Aid work shapes farmers

Farmers’ overseas trips changed their view of farm life

MONTMARTRE, Sask. — Clayton and Carrie Kotylak have witnessed first-hand the impact that farming has on the world.

They volunteered in developing countries with Habitat for Humanity, and they know that what they produce feeds the world.

“While in Jordan, I ate with families and they were eating lentils and peas and I was thinking, ‘this probably came from my area of the world,’ ” said Carrie, who travelled to Jordan in the summer of 2013 to build a house with Habitat for Humanity

“I think it’s eye-opening in that you go and see the people in under-developed countries who are looking for sources of protein and nutrients and we are in the position to provide that.”

Clayton volunteered to go to Nepal during the Christmas break last year. He and 14 other Canadians worked for two weeks to construct a house.

Clayton said the most surprising thing he witnessed was the lack of agricultural knowledge in the rural community.

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“Having weed-free crops and healthy productive animals was just not something they’re educated in and they’re paying the price socially,” said Clayton.

Both Clayton and Carrie said the trips changed their view of farm life, making them grateful for the abundance of food, shelter and knowledge in Canada.

“We now realize we won the social lottery here, and while that doesn’t mean we have to give our products away, we do need to give back and pay it forward,” said Carrie, who studies international business at the University of Regina.

The Kotylaks will continue to be mixed farmers because their land best suits that kind of operation. And while current trends are leaning toward more acres, the couple is focused on having a well-rounded operation rather than a larger one.

“For me, I farm because I love the land, regardless what it’s producing and I produce what is best suited, whether it’s grain or livestock or pulse crops,” said Clayton.

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To effectively operate their 2,500-acre operation, which includes 125 head of commercial cattle, they employed a United Kingdom resident for an eight-month period in 2014. This year, the Kotylaks sponsored another worker due to the shortage of local labourers.

“We always realized that we needed more manpower, but our labour pool in southeast Saskatchewan was almost non-existent and we don’t have sons or anybody of the right age or interests to help us out,” said Carrie.

The family, which includes 14- and 23-year-old daughters, built a spare apartment above their detached garage several years ago with immigrant labour in mind.

They applied through the 
Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program to bring an agricultural student to their farm for spring, summer and fall after Clayton met a European immigration specialist at the Farm Progress Show in Regina two years ago.

The Saskatchewan couple plans to continue volunteer work but is also focused on local initiatives.

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Carrie is the former chair of the Regina YWCA women of distinction fundraising committee and both she and Clayton actively lobby governments to make access to international agricultural workers simpler for farmers.