By Tate Wrubleski, Multimedia Communications Specialist
From riding in the combine with her dad, to sweeping out grain bins in the dusty summer heat, Mackenzie Van Damme has always been involved with the family farm. As the winner of the Ministry of Agriculture's 2020 Agriculture Student Scholarship, Mackenzie will be receiving $4,000 to further her agricultural knowledge at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S).
Mackenzie comes from a 7,000-acre farm just outside of Imperial, Sask. Established in 1908, Van Damme Farms started out as a mixed beef and grain operation. The farm is still in the family, but now focuses solely on grain production.
"We grow everything from oilseeds, to cereals, to pulses," she said. "It's a family operation. My dad and cousin work here year-round, and my mom and siblings all help out, too."
Mackenzie is optimistic about the agriculture industry going forward, noting there are all kinds of opportunities in big cities and small towns across the province. She hopes to find an opportunity near her hometown after finishing her studies at the U of S.
Although she's just getting started on her agricultural career, she has already learned many valuable lessons.
One of those lessons is to always keep an open mind and ask people questions whenever you can. For Mackenzie, these have been directed mainly at her father.
"I've asked him so many questions, everything from how a combine works to what crops we're planning on planting next year. He was so patient. Even when I asked way too many questions, he explained everything to me, and that's where I really got stuck on the idea of pursuing a career in agriculture."
For her scholarship submission, Mackenzie chose to write about her food story. In it, she examines the impact agriculture has on many communities across Saskatchewan, specifically her own.
"Imperial, Sask., has a population of only around 350 people, and nearly everyone in the community is touched by the agriculture industry in one way or another," she wrote in the essay. "In my class of 10 kids, six of us have farms or have parents that are in agriculture. This industry has benefited our community in innumerable ways, and without agriculture, Imperial would be little more than a ghost town."
Mackenzie also brought up the discussion around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in her essay. As she sees it, GMOs are a necessary tool to feed the ever-expanding world population. She discussed how they increase yield percentage and reduce insecticide usage.
"I think genetics are definitely the future of agriculture. I wish that people understood that GMOs aren't made to harm them; rather, they are used to help farmers produce food for our growing world on the land that's available."
The decision to attend post-secondary at the University of Saskatchewan was an easy one for Mackenzie. She noted the agriculture program, beautiful facilities and proximity to home as major selling points.
While there, she plans to obtain her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, with a focus on agronomy.
"There are so many options in agronomy," Mackenzie said. "You could go into sales, research or scouting. I just liked the option of having so many different ways I could pursue a career. I also really want to stay on the crop side of things, because that's what I grew up around and am so passionate about."
Before beginning her studies this fall, Mackenzie will spend the summer working on the family farm. She is grateful to have had the opportunity to capture her experience and optimism about the future of agriculture through the scholarship program.
"I loved writing the essay, I loved every minute of it. Just doing the research and really putting my feeling into the essay, it just felt amazing to get the phone call that I won."
Congratulations, Mackenzie, on winning the 2020 Agriculture Student Scholarship.
This year's Agriculture Student Scholarship runner-ups
These three recipients will be given $2,000 each to further their agricultural knowledge at a post-secondary institution in the fall of 2020.
Marci LeBlanc, Estevan
Born and raised in Estevan, Marci and her family farm 14,000 acres of land in the rural municipality of Cambria and Estevan. In her video submission, Marci describes her food story and the impact farming has on her family, specifically the knowledge that she gained from her grandfather and parents. Marci will be attending the University of Saskatchewan in the fall of 2020 to pursue a degree in animal science.
Isobel Kinash, Wishart
Isobel comes from a family farm just outside of Wishart. In her video submission, Isobel provides an overview of what her family's farm operation looks like over the course of a year. Her family produces pasture-raised, free-range poultry, honey and garlic. Isobel will be attending the University of Saskatchewan in the fall of 2020, studying horticulture.
Makenzie Olson, Tisdale
Makenzie comes from a mixed grain and cattle farm just outside of Tisdale. In her essay submission, Makenzie shares her food story and the importance of animal welfare on a farm. Makenzie will be studying at Lakeland College in the fall. She will be attending the Animal Science Technology Program, majoring in beef.
The Agriculture Student Scholarship is funded through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), a five-year $388 million investment by federal and provincial government.
This article was originally published in Agriview.