Sitting on industry commissions allows the Ammeters to raise awareness, improve marketing and ‘influence the influencers’
SYLVAN LAKE, Alta. — Joining a commodity group has expanded Mike and Allison Ammeter’s neighbourhood beyond Sylvan Lake to include farmers from across Canada.
Farming in central Alberta, the affable couple wanted to get more involved in their industry.
This past year, Allison became chair of the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission and Mike took over the Alberta Barley Commission.
“The key is, are you interested enough in the industry to go out there and get involved? It is not a matter of do you have the skills, but are you interested,” she said.
The pulse commission supports 5,000 Alberta farmers who grow dried peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans and fababeans. The barley commission supports 11,000 farmers who promote coarse grain as feed and food.
Mike has attended barley commission meetings since its incorporation in 1991.
“Once you get off the farm and involved in some of these organizations, you find out what a huge industry this is,” he said.
“Sometimes you feel like you are just a little cog in the wheel and you are insignificant. You get involved and you can influence the influencers. All you have to do is sit at the table and open your mouth,” he said.
Allison volunteered with the pulse commission once their children, Andrew, Nick and Emily, had drivers’ licences and no longer needed her to chauffeur them. She had some spare time and wanted to give something back to the industry.
“I would never have the opportunities to meet these people, go to these places and get involved in these things if I wasn’t on this commission. I’m getting back more than I am giving,” she said.
“The fact that we can actually make a difference is very rewarding,” she said.
Mike grew up in the area and Allison was from Swift Current, Sask. She was working for the City of Medicine Hat when a friend invited her to a church sponsored event in Sundre where she met Mike.
Central Alberta was a change for someone used to the semi-arid prairie of Saskatchewan. The Rocky Mountains are on display from the kitchen window and the weather is cooler and wetter with fewer frost-free days.
“If you go 30 miles west of here, you are out of farmland,” said Mike, who grows wheat, barley, canola, peas and fababeans.
“We get the last frost in the spring and the earliest frost in the fall,” she said.
During the early years of their marriage, Mike had an off-farm job with a local seed grower and cleaner while still working at home with his father. After working for 20 winters, he gradually took over the family farm and his father retired.
He descended from a Swiss family that was farming in Georgia in the former Soviet Union. During the Stalinist purges, they had to leave and his grandfather eventually settled in this area in the 1930s.
He was multilingual but could not speak English. He had little money and the land had to be cleared of bush.
Allison’s family came from Brittany in France after seeing Canadian immigration posters advertising the “Last Best West.” They ended up in Saskatchewan and thought they would stay in Canada for 10 years, but the First World War and the Great Depression hit and they never left.
The Ammeter farm has evolved from clearing bush with an axe to a zero till operation adopting new concepts of best practices and agriculture sustainability.
“It is similar to things we always have done but we never defined them or taken a good hard look and talked about what we do,” Mike said.
“I have to do my dead-level best and I am working at this 365 days a year doing a good job,” he said.
“We need to make sure we are telling a good story and if we are not doing it well, make the changes,” Allison said.
This is a strong farming community, but high-end subdivisions and acreages around a growing Sylvan Lake are slowly encroaching on farmland and driving up land prices. Oil and gas wells are common.
There are no grain elevators nearby, so Mike hauls to Olds or takes barley to a feedlot even farther afield.
They see their work with commissions as a way to communicate with farmers and consumers about what is involved in modern food production.
Alberta was an early adopter of commissions to support individual commodities by collecting money for research and improved sales.
Sometimes there is talk of forming a super commission but divvying up the duties, funds and priorities might leave some crops at a disadvantage.
“They are doing research into food barley and nobody would bother with that if all the commissions were together. I think there is a lot to be said for really focusing on one crop type and pouring the research and the agronomics and the marketing into it,” Allison said.
After more than two decades of work, barley achieved recognition as a heart smart food and the pulse commission is promoting legumes as a protein substitute. It is also working with the Canadian Diabetes Association to promote pulses in the diet as a way to control blood sugar.
Around the world, beans, peas and lentils are commonly consumed and becoming more popular in North America.
“The ethnic foods have started to come into the mainstream foods,” she said.
Next year is the international year of the pulse and Allison is chair of the Canadian committee for this event. Part of the campaign is to adopt the term “pulses” to describe this food group.
Their volunteer work often takes them in separate directions.
Allison travelled to the CICILS World Pulses Convention in South Africa last year and Las Vegas in April.
Mike went to Amsterdam for meetings last year.
Sometimes the commissions work together by holding joint farmer meetings since many are growing a variety of crops.
“There is a lot of cross pollination between the commissions on the director and delegate level,” he said.
The commissions rely on farmer money to do their work to provide producers with more agronomic knowledge and improved sales.
“I am always interested in growing a better crop. That is a very hands on, tangible thing for me,” Mike said.
Allison likes marketing, promotion and opportunities like adding lentil flour to Cheerios or bean puree to pasta.
“To me, those are things that light my eyes up when I hear about the new opportunities,” she said.
If they cannot handle commission work, other board members step up to make sure the commodity’s collective voice is heard.
For them, the greatest conflict may be in their own home where Allison enjoys experimenting with pulse recipes while Mike counters with his preferences.
“I still like a barley fed steak, cooked with potatoes,” he said.