Edmonton·Audio

Edmonton city-slicker-turned-farmer aims to help other new agrarians

Andrew Rosychuk grew up in Edmonton nowhere near a farm, but the haskap farmer has always had a green thumb.

'They want to make a lifestyle choice'

Haskap farmer Andrew Rosychuk on his farm, about an hour northwest of Edmonton. (Sara Jewel)

Andrew Rosychuk grew up in Edmonton nowhere near a farm, but the haskap farmer has always had a green thumb.

"I've always been this science guy that's hands dirty, … soil under the fingernails kind of a person," Rosychuk said in an interview Monday on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"For that reason, my parents, who have been the biggest supporters of my business from day one, really kind of pushed me toward that."

It's one thing to take over your family's farm, it's another to get into farming when you've had little to no experience with it and no land. But that's what Rosychuk did.

Rosychuk, the 33-year-old owner of an 80-acre farm about an hour northwest of Edmonton, is evolving from city slicker into a farmer. He is part of a growing trend of urban young people turning to farming. 

He's an organizer of the 1st Generation Farmer Conference, taking place Aug. 10 on his farm near Alcomdale. The full-day boot camp for farmers is looking to help young and new agrarians figure out how to get shovels in their own ground. 

Growing interest

Leanne McBean, a business development specialist with Sturgeon County, said she has seen a noticeable increase in interest from young people wanting to get into farming. 

"We've had a lot of interesting inquiries," McBean said. "Things like breweries, distilleries, people interested in making a variety of things with fruit on their farm. Maybe a U-pick, a winery, and all sorts of interesting things."

Rosychuk points to a survey published last year which found an increasing number of new farmers in Canada are coming from non-farming backgrounds. 

When Rosychuk finished high school, he studied horticulture at Olds College in central Alberta. 

"And then I went through the classic life stages of traveling and spending money on things I shouldn't," Rosychuk said. 

Once out of that stage, he made a farming business plan and got it rolling five years ago, buying his acreage with money he had made working in the trades.

In 2015, Rosychuk planted 10,000 haskap berry bushes on his farm and this year is his first year of harvesting. 

Haskap berries harvested at Andrew Rosychuk's farm, about an hour northwest of Edmonton. (Sara Jewel)

The indigo-blue cylindrical fruit, which is beginning to gain recognition for its high antioxidant content, unusual flavour and ability to flourish in harsh weather, is relatively new to Canada. 

Big investment

And Rosychuk, who has invested some $700,000 into his farming business so far, is still pouring money into it. 

"One day I hope it turns into an investment that will pay back," he said. "It's the long game; it's not the short game."

While start-up costs for non-legacy farming can be prohibitive, Rosychuk's advice is to start with a business plan and keep in mind about half of farmers make their primary income off-farm.

"You don't need to be a full-time farmer," he said. 

Working with other new and established farmers is also important, he added. 

"We are all in this together and because many of us have started from the beginning ... we can all support each other and feed off each other," he said.

"For me, that's probably the most fulfilling part of this, saying, 'I have assets and resources and knowledge and I'd love to share it with you because I want to help you create your dreams,'" Rosychuk said. 

Despite the investment, Rosychuk has found farming "extremely fulfilling," he said. 

"It is a lifestyle I love," he said. "It's a wonderful life to live. A little more freedom and a lot of interest."

About the Author

Thandiwe Konguavi

Reporter/editor

Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca. Follow her on Twitter @cbcthandiwe.

With files from Adrienne Pan

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