Brenda Schoepp embraced education during her career and went on to receive a masters’ of arts degree in global leadership at age 60
CAMROSE, Alta. — Brenda Schoepp doesn’t have a job title any more, but she has lots of jobs in her retirement, including writing a book based on research from the master’s degree she obtained after leaving the farm.
“There is life after the farm. It is a great one, and the soil and the space and the sky are always very much a part of you,” said Schoepp from her Vancouver Island home.
It was the opportunity to take her master’s of arts in global leadership from Royal Roads University in Victoria that nudged Schoepp from her comfortable life in Alberta to a new life in British Columbia.
At age 60, when she accepted her parchment, Schoepp fulfilled a dream she had nurtured for 20 years.
“When I walked across the stage (to accept her master’s degree) it was as beautiful as I had imagined.”
Unlike the other graduates, Schoepp didn’t have an undergrad degree. Instead, the former feedlot owner, farmer, speaker, international agriculture mentor, Nuffield scholar and agriculture adviser wrote a story about hacking her way through a jungle in Fiji with a stranger and a large machete to look at a white fly infestation on cassava and other crops.
“I talked about my observations and feelings and I was accepted.”
Schoepp’s keen sense of curiosity kept her learning and engaged throughout her career.
“I took many courses over my lifetime. I took anything from the Alberta Cattle Feeders Quality Starts Here program to computer courses, languages, vet and animal health, conflict resolution, permaculture or play writing,” she said.
As Canada’s first female feed yard manager at Tri-S Farms in Stony Plain, Alta., Schoepp paid for private lessons with her veterinarian to learn how to carry out an autopsy and give an intravenous drug. They went to the lab to learn more about feedlot diseases, all skills she needed to make strong decisions.
“I always tried to find unique ways to enhance my skills.”
“As I moved into the feed yard, I had exceptional mentors and they saw I was keen and they worked with me and we designed health protocols and programs that were rather unique. I was always a strong advocate on animal welfare and handling of light calves and health protocols of handling calves on arrivals. That took a lot of courage. It was against the old ways of doing things. I needed that support and that high level of knowledge if I was going to have some credibility in what it was I was advocating for.”
After listening to livestock behaviour specialist Temple Grandin, Schoepp crawled through the cattle handling facilities to see the facilities through the animal’s eyes and made adjustments.
“I was a willing student.”
That willingness to learn has kept Schoepp engaged in agriculture on Vancouver Island, mentoring farmers and students.
“I have farmed all my life. I have been an independent land owner all my life and all of a sudden you are in an urban setting. This island mirrors what the rest of the world looks like: small farms, high diversity, tremendous consumer interaction, lots of value adding.”
It’s not uncommon for Schoepp to knock on a neighbour’s door, or stop by a farmer working in the field to chat. At school, she was a guest lecturer and ran small courses for students at the university. The folks who ask her to be their mentor came from across Canada and around the world.
“I think it is important to be authentic and truly love people and word gets around,” she said.
“I am not really retired. I keep growing and learning and loving the world I am in.”
Schoepp works a lecturer and columnist, but is often most recognized for a quote published in 2012 and now repeated around the world. It once hung on a poster nine-stories high in Paris during World Food Day.
“Once in your life you need a doctor, lawyer, policeman, or preacher, but every day — three times a day — you need a farmer.”
While doing a project on the Great Depression in junior high and interviewing her grandfather, he told her about the importance of agriculture during this difficult time.
“We were talking about how feeding families and communities fell on the shoulders of farmers during that time. They were short of cash and grain and infrastructure, but they remained very innovative.
“He reminded me we could live without a policeman, a preacher or a lawyer, but we could never live without a farmer and he was really adamant that we need a farmer in your life three times a day every day,” she said.
“It is a simple quote, but it resonates with farmers globally.”
Schoepp said she often gets asked if people can use the saying in a eulogy and has seen it on many T-shirts made by agriculture youth organizations.
“Mostly, I feel very honoured, especially when people ask to use it in their eulogy.”
Her upcoming book based on her research will be called Three Times a Day: Leadership to Feed Our World.
Schoepp said moving from one stage of your life to another takes courage, but also the understanding that each change is an opportunity for growth.
“Transition is very difficult. For me it was leaving the animals I was so deeply tied to. You will go through a phase of having a sense of no longer belonging. You will go through a phase of having a lack of purpose. It is important to remember people are good, I mean really good everywhere. It is about building a new community. When you retire it is not about what you lost, but what you are bringing into the world. For many, it is the most joyous time of all.”