Waking up and doing what you love

 By Myrna Stark Leader  |   Photo Credit: Sarah McAtee

Until 2019, Janel Delage’s life resembled an agricultural Hallmark movie.

As a youngster actively involved in farm life on her parent’s grain farm at Ridgedale, Sask., she had the confidence to follow her goals.

“My parents said, ‘You can do whatever you want to do,’ and really meant it — but also that I was going to have to work really hard to reach my goals,” Delage recalls.

Taking their advice, coupled with her work ethic and keen interest in agriculture, she pursued her agronomy degree at the University of Saskatchewan. The unexpected bonus was finding her life partner.

“The day I met Marc at a College of Agriculture student executive meeting, I told my roommate I would marry him,” Janel shares with a big smile.

After school, they’d both pursued careers at agricultural companies, were inseparable, in sync, and supported each other. Their relationship and marriage were rooted in admiration and respect. She’d met a true partner who encouraged her to pursue her goals, supporting her 110 per cent.

Confidence she already possessed grew more as she achieved successes at work.

She recalls driving alone to her first real post-university job in a community she’d never visited with people she didn’t know.

“I was nervous, but I learned so much and met so many good people. I still have relationships with some of them,” she says of stepping into new experiences.

She and Marc built a beautiful life.

“We were both really successful in our careers and everything was going as we had always hoped. We had always talked about going back to his parents’ farm and owning land, as part of our future. We were really aligned with what we wanted our life to be like.”

After more progressively responsible jobs, Janel became Cargill’s Agronomy Manager for southern Saskatchewan. It was ideal. She was working closer to Indian Head where Marc’s parents farmed, so Marc left his off-farm job and began working full-time with Delage Farms. Together, Marc and his dad Maurice doubled the size of the operation.

Janel was always involved in the farm but within a few years, she joined the operation full-time. She says working side-by-side with her husband was amazing, although she now realizes she could have been more open to learning from her father-in-law earlier. Maurice Delage had been president and CEO of Aventis North America before he and his wife Jan started Delage Farms.

“I thought it was more important for me to form my opinion and to be heard,” Janel says, reflecting on her younger self.

Nevertheless, she and Marc carried on their ideal life, with a baby boy named Leo bringing them even more happiness.

Then 2019 rocked Janel’s heart and world. She watched the love of her life get progressively weaker and pass away within two months of becoming ill.

“Marc was an amazing balance of driven, kind, gentle and caring who put others ahead of himself and drew people in. I miss him so much,” she says with tears.

Devastated by his unexpected death, she didn’t know what to do. She was living on her in-law’s farm with a very young son.

“Maurice and I talked about the future and that I was going to need some time. But 2019 was the worst year ever. I lost my husband in January. We had spring frost and flea beetles. It was ugly. When August came, it started raining. We had the harvest from hell to finish it all off. But the thing is, I learned so much through that experience, that if it had been easy, I wouldn’t have all this new knowledge I now have. We had to persevere. I just put my head down and did it, because that’s what needed to get done. And man, did I learn a lot. I grew so much through that experience, because I had to. Then one day, I was like, holy smokes, I did that. I really did that. If I can do that. If I can survive that, I can do anything.”

What she really wanted was to stay put, keep building what she’d been doing and raise her son close to his family. That epiphany lifted a weight from her.

“I love agriculture. I love being in the field. I love playing in the dirt, growing crops. These are things that lots of people don’t love. I love them.”

Today, she’s vice-president of the 30,000-acre grain operation Delage Farms Limited. She’s working alongside her father-and mother-in-law and her parents live nearby. She’s surrounded by people she can count on.

“We’ve put together a really good team here, including our employees. I focus my time and energy on the things I’m good at and entrust others who work on the farm to do what they are good at,” she says from her farm office.

She manages acquisitions of equipment and inputs as well as land purchases and lease agreements. She oversees the farm’s finances and cash flow, serves as the agronomist, markets all the grain and handles HR duties for a peak-season team of about 25 employees. And, during harvest, you won’t find her anywhere else except on her combine, along with the field crew, (wo)manning Combine 2, one of the farm’s nine yellow combines.

“I would have said that I couldn’t do most of the things I did in 2019. But it was me putting up obstacles saying, ‘I can’t market grain or run a crew of guys that big. I can’t be the boss.’ That’s what I was telling myself when really, I could. I can and I am.”

She also learned more.

“One day, I willingly told myself I will learn more and be better off if I open up, ask Maurice more and embrace what he says. Since then, it’s been unbelievable. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned from him, how willing he is to share with me and how that’s opened up our relationship.”

There’s been another unexpected consequence.

“I actually feel more confident when it is time to speak in any kind of meeting. My airtime is even more impactful,” Janel adds.

“Sometimes Maurice says ‘well, you’re so young, what are you going to do?’ My answer: ‘What am I going to do if I’m not doing this? I’m going to be playing in the dirt somewhere else.’ Knowing I get to do this every day is so amazing. And yes, some days I wake up and do it for Leo. Some days I do it for Marc’s legacy — but every day I wake up and do it because I love it.”

Let us know your thoughts or experiences on this topic in the comments below!