Waking up early to do farm chores before school, shovelling grain, watching your parents do the financial books, or seeing them running out in the middle of the night to pull a calf are all things kids who grow up on a farm see first-hand throughout their childhood.
For Sabrina McAllister, Janine Sekulic, Eric Dalke and Erin Tateson, their journeys in life took very different paths, but they all ended up in the same place because of the lessons they learned at a young age.
“Farming is all creative.” A conclusion Sabrina McAllister has made in her life journey, which has taken her from the farm near Red Deer to Calgary and back to a farm again.
“It’s learning how to fix something; it’s having multiple hats; it’s knowing that there are certain things that are out of your control and solving problems creatively around those things,” says McAllister.
Growing up on the family’s seed farm, Sabrina learned the importance of creative problem solving, entrepreneurial spirit, strong work ethic and great communication.
Those lessons have helped her carve out a successful life as she journeyed through the marketing/PR agency world and eventually into her own co-owned business, Indelible Agency.
McAllister says watching her dad and uncle run Kaun Seed Farm for years instilled in her that good things would happen if she worked hard, networked and got in front of people. She made sure she was a sponge so she had the opportunity to learn everything she could when opportunities presented themselves.
When it came time for post-secondary school, she packed her bags and headed to Calgary where she studied and built on her passion and knowledge for telling a good story. McAllister was also quick to return to the farm though, and loved spending time there.
As she ventured through several different jobs at agencies, she applied the lessons she learned on the farm – most notably to make sure she networked, got into as many meetings as possible and built connections.
Eventually it led to Quarter Section Creative, her first business.
“It took that agriculture blend of work hard, nose down and having big goals.”
This would eventually result in the creation of Indelible, which she co-owns.
McAllister says the importance of good communication, a strong work ethic and creative problem solving have helped her carve out the success she enjoys today.
The ability to bare down and get the job done right is a strength that Janine Sekulic attributes to growing up on a grain and beef farm in the Grande Prairie area.
It was on that farm where she had the opportunity to learn ‘a million things’ first-hand from multiple generations that included her great grandfather, grandparents and parents.
The National Director of Agriculture for BMO says she looked forward to leaving the farm the day she left for university in Edmonton; however, that didn’t last long, as she quickly realized how much she missed it.
Sekulic has spent a lot of her career moving from one small community to the next, not ever thinking a city was a fit for her. That was until she was offered a great position with BMO in Calgary.
She says growing up in agriculture resulted in a deep appreciation for the work everyone involved in the industry does.
“I love the industry and I think growing up on the farm I developed an appreciation for what we do,” Sekulic says.
She says going back to the farm from time to time allows her to recharge and reconnect.
Sekulic cites an example this fall when she went home and got put on a combine.
“It was such a great thing to have that connection with the land.”
It’s this time on the farm that reminds her why she loves the job she has today working with producers.
Eric Dalke knew his career path would involve agriculture from a young age.
As a teenager, the Calgary-based lawyer would spend his downtime while feeding cows in the family’s feedlot in Morden, Manitoba, every morning with his nose in a book. He would load the feed truck his mom was driving and then read a few pages on anything non-fiction involving politics, legal, and biographies while he waited for her to return.
Dalke’s love of politics took him from the farm to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
The BSE crisis that rocked the beef sector galvanized his interest in world issues, trade and politics; a passion that eventually led him to Parliament Hill where he worked for Brian Pallister, an MP at the time.
He says Pallister had done some work in farm succession, which, when coupled with his farming background, made him realize how much of a natural fit it was for him.
Dalke then completed a law degree at the University of Calgary and now practises law with MLT Aikins, focusing on succession planning for farmers.
“It really is satisfying to give back to the ag community because you can serve the place you came from,” Dalke says.
He says there is a close correlation between the law and ag and credits the lessons he learned on the farm for helping build his foundation of success.
“The farming culture, which includes hard work, honesty, and integrity, is very important in the law.”
It was a moment during an internship at AdFarm in Calgary where Erin Tateson realized agricultural marketing and communications was a natural fit.
“Agriculture in the big city, I’m home,” recalls Tateson about the days following her graduation with a diploma in management from SAIT.
The now Marketing and Communications Manager for the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions wasn’t sure where she might land when she left the family cow-calf operation near Tilley in south-east Alberta. It was there where she learned the importance of hard work, resiliency and taking pride in your work.
“Farming is not for the faint of heart; farmers are very resilient. They’re up against a lot of external factors.”
It was the passion she saw in her family as they navigated the lifestyle of farming that showed her it was important to find something she was passionate about.
She admits though, agriculture was not on her radar when she left for SAIT to play basketball and study management.
Tateson says her love of story telling was what hooked her into her current role, adding the ag community has a really great story to tell.
“We’re feeding the world, and so we really do impact every single person on the planet.”
Tateson says one of the things that is so special about the industry is the people, a community she has been around her entire life.
“The people are really inspiring, motivating and resilient.”
All four of them say the lessons learned on the farm have played a large part in their success, even if they didn’t quite realize it when they were learning them at a young age.