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Smoky Lake County family receives Farmfair International award

Andy Shwetz, who manages the farm along with his wife Shawnalee, emphasizes the award does not mean they are doing anything “over and above” any other farm families. He believes every farm has a story of its own.
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The Shwetz family is one of this year's Farm Family Award winners. Awards were presented at Farmfair International.

Smoky Lake – A family farm from Smoky Lake County has received a Farm Family Award, presented at Farmfair International on Nov. 11 at the Edmonton EXPO Centre. 

Farmfair International’s Farm Family Award selects “outstanding families who best represent values of the family farm within their rural community,” according to information from Farmfair International.  

The Shwetz family’s Ace High Farms is a grain and cattle operation and was among the 15 family farms selected for the award this year. 

In addition to honouring “their farming business practices,” the award also honours community involvement. 

According to Shawnalee Shwetz, who helps manage 2,000 acres of crop and 70 head of cattle alongside her husband, Andy, community engagement is an important part of their lives. 

“We have a small community, and we don’t want to see anything go down,” she says, speaking especially to opportunities for children and youth. 

The family is involved with the Thorhild Ukrainian Dancing Club, 4-H, the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and the Waskatenau Youth Foundation. 

Shawnalee says it is an honour to receive the Farm Family Award. 

“We’re a farm family” on the third generation, says Shawnalee. “We [also] plan on making sure our fourth generation ahead of us is taken care of.” 

Shawnalee says farming simply runs in their blood. “You just can’t get rid of it.” 

Andy reiterates that the award is an acknowledgement that, “We take care of the land for the future generations,” and, “It’s something that kind of says that maybe we’re doing things the right way.” 

However, Andy emphasizes the award does not mean they are doing anything “over and above” any other farm families. He believes every farm has a story of its own. 

Their story 

The couple bought farmland from Andy’s cousins in 2005. Andy was working in the oilfield at the time, which helped pay for the land, as well as a reclamation company he started while he was in university. 

The land had been vacant for about five years when they bought it, and a lot of work needed to be done to turn it around. 

“[Faming] is not one of those businesses where you can just start from scratch,” says Shawnalee. “We had lots of help from both sides of the family.” 

Farming also comes with many challenges, and every day is a struggle. A lack of government support and increases in prices for a variety of things, along with increased taxes, can be tough to juggle.  

“We’ve had some pretty hard years on the farm,” says Andy, but they always made enough to make ends meet. 

Thus, with the challenges that come with farming, the couple is grateful for members of their families who are eager to help, including both their parents who are always there to provide support and help manage the farm’s daily operations. 

“I’d like to thank my parents Sylvester and Phyllis,” and to anybody who has ever helped with the farm, says Andy. “Because we wouldn’t be able to do it without everybody’s help.” 

Despite the challenges, the Shwetz family truly has a love of farming, and “love of the land,” says Andy. 

“I don’t know why... it’s just you grew up in it and you appreciate it,” he says. “It’s a slower pace and you get to make your own decisions.” 

“The biggest thing about farming that I love is it’s a seasonal thing,” he said. For example, “You put the crop in and then you spray” in the spring. When summer comes, “you get a little time off or go to work full-time,” then harvest comes, and then you start calving in winter. 

“The seasonality of farming is like something that never changes, and we look forward to all those little stages of farming of the season,” says Andy. “It always stays the same.” 

All the sacrifices and efforts that go into farming, according to Andy, “really do pay off.” 

The couple is working “towards the end goal” of setting up the farm for their children, hoping that one day, one of their sons will want to take it over.