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Learn as you go, says young entrepreneur with greenhouse business
February 21, 2008
BOW ISLAND, Alta.—Creating and maintaining a perfect growing environment for a crop of 14,000 peppers is a rewarding challenge for a young entrepreneur in this diverse agricultural community southeast of Calgary.
“A greenhouse is a brand new idea for us—it is a brand new learning experience,” said Peter Dyck, 23, whose family moved to southeastern Alberta from the Manitoba Colony near Cuauhtémoc, Mexico in 1993 when he was nine years old.
Nine years later, at the age of 18, he became the manager of a new family business venture—a 4,000 square metre hydroponics greenhouse for growing peppers.
“To have a successful business you need to supply a product that people want—there is a market for this,” he said, explaining the family-owned business, Prairie Oasis Farms, grows peppers that are packed and distributed by a co-op in nearby Redcliff.
“You just learn as you go,” he said. “You have to be willing to try new ideas. You do a lot of reading and research. You meet with consultants and go to conferences and meetings to be with other people who understand the business.”
His parents, Abe and Tina Dyck, and their six children moved to Canada in 1993 following a prolonged drought in northern Mexico where they were farming. “We had to go somewhere else to make a living,” said Abe Dyck. “We have no education but we have knowledge of farming.”
After working for another farmer for five years Abe Dyck purchased land near Bow Island, an agricultural service centre of just under 2,000 people about 75 kilometres east of Taber. He also owns several rental properties.
The past 15 years more than 10,000 Mennonites from Latin and South America have moved to Alberta, said Ruben Bueckert, manager of MCC’s Services for Low German Mennonites in Alberta. They are descendents of the Canadian Mennonites who moved to Latin America in the 1920s and 40s. Many have returned to Canada for reasons of poverty in Latin and South America.
The Dyck family, he said, exemplifies the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit that Mennonites from South and Latin America bring to Canada.
“They see an opportunity and make things happen,” said Bueckert, noting it doesn’t take long for people to learn the English language, find jobs, buy houses and land or start new businesses.
When they first arrive in Alberta many take advantage of settlement and support services available in the MCC resource centre—a centre that recently moved to Taber from Lethbridge.
“We play a very small role in their resettlement but it is significant,” said Bueckert, noting the MCC centre provides information, referrals and support on issues relating to housing, public education for children, English language classes, training and adult education programs, employment services, health services and government services, such as helping people get their social insurance numbers, driver’s licences and family allowances.
Churches, he said, play an important role in providing spiritual, emotional and social support to newcomers, said Bueckert, noting many families drive many hours to participate in church services.
The Dyck family is part of the Tween Valley Christian Fellowship, a Kleine Gemeinde church in Grassy Lake, about 50 kilometres west of Bow Island. This church provides spiritual support to about 400 people.
Peter Dyck is involved in the church youth group, Sunday School and prison ministry. “Looking back, I think it was God leading us out here,” he said, noting that his involvement in a Christian private school and church activities have helped him grow spiritually.
He said he wants to follow the example set by his parents to develop a business that will be a “Christian light in the community.” His goal is to provide a good work environment for employees (two full-time and one seasonal employee) and to use the business as a means to provide financial support to church ministries in Canada and other countries.
He also wants to follow the example set by his parents to support MCC. His parents are avid supporters of the Mennonite Treffen, a gathering of newcomers hosted by MCC and other projects initiated by MCC.
Bueckert said that many of the people using the services of the MCC office support other MCC ventures in the community. This includes donating time and resources to support MCC thrift shops, relief sales and advisory boards.