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Putting the People First

A regular Tuesday in the office was flipped upside-down when a student entered the office to talk with Ken.

While we’re used to our students enjoying their summer working at Farming Smarter, we didn’t know how much the experience means to them.

Tal Ibanez, a first-time summer student at Farming Smarter, returned from a stretch of sick days and approached Coles with an impromptu conversation. In that conversation, she opened our eyes to the environment we created at work.

“I just really appreciate that it’s a workplace that I’ve never really seen before,” Ibanez said. “It’s refreshing to come into a workplace that has a professional side and actually cares about their workers.”

After missing work to illness, Ibanez received a phone call from her team lead, Lewis Baarda. The call not only surprised her, but it also shone a light on the personal side of the workplace behind our professional front. “You can tell that the team leads care for their workers. The first thing Lewis said to me was, ‘How are you feeling?’ and then it got into work afterwards,” Ibanez recalled.

A Fresh Set of Eyes

The experience came as a shock to Ibanez, as previous jobs had instilled a different expectation of professional workplaces. Her call with Baarda left her with a newfound appreciation for Farming Smarter.

“It’s incredible to see how hard the team leads work, yet they still take care of their families. And they still take care of us,” Ibanez added.

Liam McKay (left), Austin Dennis (middle), and Tal Ibanez (right) get fitted for PPE, early spring 2022.

“It feels like a workplace but also a family, all-in-one,” Ibanez said. “There are so many workplaces that push the family motif but never follow through. Here, it’s different; I have only heard it through action. Nobody told me this workplace is like a family, they only showed it.”

It’s not just the people at Farming Smarter Ibanez has come to appreciate, but the opportunity itself as well. Hailing from the mountains, valleys, and orchards of British Columbia, Ibanez was largely unfamiliar with the agriculture industry.

Before, she was unable to tell the difference between a seeder and a combine. Now, she can tell you the crop that’s planted in a field and what equipment was used to seed it.

“I’ve gotten a lifetime of experience this summer,” exclaimed Ibanez. “I appreciate Ken hiring me when I didn’t know a single thing about agriculture coming into this job. And now, I’m going around, going home and telling my friends about everything I’m doing at work.”

“And when I’m driving across Alberta, I get excited because I recognize equipment I pass and any crops I see in the fields,” Ibanez commented. After Tal’s discussion with Ken, we were curious what the perspective of our workplace was with a few other employees. We approached Partnerships Manager, Alexi Kubeczek, and Field Technician, Sara Gateman, to inquire about their experiences with Farming Smarter.

Inspire and Empower

Having lived on a small, non-commercial farm in Nova Scotia before moving west, Alexi began to miss agriculture as he started to develop his career. He graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a Bachelor of Management but took as many Ag classes as possible to connect to his roots.

While working a summer job at a car rental agency, Kubeczek met with Ken Coles to discuss the possibility of renting vehicles to Farming Smarter over pizza (at the local Two Guys and a Pizza Place!)

“At the end of that talk, I decided not to sell in a regular way because Ken ended up selling me on working for Farming Smarter when I finished my degree,” said Kubeczek.

After graduating, Kubeczek found himself in roles that utilized his past in agriculture alongside his degree. As a recruitment officer for University of Lethbridge, he worked in Saskatchewan where he could use his interest in the industry to relate to students interested in agriculture studies.

Before working at Farming Smarter, he ran the AgEnt program at Lethbridge College, which facilitated and assisted agri-business start-ups undertaken by students.

“I had a lot of exposure to Farming Smarter throughout my career, in many different ways,” commented Kubeczek.

“I loved the team, I loved that they’re able to drive innovation forward in a way that makes sense for farmers and how they’re so closely connected with the farmers that they represent and collaborate with,” added Kubeczek. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of that. And now, I’ve joined the team at an interesting point in the business, doing interesting projects with a variety of clients. I’m excited to push the boundaries of our extension program and grow the new partnerships we’re developing,” stated Kubeczek.

We Study, We Teach, We Change

Sara Gateman has been a summer student at Farming Smarter throughout her academic career. As one of the most experienced students, she is a huge asset to our team. This year, she took over some trials on the Agronomy team and is getting a chance to manage those projects.

Tal Ibanez (front) and Sara Gateman (back) seeding one of Gateman’s trials, spring 2022

Having grown up on an Albertan farm, working with crops was not a foreign experience for her. Although, doing work with research crops such as rice and poppies was a new and exciting venture.

While looking for a summer job, she was directed to Ken by a friend at the nearby AAFC Research Station. Farming Smarter provided her with a job that brought something new and exciting every day – the variety of work thrilled her, enough that all these years later she’s still excited to come to work (although, maybe less so in this heat)!

“I had so much fun getting to come in and learn something new every day,” said Gateman.

Though, it wasn’t just the workload that had her eager to return the following year.

“I made so many friends working here the first year, I was looking forward to seeing them again and meeting new people,” commented Gateman.

“It felt like a family. Us students work so closely together, out in the sun, we’re forced to get to know each other and become close. I’ve ended up making some lifelong friends here,” added Gateman.

Gateman says that the culture at Farming Smarter is centered on an important aspect other companies lose sight of.

“It’s so tightknit. Our supervisors care about us as people first and it’s created a culture of caring for each other and helping is more important than the actual work.”

Gateman is excited to continue to work at Farming Smarter for the meantime. She’s enjoying the increased responsibility and still excited to meet the new faces every summer.

At Farming Smarter, we know the importance of having fun at work – while still getting the work done. We’re beyond happy to see how that mindset has translated to a workplace culture of putting the people first.

Because at the end of the day, it’s the people that matter.