By Tate Wrubleski, Multimedia Specialist, Communications Branch, Regina
Agriculture is a thriving industry that requires farmers to constantly adapt to new practices and technologies. For Cody Straza and Allison Squires, they built their farm, Upland Organics, on that foundation. As the recipients of the 2022 Saskatchewan Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) award, Cody and Allison are always looking for ways to improve their organic farm and become more sustainable.
The journey that Straza and Squires took to get here was a rather unconventional one. Straza studied engineering after high school and worked as an engineer for several years in Saskatoon, while Squires was working on her PhD in toxicology at the University of Saskatchewan. It was there that they met and shared an interest in agriculture, specifically organic farming.
Together in 2010, they purchased some land in the Wood Mountain area and started Upland Organics.
“Farming was always a passion and interest,” Straza said. “When the opportunity came up to buy a farm near where I grew up, we jumped at it.”
Starting out as a conventional organic farm using rigid crop rotations and tillage, they have since added several management practices to improve their operation.
“In 2016, we started regenerative farming practices,” Straza explained. “Reducing our tillage was an important change for our farm. We started using a roller crimper instead of a disk for our cover crops, and then in 2018 we started grazing cattle on some of our cover crops – so we’ve really reduced our tillage in that way.”
The environment is at the forefront of all decisions and practices implemented on the farm. And in addition to the regenerative agriculture practices and their on-farm research to help solve challenges that organic farms face, Upland Organics is proud to be a certified Bee Friendly Farm.
“Our farm is focused on building soil health and diversity.” Squires said.
Family is incredibly important to Straza and Squires and one of the reasons they love farming so much is the opportunity to farm with their three children.
“This kind of lifestyle allows us to work alongside each other, which is important,” Squires explained. “From the moment each of our kids were born, they were tagging along with us in the tractor.”
Not only are they busy on the farm, but they are both actively involved in many agriculture boards and community groups. Squires is currently the Director for the Canada Organic Growers board, and Straza serves as a board member for Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association, among others.
They both attribute a lot of their success to continuous learning, networking and talking with consumers.
“We really like the shortened value chain and being able to connect with consumers.” Straza said. “Anybody is welcome to come to our farm at any time.”
Straza and Squires were awarded the Saskatchewan Outstanding Young Farmer award at a banquet in Regina in June of this year with many sponsors and industry professionals in attendance.
"It's very meaningful for us,” Straza said. “We are the first organic winners in Saskatchewan and it kind of feels like a landmark for us and the industry.”
“We're hoping it encourages other farmers to look for ways that they can give back to their communities,” Squires added. “There were some excellent nominees there and we were quite surprised to win. We're just really grateful and looking forward to nationals.”
The 2022 National Outstanding Young Farmers event will be held in Saskatchewan. The winners from each region will meet in Saskatoon on Nov. 23-27, 2022 for a chance to be honoured as the 2022 Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers.
Congratulations to Straza and Squires on receiving the 2022 Saskatchewan Outstanding Young Farmer award. Best of luck at the national competition later this fall!
This year’s runners up
Lee and Ashley Eastmond
Lee and Ashley Eastmond are cattle ranchers from Mortlach, Sask., operating under the Wheatland Cattle Company. Originally starting out as a cow/calf ranch, they have since expanded their operation to include backgrounding and finishing. In 2021, they purchased the local abattoir in Chaplin, and launched Butcher Block on the Prairies – a full custom cutting, retail and wholesale meat business. Working alongside their Kattle Kountry Beef brand, they have provided local customers with true ‘farm to fork’ products.
Garret and Jocelyn Poletz
Garret and Joceyln Poletz own and operate P Cross Ranch Ltd. out of Biggar, Sask. Over the course of the past decade, they have built a diverse cattle operation that includes a 3,000-head feedlot, 500-head cow-calf program and a salt and mineral business. In addition to their large cattle operation, they believe it’s important to be involved in the agriculture industry through networking and organizations. Garret sits on the board for the Saskatchewan Cattle Feeders Association and Jocelyn works as an agriculture and commercial lender.