People of Poultry: Art Van Zanten – Volunteer Profile

Art van Zanten is the owner and founder of the newly launched Integrated Feed Solutions. Launched in May 2024, the goal of the new business is to marry data and AI in one place to inform feed solutions. He works as an agent for Masterfeeds, with time and freedom to work in the two areas of industry that he finds most fascinating - water and data. Van Zanten believes in industry working together to find the best solutions for reading and distributing data and he is currently working on initiatives to make that happen. He previously worked as a feed specialist for Hi-Pro Feeds and Trouw Nutrition from 2014 - 2024.

Art van Zanten is a consummate volunteer. From Western Poultry Conference committee member, to mentoring green certificate students in Dewberry, AB, to launching a garden program dedicated to growing food for those in need, Art is the first to step up and offer a hand. When asked how he manages to carve out the time to volunteer despite work, family, and a brand new business, he reflects on his upbringing. 

Art grew up in Holland with parents who farmed a small plot of land originally owned by his grandfather. His dad also worked as a bricklayer to bring in additional income. Despite the demands of farm and family, volunteering was built into the fabric of daily life. 

“All I saw growing up was my parents volunteering in the local community,” mused Art. “I learned that you are out there to give of your time. When I came to Canada, I started doing the same thing.”   

Van Zanten has volunteered with the Picture Butte Chamber of Commerce, various trade shows, hockey associations, the Sunnybrook Farm museum, multiple boards, the Pork Congress, PSIW, WPC, PIP, Dewberry school and the Common Ground Garden Project. In addition, he has appeared as a volunteer speaker and coach at events like PIP Flock Talks, Forums and Innovation Showcase webinars. 

“Finding the time is definitely a balancing act,” he said. “But I just enjoy being out and about, helping people. That is the core reason that I do it.”

Western Poultry Conference

When Brenda Reimer and Val Carney began to hatch the idea of a Western Poultry Conference in 2014, they approached Art to sit on the founding committee. The committee scrambled in the early years but, with a solid reputation and strong belief in the project, WPC has flourished and recently celebrated their 10 year anniversary.

“Now, I look back, and it’s been ten years!,” marvelled Art. “Would you have imagined it in the early years? The WPC has taken on a life of its own and I’m looking forward to a 25 year anniversary.” 

Van Zanten believes strongly in continuous education, both for himself and those that he serves. 

“Someone once told me that I was in the wrong profession, and I should have been a teacher, ” he smiled. “For me, learning all the time is important personally, and surveys have identified continuous education as the number one factor in farming success.”

As well as sitting on the WPC committee to identify industry needs and match them with engaging presenters, Art has also contributed both as a speaker and panelist on multiple occasions.

Producer Peer Support and Learning Groups.   

Van Zanten believes strongly in face to face connection and the power of conversation and support. He started his first producer peer group in 2002, as a study group for hog farmers. They met every month during the winter to connect and learn about new innovations. The second peer group launched in 2023, partly as a result of the isolation after Covid-19, HPAI and increased biosecurity protocols.

“In 2000, we wanted to get together to discover the knowledge,” he explained. ” In 2023, we needed to get together to connect with one another. We have been isolating ourselves, not just from a disease and biosecurity perspective, but also because farming has had to scale up in order to maintain profitability. As a result, the neighbours have been disappearing and all of this has resulted in an epidemic of loneliness amongst farmers.” 

“Farming has become harder, tougher, and higher risk,” he continued. “Farmers are also faced with a completely overwhelming amount of information. As a result, people are stressed. One of the ways to dilute that stress is to know that there are other people out there going through the same things. You get together to share, learn from one another, and to know that there is somebody there that will have your back in hard times.” 

“We need to have this physical connection. We are meant to roam together in a group.”

Common Ground Garden Project

Art is the founder of the Common Ground Garden Project (CGGP) in Red Deer, which launched in 2020. CGGP is an urban farming project which works to address local food security in central Alberta while creating a safe and vibrant public space that offers accessibility, inclusion, sustainability, and fellowship. 

“We initially wanted to grow food to give away to local Red Deer causes, like the food bank,” explained Art. “Over the last four years, it has grown beyond all imaginings.” 

Common Ground Gardem Project

The City of Red Deer originally loaned CGGP four acres of land, with a 90 day out-clause. The land is available for sale to developers and, if sold, CGGP has 90 days to move on. The garden beds were built with mobility in mind, so they could pack up and move if required. However, a wonderful announcement from the City of Red Deer arrived just weeks ago.

“We have been awarded ten acres from the city as a permanent site,” said Art. “This is a game changer. Food security is becoming a bigger challenge, so it’s critical that we have a strong local food system.”

As well as providing food to those in need, new programs have developed including a community composting program, summer youth camps, engagements with local schools and non profit organizations and programs with First Nations, including a medicine wheel garden. 

A recent CGGP initiative creates connections to lonely and isolated seniors through the beauty and poetry of flowers. The idea was inspired by a personal experience by a CGGP intern, who lives across from a retirement home. A senior would come out every day, just to stare at the flowers in her garden. The intern recognized her loneliness and gave her a bouquet to take back to her room from time to time. The senior has since become part of her family, and an idea was born for CGGP. 

“People can sign up for a membership, where they receive a bouquet of flowers every week,” explained Art. “For a slightly larger fee, a bouquet is also donated, on behalf of the member, to a person in an old folk’s home. They can choose the person and go deliver it themselves every week, or the organization will do it for them.”

This creates a bit of funding for the CGGP while bringing joy and friendship to a lonely population. 

This story represents the motivations behind much of Art’s volunteering activities. Giving back, helping people, sharing and finding joy in something as simple as a bouquet of flowers, that has the power to transform.

“It’s so important to make the step, to move into action, and then the unexpected will happen,” said Art.

Dewberry Green Certificate Program

In 2021, Art was asked to participate in the Dewberry School Green Certificate (GC) Program by Dr. Frank Robinson, who was collecting a group of poultry industry volunteers to help a motivated Dewberry teacher get the program off the ground. (read the whole story about the program, the students and teacher Tyson Lancaster here.

“I decided that I would donate the feed for the program,” said Art. 

The students renovated a garden shed into a chicken coop for 25 layers and worked through the steps of the GC Poultry Program while caring for the live birds. With the help of many volunteers, and spearheaded by Frank, their education included economics, biology, husbandry, marketing, carpentry, health, feed and many other aspects of raising livestock. 

“There were five boys in the program,” said Art. “When they were in grade 10, they attended classes only 45% of the time. During the GC program, the now grade 11 boys had an attendance record of over 90%.”

The students learned responsibility, reached out to help their fellow students, became popular in school as the “chicken kids,” and achieved higher academic success. 

“They found their passions and learned where they could shine,” said Art.  The program has continued yearly with new sets of students and Art continues to donate feed and make himself available as a mentor whenever needed. Dewberry now has their own greenhouse and CGGP will be teaching the students how to make their own compost. 

Art with Dewberry kids

Why volunteering matters and advice on how to reach out. 

“It’s interesting how people can come up with fears around volunteering which holds them back, rather than just stepping out into the journey,” said Art. “People are worried that they can’t contribute in an appropriate way, or there is a set of standards that they can’t meet. This is rarely the case.”

“People are also looking for a road map to volunteer and this has been the hardest thing for me to communicate – the path that we are on does not have a road map. There are no ten steps to success. It’s a journey. As volunteers, we decide, amongst one another, that we want to be on that journey together. That’s really what it’s all about.” 

“Some see volunteering as strictly giving – but it gives you back way more than you could ever imagine. It has changed me over the years as a person.”

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