the jobs I almost always enjoyed is moving the main herd. It’s fascinating to see the animals running toward you while you are opening the new pasture and as soon as they have enough space to get to the new grass, they run together behind your back like a single wave. Every time after this operation I looked at the animals right into their eyes, and I’ve seen their happiness. They have been always thankful to me, not like the animals that I fed inside the barn in my home country. It was quite amazing experience. 

During this summer season I went deeply inside the management of leafcutter bees. I learned all the processes that can lead you to a successful seed production operation.  This experience has been a big game changer for me. Thanks to it I found my purpose about how to make things better, and by better, I mean sustainable first and productive second because the second can’t exist without the first.

I have experienced so many other things on this farm, with these people, that if I have to write them all down, a book wouldn’t be enough!

Now I see Nature’s Way Farm like my Canadian home, the place that sometime comes to my mind and brings me to the vast land of wild woods and endless farmland where you feel like a little dot in between all of that. I think of me walking through those fields on a sunny  summer day kissed by the bright Canadian sky.

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I feel like the young generation has a huge role in facing the problems that we have, but we need to be aware that we are not alone. We already have so much knowledge built up behind us from the past and we must be the expression of that knowledge. I can freely say that now I have found my purpose. My big dream is to make agricultural practices sustainable through proper soil management and proper utilization of resources like animals, insects, and crops. We have already lots of knowledge that can help us do so; we even know how to reverse climate change! As the young agronomist I am I want to encourage young people especially to not give up on our dreams because we are just getting started and together we can make it.

A huge thank you goes to the Lundgard family and in particular to Peter and Mary Lundgard. I will never forget you guys and as you already know, you will be forever my great beginning.


To learn more about the Young Agrarians Alberta Apprenticeship Program on Nature’s Way Farm, check out:  https://youngagrarians.org/ya-apprenticeship-natures-way-farm-grimshaw-ab/

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