As a young boy growing up on the family farm near Smoky Lake, Roman Dmetruik had a dream. It’s a dream that he has spent his life chasing. And it’s a familiar dream that many farm kids grow up having: to have your own herd one day, to grow a garden full of fresh vegetables, to fall asleep to the sound of your fields dancing in the night breeze, and to share your love of the land with your children.
Today, this 31 year-old, fourth-generation farmer has made his dream a reality. Roman operates a mixed farm with his wife, Kamiko. Together they have three children, Ginny who is six years old; Rosie who is three; and four-month old baby Bohdan, who’s name means God’s gift in Ukrainian. The family farm is about two hours northeast of Edmonton, near Smoky Lake, where Roman went to school and where Ginny, in grade one, has the same teachers that he did.
But the road to a multi-generational farming operation has not always been easy. “My great-grandfather immigrated from the Ukraine and from what I’ve been told, things were far from easy back then. I owe a debt of gratitude for all those who came before me and literally planted those first seeds.”
As kids Roman loved growing up on the farm. He was the youngest of three children to mom, Nancy, and dad, Lenny. The kids always had lots of chores to do and he remembers getting them done as fast as possible so that he and older brother, John, and sister, Crystal, could get to playing. “We were never in organized sports, but we were always active. We skated on the pond, went sledding, built forts and made up games around the home-quarter. It was a great life growing up on the farm, and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. It’s the lifestyle that I wanted to give to my children.”
Being involved with 4-H is one of Roman’s fondest memories. “I learned so many valuable things but probably the most important was learning how to speak in public. I work as a mechanic now and it’s a skill that has really helped me over the years.”
It’s also one of the reasons why he says that community support from organizations like the United Farmers of Alberta Co-operative (UFA) is so important. “A lot has changed in our community from the time I was a boy. At one time, we only had to drive 18 kilometres to deliver our grain. Now that the elevator is gone, I have to drive over an hour to make that same delivery. The school bus used to pick us up at the end of the driveway, now we have to drive our kids 15 minutes to a gas station for them to get picked up. It’s vital that organizations like UFA re-invest in rural communities in order for them to survive. I want a strong community for my children and UFA has made it a priority to make sure that it is, which goes a long way with me because I’ve seen first-hand how powerful a strong community can be.”
Apart from how rural communities have changed, Roman also says that over the years, farming itself has changed. “Technology has really changed the way that we access information. I remember as a boy listening to Elders in our community who used to share stories to help predict weather patterns. They would tell all the secrets of winter, how you could predict the winter based on what the pig spleen looked like after butchering, what the muskrats’ houses looked like and where they were built, and the way that the ice was breaking on the river. There was a tradition of story-telling that seems to be disappearing. Now we are down from twelve to one or two Elders who share their knowledge. The internet and phones have taken their place and that’s a bit sad.”
Having said that, Roman also admits that for young farmers like him, technology isn’t always a bad thing. “If I have spare time, I can be looking things up on the internet and learning. My learning never stops thanks to technology and I’ve got everything I need to stay up-to-date on my phone at the touch of a button. It’s very empowering to have unlimited access to knowledge, something my parents or grand-parents never had.”
However, he says that at the end of the day, farming is farming. The constant is that no two years are the same, and your success depends mostly on the weather and how much effort you’re willing to put in, day in day out. The work is never done, you finish one thing and are on to the next. “I love farming because just when you think you have the deck beat, the dealer throws in a wild card. This is a lifestyle choice and one that I hope my children carry forward. It’s a great life and I love what I’m doing. Sure, I need to have another job that allows me to continue farming, but that’s the case for many farmers today. There’s an old saying that farmers have money, they just don’t have cash. That’s true, but you don’t farm for the money or to get rich. You farm to live the dream, and I’ll be chasing it each and everyday.”