Off-farm jobs support desire for independence

Debt conscious couple plans slow expansion

NESBITT, Man. — Romantic, rural scenery well suited for a movie shoot is visible in nearly every direction from a small patch of grass in front of Lydia Carpenter and Wian Prinsloo’s trailer.

To the northeast, a small, white church sits at the corner of a rolling pasture. To the south, the midday sun warms sheep grazing on the side of a hill. And only metres from the trailer, a small flock of goats wanders about the farmyard.

However, despite the natural beauty of their farm, Carpenter and Prinsloo don’t fit the stereotype of small-scale farmers.

They aren’t city residents who left the rat race to pursue the simple, pastoral and clichéd lifestyle associated with running a farm.

In fact, Carpenter and Prinsloo sound nothing like city folks living out a dream. They sound more like business school graduates.

During a 45 minute conversation at their farm, they frequently used phrases such as depreciating assets, servicing debt and relationship marketing.

Last year, the young couple began renting 80 acres of farmland near Nesbitt. There, they produce pasture raised chickens, grass fed lamb and a small amount of goat and rabbit meat for 100 clients in Winnipeg and Brandon.

Carpenter and Prinsloo are trying to minimize capital costs of their new business, which they call Luna Field Farm. They don’t own a tractor or other expensive machinery, but they do have a half-ton and a livestock trailer.

“This operation is not capital intensive…. We are focused on access to land and livestock,” said Carpenter, 28, who grew up in northeast Winnipeg and has a master’s degree in natural resource management from the University of Manitoba.

“We’re trying to avoid the depreciating assets until we build up capital.”

Carpenter said she became interested in farming when she was a teenager. She took a year of high school in Mexico, where she noticed that people ate fresh food nearly every day.

The experience fostered an interest in food production and agriculture, leading to a master’s thesis on rural livelihoods in Brazil.

However, her attraction to farming wasn’t based on a romantic perception of rural life.

“It wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to farm because it will be the answer to all the environmental problems,’ ” she said, while sitting at a picnic table next to their trailer.

“I just thought it’s one way I can be independent, have my own business … and I feel good about doing this for work.”

Much like Carpenter, Prinsloo, 26, is drawn to the business aspect of farming. However, he learned much earlier than Carpenter that he was a natural-born entrepreneur.

“My grandparents bought me three (chickens). I think I was six at the time,” said Prinsloo, who grew up in Pretoria, a city of four million in South Africa.

Even though he was just a child, Prinsloo recognized a deficiency in his operation after a year of tending to his birds and producing eggs for sale. His chickens, an ornamental breed, weren’t good at laying eggs.

“I realized that these chickens are not really profitable.… I realized that if I want to make a little bit of money, I’ve got to get rid of these (chickens) and get something that lays a little better,” he said.

“That’s when, I think, I became a farmer, tying in the economics into it. It had to be practical…. It was amazing because you’re this little kid and you’re making money. Your friends are playing Nintendo and you’re out hawking eggs.”

After nearly a decade of raising chickens in South Africa, Prinsloo immigrated to Winnipeg with his mother when he was 15.

He restarted his farming career a few years later by renting land from farmers just outside of Winnipeg and raising broiler chickens. Prinsloo sold the chickens to friends and neighbours in Winnipeg and quickly developed a loyal base of clients.

He moved from job to job over the next several years, normally working on farms in Manitoba during the summer months.

Prinsloo managed to maintain his client base because he always rented a small piece of land from employers to raise chickens.

More than 100 established clients gave Prinsloo and Carpenter the confidence to rent a larger piece of land near Nesbitt to expand their business and establish a permanent residence in rural Manitoba.

As they walked through the native grass in the farmyard with hundreds of grasshoppers leaping out of the way, Carpenter and Prinsloo said they will produce 900 pastured chickens this summer.

They raise the birds inside portable pens, which are three by four metres and located on a pasture just west of their yard. Each pen contains 70 Cornish Crosses, starting at three to four weeks old.

Carpenter and Prinsloo move the pens as the chickens grow to spread the manure over the pasture.

The chickens are transported to a slaughter plant when they gain sufficient weight, where they are prepared for customers who buy directly from Luna Field Farm.

The larger farm has also allowed Prinsloo and Carpenter to establish a flock of 100 ewes. For now, their main products are grass-fed lamb and pastured chickens, but they have also bought 10 cows and plan to produce grass fed beef starting in 2014.

They are dedicated to expanding the farm, but it will likely happen slowly because they have no interest in taking on debt.

Carpenter works part time as an English as a second language teacher at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, while Prinsloo has a job with the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. Income from the two jobs subsidizes their farm business.

“To capitalize a business, you have two choices: go to work or go to the bank,” Prinsloo said. “We’re choosing work. Servicing debt, other than land access, that’s one of the biggest challenges (of farming).”

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