Local rancher excels in national mentorship
For Erika Strande, it’s a busy time of year on the family ranch off of Coldwater Road: the ranch’s 250 cows are calving now, and will be until April.
“I’m up every night at three o’clock to check them,” the 25-year-old says, cheerful and engaging despite her interrupted sleep.
Strande is obviously passionate about working on the ranch — which she has done full time for about two years, and which her family has done since the early 1960’s — and her passion makes it unsurprising that she was chosen as one of the 16 Canadian Cattlemen’s Cattlemen Young Leaders proteges.
“I was lucky enough to get picked, and it’s been awesome,” Strande says in the kitchen of the family house, which was originally her grandfather’s. “You gain so much insight into your own industry. It seems silly that we don’t all know this, because we’re all producing cattle for beef consumption, but there’s so much to learn.”
The CYL program matches people between ages 18 and 35 from varying backgrounds in the beef industry with mentors based on their career goals. For Strande, getting paired with Rock Creek cattle rancher and farmer Erika Fossen was a perfect match. Strande requested Fossen as her mentor because of Fossen’s ability to make a living off the land and for her family values — things that resonate with Strande.
“I had read articles in the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association magazine about the Fossens,” Strande says. “I was really excited to learn from them and see how they do things. They’re a young couple with interesting and progressive ways of farming.”
Strande says the Fossens’ success in direct marketing is one of the reasons she was so enthusiastic about their pairing. The Fossens sell their beef and hamburger to a restaurant at Big White Ski Resort, and expanding her own operation is something to which Strande is looking forward.
“Before CYL, I did have my own little business where I sell natural beef within the Merritt area, but I wanted to expand that and learn from the Fossens what they do.”
The CYL program supplements its one-on-one mentorship by giving each protege a $2,000 budget to travel to industry conferences and events of the participant’s choice. Throughout the eight-month program, Strande has been to numerous conferences and events, including a stop in Ottawa for the Beef Value Chain Roundtable in October.
“Different key stakeholders were there, like Cargill, XL, and other big players,” Strande says,” and it was exactly when the E. Coli outbreak was going on. That was probably the coolest thing I’ve done, meeting-wise, within the program, because it was really interesting and so insightful.”
Her latest trip took her to the National Western Stock Show in Denver, which she was selected to attend out of the group of CYL participants. The Denver trip included an International Livestock Congress conference, a tour of Colorado State University and their research farm, a tour of a registered Black Angus ranch, and a round table discussion with American young beef producers. Strande says she was nervous about the round table because of the perception of rivalry between Canadian and U.S. producers.
“It ended up being so good, because they were all young producers and really open-minded, kind of like our group of Canadians,” Strande says. “We talked about obstacles we’re facing as Canada and as U.S. To actually talk to them was probably in the top three things I got to do with CYL.”
The CYL program also offers participants the chance to compete for international mentorships, and Strande says she’s hoping for a chance to visit Australia.
But for Strande, the CYL mentorship isn’t just about learning: it’s also about teaching others what ranchers and farmers really do. She says she’s hoping to start a blog about daily farm life with Fossen, and wants to share the stories of ranchers and ranching families, something she attributes to her background in education, which was her major at the University of Alberta.
“I think we have a really cool story to tell.”