The Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce handed out its annual agricultural hardware at the 71st Rural Urban Dinner Nov. 22.
Mark Richards earned agriculturalist of the year honours, while Laurent Van Arkel was named innovator of the year, Dr. Peter Sikkema friend of agriculture, and Molly Sayers and Matt Vermey 4-H members of the year.
Richards, of Richards Rolling Acres Ltd., appreciated the award.
“It means recognition for a lot of hard work, but I can’t take credit for all the hard work on my own. I’ve got the support of my wife and daughter, the example set by my parents Phil and Janet who are previous award winners, the support of my farming partner, my cousin Mike, plus the overall support of the community in Chatham-Kent,” he said.
His parents won agriculturalist of the year in 2009.
Richards farms more than 2,000 acres of sugar beets, tomatoes, soybeans, corn and wheat, and is happy to be doing it in Chatham-Kent.
“In my humble opinion, I think Chatham-Kent is one the better places in world to set up shop and be an agriculture producer,” he said.
Richards added he believes the municipality does a good job supporting the agricultural sector.
“I sit on the ag development committee for the municipality. We’re trying to encourage more businesses to locate here,” he said. “We have a lot of things outside our control that have worked against us.”
Richards declined to go into details.
Van Arkel’s passion is soil management. He said being named innovator of the year is to receive recognition for one’s efforts.
“It means I’ve slipped over that fine line between the guy with the whacky ideas to an innovator,” he said. “I’m following a passion I have for soil health. I guess I’m being recognized for doing something outside the norm.”
Van Arkel said he tries to follow three principles on his farm, keep the soil covered at all times, try to keep a diverse living root system in the soil and to do as little tillage as possible.
Tilling prepares soil for planting and is done for weed suppression. But it also increases the susceptibility of wind and water erosion of the soil, and can speed the decomposition of organic materials in the soil, leaving it in need of added nutrients.
Van Arkel said he’s seen more and more acreage in Chatham-Kent being tilled in the fall, a trend he doesn’t like.
“I’ve been involved in a couple of organizations that are trying to (reverse the trend),” he said.
Angela Sikkema, Peter’s wife, accepted the friend of agriculture award on the weed scientist’s behalf, as he was in Saskatoon at the Canadian Weed Science Society’s annual meeting.
“I think it’s a really nice award because Peter, throughout his career, has always put the family farm, the operator, the grower, top of mind. In his research, he’s always thinking about the person on the farm and how it is going to benefit them,” she said.
Sayers, who hopes to attend the University of Guelph to study animal sciences, said the 4-H award shines a light on what she’s accomplished as a member.
“This award helps me realize how much I’ve actually put into my 4-H career and how much dedication I’ve put towards the other members and to become a better leader,” she said.
Vermey, who is at the University of Guelph and hopes to become a vet, said he’s happy to be recognized.
“It just shows the dedication that goes into 4-H and the involvement,” he said. “It recognizes the volunteering you do within 4-H.”
Attendees of the Rural Urban dinner heard from guest speaker Jay Blake, a blind crew chief on his own racing team. He lost his sight, as well as his sense of smell and taste, in an industrial accident 20 year ago, but didn’t let it slow him down.
“At that point, trying to relearn to live life, I decided to start my own racing team. In 1999, I formed Follow a Dream. We race throughout the United States,” he said. “Last year, the racing team finished No. 6 in the world and were eastern region champions.”
Blake said he’s not alone in his effort to succeed.
“A lot of people have the desire and the drive. You look at what these farmers do every year,” he said. “My story is just unique because I don’t have eyes anymore.”
Blake stressed there are five tools in life’s toolbox – a positive attitude, education, passion, determination and teamwork.
“With those five tools, you can accomplish any of your goals and your dreams.”