Influencing the future of sustainable agriculture

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March 24, 2021
Lakeland College alumna Jess Verstappen credits her passion for youth in agriculture, and sustainable farming with landing her on the list of Canada’s most influential people in agriculture.
Jess Verstappen
Canadian Western Agribition released the ​top 50 most influential people in Canadian agriculture list for the first time on Canada’s Ag Day in 2021. Nominations for the list were accepted from all across Canada with the final 50 selected by a panel of judges, who narrowed the list down to a top 10 in five categories: mentors, upstarts, innovators, deal makers, designated hitters.

Verstappen landed in the upstart category.

“I’m extremely honoured,” Verstappen says. “It definitely caught me by surprise. I feel like I’m so early in my career and path in agriculture and there’s so much left for me to do, it’s amazing to be recognized so early in my career and that people can see that what I’m trying to do is making a bit of a difference.”

Originally from Holland in The Netherlands, Verstappen moved to High Prairie, Alta. when she was still a child. Raised on a cattle and sheep operation, Verstappen had her heart set on attending Lakeland College since Grade 9, when she first learned she’d be able to bring her horse with her.

“I wanted to make sure that when I went to college, it was an academic focus but was also going to build my skills in networking abilities with people in similar industries,” Verstappen explained. “I have a passion for judging so Lakeland’s judging team was especially exciting. Being able to learn from some of the best in the business at Lakeland was a huge draw.”

Bringing home new ideas

She intended to apply for an animal science program but in the end, her mother convinced her to try something new – an unconventional move that Verstappen credits with her unique approach to agriculture now.

“The day I was applying, my mom asked me why I was going into animal science and I told her how much I love animals and cows. She told me that there was so much more I needed to learn in order to manage a farm properly,” Verstappen explains. “She suggested I try looking into something else that would add to our cattle operation instead of growing the knowledge I already had. Bring home some new ideas.”

Verstappen ended up enrolling in Lakeland’s environmental sciences diploma and majored in conservation and restoration ecology.

“Looking back now, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Those were some of the most valuable courses I’ve ever taken,” Verstappen says. “It really gave me a good start with knowledge on plant biology, how things grow and what we need to do to rejuvenate pastures and cropping land. Regenerative and sustainable agriculture really became a big part of what we like to do on our farm.”

Following her environmental sciences diploma in 2016, Verstappen completed Lakeland’s agribusiness diploma in 2017 and then did a year of university transfer courses to complement the management skills she learned in agribusiness.

She explains, “The agribusiness side really helped me understand the risk-reward ratios and how farm management works. I was raised on a farm but I wouldn’t say that I had a background in management. I knew daily what needed to be done, but I didn’t have any idea how to run a farm from a business standpoint.”

The combination of environmental sciences, agribusiness and management studies has given Verstappen a unique perspective on agriculture, one which helped land her on Agribition’s Top 50 list.

“My education has made me so well-rounded for the ag industry,” Verstappen says. “The variety of options played together so well. I loved my time at Lakeland. The hands-on learning was such a crucial part of my overall growth. There’s not a single course that I didn’t keep my notes from. I met some amazing people and great instructors. The true value I got from going to Lakeland was being able to gain an incredible education while being able to network with so many people.”

Wildlife-friendly ranching 

Verstappen operates the first predator and wildlife-friendly ranch in Canada with her family and works at Cargill.

“We try to be a leader on the forefront of existing with the wildlife and nature that surrounds us,” she says. “Coming from Holland, it’s a passion for us. There isn’t really a whole lot of nature left in Holland, so coming to Canada, we wanted to maintain some forested areas on our land instead of clear cutting. We wanted to be able to see wildlife around us because it was something we didn’t have before. It’s really important for us to try to maintain that ecosystem around us.”

The key to being a predator and wildlife-friendly ranch is running a sustainable and responsibly managed operation, Verstappen explains. She and her family have found that avoiding wildlife conflict and co-existing naturally with the predators around them has not only allowed them to protect the ecosystem, it has also proven to be more profitable, with less predator loss.

“There is a profitability in sustainable farming,” Verstappen explains. “We have our livestock guardian dogs and really good fencing and have had great success with that strategy from a long-term livestock management approach in reducing and eliminating wildlife losses on our operation.

Verstappen believes that sustainable and responsible farming is a growing trend in the agricultural industry, especially with steadily increasing public scrutiny on agriculture.

“From a long-term standpoint, I saw what happened with agriculture in Holland and the lack of nature there. I don’t ever want Canada to get to that point. There are a lot of other people realizing that too.”

Verstappen also tries to be a good mentor for other youth looking to get into the industry, particularly those who may not have been raised in it.

“I try to show the long-term success of sustainable agriculture and be a strong influence for other youth in agriculture. It’s not easy to integrate into a whole different industry, so I try to be a resource and mentor people, and help them out in any way I can to see the future in agriculture.”
Lakeland alumnus Brett McRae also made Agribition's list of top 50 in Canadian agriculture.
What Students Say
With the Student-Managed Farm you learn to be accountable for what you’re doing and the choices you make. You get an understanding of what it’s like to be out in industry or on a farm making decisions that count.

– Anthony Biglieni

Agribusiness Class of 2006

What Alumni Say
Lakeland College has been a integral partner in growing our own through the school of business. As an alumnus of the college, I have first-hand learning experience in the school of business. The professors welcome Servus Credit Union to facilitate classes in the Business Ethics course each year.

– Sandi Unruh

Senior Human Resources Consultant

What Faculty & Staff Say
Vertex has had great experience bringing on students from Lakeland College. We have found the Bachelor of Applied Science (Environmental Management) program to provide students with good academic knowledge of the environmental industry and the criteria that governs the land reclamation

– Sean Fuller B.Sc., P.Ag.

Vice President, Environmental Services, Vertex.

What Alumni Say
There is no way I would be where I am today without Lakeland College. It inspired me to be a better person and to get a job in something I love doing. I am so thankful I had such a great experience at Lakeland and I hope future students do as well.

– Danielle Gaboury

Business studies, Class of 2016.

What Students Say
I recommend the UT program to people all the time. The smaller setting Lakeland offers, is very conducive to learning. It's less intimidating than the larger universities and allows for more class interactions and discussions

– Kelly Mykytuk

2nd year UT student, 2017-18

What Alumni Say
Choosing to attend Lakeland College was one of the best decisions that I’ve made in my life so far. The welcoming and friendly Lakeland environment encourages a place of excellence, and fosters the ability to be successful not only in school, but in life.

– Mariah Van’t Hof

University Transfer, Class of 2015

What Alumni Say
I have loved my experience at Lakeland. The teachers are personable, and quick to share about their own experiences. They encouraged me to run with my own ideas and see what would happen; they got excited about my designs, which gave me the confidence to do my best and be more creative.

– Payton Ramstead

Class of 2016, Interior Design student.

What Alumni Say
At Lakeland College you are guaranteed to have time out of the classroom where you can put everything you learned together and actually see that what you’re learning is relevant.

– Alisa Brace

Animal Health Technology, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
The friendships I made, the experiences we were provided with, and the welcoming atmosphere of the Vermilion Campus made my time at Lakeland extremely valuable and memorable

– Grayden Kay

Animal Science & Agribusiness, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
Lakeland College was a learning environment unlike any other school. It allows students to learn beyond the classroom, and staff and faculty genuinely want to see students succeed. It’s a place where you can feel comfortable asking questions and where everyone has a place and fits in.

– Carson Reid

Agribusiness, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
The instructors were the highlight of my time at Lakeland. It made a huge impact on my college experience to have instructors who challenged, encouraged, and believed in me.

– Jessica Cadrain

Child & Youth Care, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
At the beginning of my first year, I was really stressed out as I felt I had no artistic ability. But with the instruction and time put in by the interior design faculty, I was able to develop my artistic abilities. Now I am fully confident in and exceeding well in the artistic side of this career!

– Naomi Mason

Interior Design Technology, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
I just feel like you get the best education at Lakeland, especially from the time that the instructors can actually spend with you. I like the class sizes too – everything’s been great about my Lakeland experience.

– Dean Coulson

Heavy Equipment Technician, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
I do give Lakeland College credit for reigniting my interest and even preparing me for Miss Rodeo Canada. Lakeland helped me to grow enough to have the confidence to think I could take on that role and become that person. I think that I have and I am really grateful for that

– Ali Mullin

Agribusiness, class of 2014, former Miss Rodeo Canada.

What Alumni Say
I feel the professors at Lakeland actually prepared me for the profession. It’s impossible to be just a number here when there are 12 students in all of your classes. When the school advertised small class sizes, they actually meant it.

– Stephen Mark Visser

Real Estate Appraisal and Assessment, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
I was involved in the president’s gala in April where I was an emcee for the evening, it was a great experience, and I had a lot of fun doing it and would recommend it to everyone.”

– Lucas Tetreault

HOPE Power Engineering, Class of 2017.

What Alumni Say
I would recommend Lakeland College for the simple fact that it's for everybody. As a mature student who went back to school much later than his 18th year, I was immediately accepted, and not ostracized in the least

– Donald James Shaw

Accounting Major, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
All the hands-on learning was great and very helpful once placed into the industry. Having clients leave with a smile after each service assured me that I was in the right field of work. I would recommend Lakeland to anyone.

– Courtnee Coolidge

Esthetician, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
The professors care so much about their students at Lakeland and are able to know each and every one of them by name, so much so that they are able to nominate a ton of students for awards.

– Stephanie Wakefeild

University Transfer, Class of 2016.

What Alumni Say
They really put you in the lead at Lakeland. Lakeland cares about its students, empowers them, and gives them opportunities to achieve their goals. I don’t see Lakeland as a stepping stone or a first step – I see it as a bridge and an integral part of my education.

– Alyssa Wells

University Transfer, Class of 2017.

What Alumni Say
I wanted to get experience in the field of assessment as it would give me exposure to what it’s like day to day. It was an invaluable experience as I find it hard to imagine what it would be like working in a particular field or area until I’m doing the work.

– Sheldon Farrell

Real estate appraisal and assessment, Class of 2017.

What Alumni Say
In the campus spa, they give you time to work with each client so nothing is rushed and you’re able to concentrate on providing the best service you can to your client.

– Daphney Couturier

Esthetician, Class of 2017.

What Alumni Say
It’s going to be a lot easier to start our first jobs having this experience and having been able to build our confidence in the campus spa. I love that we get to have this opportunity.

– Darby Watchel

Esthetician, Class of 2017.

What Employers Say
Lakeland is a great place to find employees. The college provides real world training that equips soon-to-be employees with knowledge and people skills that are highly sought after in the agriculture industry these days.

– Dustin Dinwoodie

Key Account Manager – Western Canada Arysta LifeScience

What Alumni Say
The hands-on field trips, quality of education i received, professors who are invested in your success, and all the friends I made. I exceeded my academic expectations and I also had a lot of fun. If i had to do it all over gain, i would choose Lakeland!

– Nicole (Audet) Pysh

Class of 2006, Environmental Protection & Class of 2008, Applied Environmental Degree