Steadfast is a fitting name for the ranch Angie Fox calls home. After suffering a devastating loss, she remained resolute in her commitment to keep the farm going and growing.
Angela and Jay Fox started their lives together just like many other farm families. In 2005 they married and Angie moved from her home near North Battleford, SK, to join Jay on the family ranch in Eddystone, MB. She put her knowledge from her own family’s cow-calf operation to good use, and was very involved in the day-to-day management of the operation, especially after Jay became active with the Manitoba Beef Producers’ board and other farming associations.
Children quickly joined the family — Devon, Charlee, Porter and Major were born over the next several years. In 2008, the couple earned the Outstanding Young Farmers’ Program (OYF) award for the Manitoba region and in 2011 Angela went on to become a valued part of the Manitoba Outstanding Young Farmers’ team as regional administrator.
Then the unthinkable happened on December 23, 2011, when Jay was killed in an accident on the ranch.
At first, Angela continued the work she and Jay had started together on the ranch, although making some reductions to better manage the 11,000-acre operation. “We did a really hard cull and downsized a fair bit. Because I had four kids and three of them were five years old and younger, they needed me,” she says.
Her experience running the day-to-day operation of the ranch served her well during this period, as did the conversations she and her husband had had before he died.
As time went on she maintained the smaller scale then, in 2016-2017, she formed a partnership with another operation involving leased cows. Grazing rotated between the two farms with summer grazing at Steadfast and winter grazing on the partner’s land. Devon, now 22, is working with the partners.
IT’S OKAY TO CHANGE THE PLAN
“It’s interesting how your dreams change and they can evolve in ways that you didn’t think were possible,” says Angela. “At the time Jay and I had very common goals but since he’s been gone I’ve changed my priorities.”
One of their goals was to have an 800- head cow-calf operation. “While I don’t own 800 head myself, it feels like I have accomplished it within the partnership,” she says, adding it’s something she hadn’t ever considered a few years earlier. “I thought to make it happen, we would need to own the cows. Sometimes the goals you have in mind, and the way they become reality are very different.”
They had also talked about adding an abattoir to the operation, but Angela came to realize that wasn’t a goal she wanted herself. “It took a while to be okay with that — to not accomplish goals we had made together. We are building new goals and seeing what is achievable for the operation where it is now,” she says. “For a long time I thought we just needed to keep on the straight and narrow and stick with the plan and now I feel like I can make some of my own choices and steer my way around things.”
HELPING OTHER FARMERS PREPARE
Angela couldn’t have known it at the time but the lessons she learned navigating the loss of her husband, would lead her to a new friend and a new purpose.
Jim Snyder, with the accounting firm, BDO Canada, connected Angela and Maggie Van Camp, as they had both recently lost their husbands and were left to farm and raise their kids alone. “We realized we had a lot in common and worked with BDO on a video about our stories and a list of things to do to try to prepare for the loss of a spouse in a farming operation,” says Angela. And that’s how the Because I Love You checklist was born.
The discussions she and Jay had before he died, as well as the ones they didn’t have, plus Van Camp’s similar experiences were the motivation behind the list. Since its creation the two have shared with many people across the country, the checklist and their personal stories of picking up the pieces and continuing to farm after they lost their husbands. “Maggie said it’s worth doing if we can help one person,” says Angela. “I know we have accomplished that.”
THE FUTURE IS FORWARD
In December 2019, Angela received the W. R. Motherwell Award, which recognizes excellence in leadership and dedication to both the OYF program and Canadian agriculture. It is presented on behalf of other OYF alumni. During the award presentation, Canada OYF past president, Luanne Lynn and board member Tara Sawyer said, “We have never seen a more selfless, hardworking, strong and compassionate person. Her compassion extends even to her cows.”
Angela is very committed to the OYF program and was humbled to receive the award. “I feel undeserving but it is very special to me. A total honour — that program is extremely special to my heart.” Angela finds inspiration in the nominees and award recipients. “To see the new perspectives and energy of the people. It is a very positive group.”
Aside from raising four children and running a large ranch operation, Angela also continues her work as Regional Administrator for OYF Manitoba and works one day each week at the Ste Rose Auction Mart. “I took a couple of years off from the auction mart after Jay died but going back gave me a way to get out of the house and spend time with people I enjoy,” she says.
When asked how she has the energy to do it all she responds, “I don’t need a lot of down time. I seem to thrive when I keep busy.”
She is certainly thriving. Steadfast Ranch is moving back into expansion mode and is currently undergoing extensive fencing renovations. Angela continues to make presentations about preparing for the loss of a spouse.
The Saskatchewan farm girl has put down deep roots on Steadfast Ranch. “I don’t see myself getting out of the cowcalf business anytime soon,” she says. “I enjoy where I live and this is home for us. One thing I’ve learned is not to look too far ahead anymore. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Make your list
There isn’t a definitive Because I Love You checklist — every farm operation’s needs and circumstances is different — but some things are standard: have a will, have a power of attorney, have appropriate life insurance, know where all the important paperwork and documentation is, know who to call and have their numbers (lawyers, farm partners, financial advisors, suppliers, etc.), develop standard operating procedures and write them down, know passwords and PIN numbers for bank accounts, email, cellphones — you get the idea.
It’s not just personal peace of mind, it’s just good business to ensure that, in the event of an accident or death, the farm will keep running because your spouse and partners know what to do.