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Neil Vandenborn: From the farm to Alberta’s oil sector and back again

This is the second in a series of profiles of young egg farmers. They are all young leaders taking part in Egg Farmers of Canada’s national young farmer program, an initiative designed to prepare the next generation of industry leaders.

Neil Vandenborn

Busby, Alberta

“We’ve had hens on the farm since my family moved here in 1949,” says Neil Vandenborn, an egg and grain farmer from Busby, Alberta. “My great-grandpa started with hens, my grandpa, then my dad, and now me.” The fourth generation farmer says he always wanted to farm, and despite spending 10 years working in Alberta’s oil industry, he says he “never really left the farm.”

After training as a power engineer, Neil got a job operating oil and gas wells in Northern Alberta. For the first few years he worked away on a two-week rotation—which he says was challenging, as his time at home didn’t always align with the farm’s schedule and priorities. In 2014, around the same time he married his wife, Kayla, he started working in nearby Redwater, which meant he could be home every night, giving him a better work-farm-life balance.

In 2021, he started working full-time on the farm. “The lifestyle, the freedom, being able to work with family,” he says, are among the reasons he chose to farm full-time. “I’ve got three kids of my own now, they can come to work with me every day if they want to.”

The Vandenborn kids—Levi, age six, Blake, four, and Gracie, two—definitely want to be involved as the fifth generation on the family farm and are often tagging along with Dad as he goes about his daily routine. “They like to pick eggs, pulling out the dirty ones or the cracked ones. Blake loves the fieldwork. He even likes to pick rocks.”

The Vandenborn farm, where Neil works alongside his parents, Dan and Bernadette, has 15,000 hens, a pullet barn, and 1,500 acres of cropland where they grow canola, wheat and oats. Neil and Kayla own some of their own cropland, and in the future, expanding the crop side of the business is something Neil would like to do. He appreciates the steady nature of the supply-managed egg sector, which provides financial stability to counterbalance the volatility of the grain markets.

Learning more about the egg farming industry and supply management is something that Neil will be doing as part of the 2023 cohort of Egg Farmers of Canada’s national young farmer program. He sees the program as a chance to get off the farm and see the industry from a new perspective.

“I was approached by Egg Farmers of Alberta about the program, and had heard from a few other people that the program could be valuable—an opportunity to see behind the curtain, to see why certain decisions are being made and the rationale behind a lot of things that go on.”