“Green is the new dot-com. I’d like to see this work in agriculture.”
– GRANT DYCK
This funky new farm home is unmistakenly black, until you meet the couple building it.
Then you realize it’s actually green, and embraces this young couple’s hopeful vision for their farm.
Niverville farmers Colleen and Grant Dyck’s new home, which they’ll move into this fall, is heated and cooled entirely by geothermal. It’s insulated with long-lasting wool fibre and sided with metal siding to withstand years of Manitoba wind and weather. Plentiful south-facing windows draw in light and passive thermal heating. Wood flooring throughout is reclaimed local elm. Colleen’s massive vegetable garden, surrounded by newly planted trees, occupies most of the front yard, along with play space for their three young children.
A rooftop balcony will give this family a spectacular vantage point.
You could say Grant and Colleen were taking the long view long before they built their balcony.
“We are trying to do something different with this farm,” says Grant. “Green is the new dot-com. I’d like to see this work in agriculture.”
Since taking over from Grant’s father, who died suddenly in 2000, the couple has doubled the size of the grain and oilseed farm to its current 13,000 acres. Artel Farms Ltd. has also adopted zero-till and minimum-tillage practices and integrated GPS mapping into all their farm equipment.
They’ve created two subsidiary companies. One is Wood Anchor, a wood reclamation business that takes landfill-destined trees and wood and makes top-quality flooring and custom-built furniture. The other is Colleen’s soon-to-be launched Gorp energy bar business. She’s building a 1,600-square-foot commercial kitchen in the lower level of their new home for that.
Their aim is to eventually be off grid, Grant says, with all their future energy sources supplied by wind and biofuel. They’re now completing construction of a biomass dryer on the farm and talking with Energy Canada about putting up a series of wind turbines for hydro.
OUTSTANDING YOUNG FARMERS
The Dycks were presented with Manitoba’s 2009 Outstanding Young Farmer Award last month, after having their names submitted to the competition by Farm Credit Canada (FCC).
The OYF award is in recognition of their significant achievements as young farmers under age 40. Colleen and Grant say it’s an award not theirs alone. They’ve had huge support from neighbouring farmers who have mentored them, and from friends, family
and the farm’s own top-notch staff. Artel Farms Ltd. presently employs six full-time and 18 part-time staff.
“Everything we’ve been able to do, we attribute to the people we have with us,” says Grant. “We have a fantastic group of people that saw the vision and stuck with us.”
It’s a vision that’s included expanding their land base to achieve an economy and efficiency of scale for the farm, while building in additional viability and profitability through diversification into other green businesses.
“Our overriding theme around here is to be able to adapt to change,” says Grant, who knows commodity agriculture faces an uncertain future.
“We’re going to have to do something extremely different, or we’re going to have to be ready to do something different.”
Theirs is a business model that anticipates, and is prepared for that change, adds Colleen. “All of a sudden if one business is having trouble, we want to have a system with other streams of income.”
That’s where Wood Anchor, and the energy bar business come in. Wood Anchor is an established business, created between the Dycks and lifetime friends, Jason and Jami Neufeld. The Great Gorp Project is Colleen’s new company.
She’s spent the last four years in research and development through an ARDI grant to develop her made-in-Manitoba energy bar, utilizing ingredients such as pea fibre, sunflower seeds, and the oats and flax grown on the family farm.
It won first place at the Great Manitoba Food Fight in Brandon last month.
The Gorp bar also epitomizes the Dycks’ careful read of broad consumer trends; it will be made with only fresh, wholesome ingredients, containing no additives and locally produced. It will reach store shelves this fall. “I made something that I’d want to eat myself,” says Colleen. “People are demanding better of their food.”
And of their farmers. Young, smart and sophisticated, the Dycks are ready to deliver.