From Colombia to Canadian farmer

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MICHELLE GIETZ
Brooks Bulletin

One acreage just off the highway on the way to Rolling Hills has a menagerie of critters – sheep, ponies, chickens, ducks, cats and dogs. The owner, like the immigrants that came decades before, had a dream to have a piece of land for his family in a country which was safe, quiet and full of opportunity.
Juan Garzon, a Colombian immigrant, arrived in Canada in 2008 at the time when Tyson’s (now JBS Canada) was recruiting workers in Colombia. After 11 years Juan still works at JBS Canada. Now he is in cattle receiving.
It wasn’t easy to come to Canada. First there was an interview, then a physical test, then a doctor’s examination. If you passed all the steps, you were chosen to come. Juan believes he was chosen because of his experience.
He was a butcher in Colombia and so had some skill in meat cutting and in handling livestock. He mostly butchered lambs and he had worked for a meat packing company in Colombia – Carulla – where he worked in hams and rendering. In addition, his dad was trading and selling lambs and goats.
His story is similar to that of our grandparents. Getting to where he is today in just a few years took a lot of hard work. Like them, when he arrived in Canada he knew no English. He had nothing except one suitcase of his belongings. The first night he was given a room to sleep in with just an air mattress.
“It was terrible. We went to IGA to buy food, but had no pots, no spoons, no forks. I had to talk with just actions and using my hands.”
He was alone. He had left his wife, Mary, and two young children, Juan Pablo and Sharon, back in Colombia. His goal became to be reunited and so he worked every day. He worked at the meat packing plant. He lived in small accommodations in order to save money. He relied on his skills he had learned from his father about buying, selling, trading and bartering a variety of products to make extra cash.
Juan knows how to make a good deal and he really knows how to network. He is quick to respond to opportunity, yet honest and fair. Many in the immigrant community seem to know Juan, not only for business, but also because he is a willing volunteer helping anyone who needs a hand. He has passed these attributes on to his two children.
Juan’s family was able to join him in Canada in 2013. Knowing he was going to need more space than just his basement room, he went looking for accommodation. He was visiting a farmer friend who happened to have a small second house in their farm yard, most likely built by early century immigrants.
“It reminded me of the little houses in Colombia. I thought my wife would be happy there.”
That was the first place that Juan had enough room for animals. He built a small coop and got a few chickens. After spending a couple of years there, the family moved to Duchess and then Patricia.
Juan rented a farm yard with an old barn. He fixed up the inside and had pens for goats and sheep. Those goats wandered off across the prairie one day. Juan was worried about their welfare, but also the loss of the investment. They were missing for about two weeks when someone reported they had been sighted and were returned safely home.
When the opportunity arose to move to his current location, Juan quickly took the risk. He always wanted to own more livestock and has expanded his flock to over 40 sheep. He proudly shows off his new lambs and the feeders he built by hand. Life on the acreage is never boring.
“I love my animals,” says Juan. One just has to watch Juan handle an animal to see the talent he possesses. He whistles softly, moves slowly, keeping the animal calm as he moves in to capture it.
Juan shows off his pet chicken. The chicken hobbles along on its two stub legs, as it has no feet, most likely frozen off. He couldn’t kill it and now it rules the coop. Despite its handicap Juan says it fights the other roosters.
“I have a nice son from that chicken,” he says. Juan doesn’t hesitate to try to be self-sufficient as much as possible. He had a brood hen and hatched more chickens. The footless chicken was the only rooster at the time.
He has embraced his new life in Canada – gone fishing and hunting, watched his son’s soccer games, taken his kids on trips to the mountains. His children are active at school – in the band, on the soccer team, involved at St Mary’s Parish in Brooks.
He visits Spain more often than Colombia. His brother, sister and mother all immigrated to Spain. His brother is also a butcher. Like immigrants before him, over time their native county becomes less important.
“My country is very difficult to live. There are many troubles with the government. My family don’t want to come back.”
He has learned about septic systems, winterizing waterers and fixing cars. He built himself a big BBQ on which he can roast a whole lamb. His garage has been changed into a recreation room.
The one thing he has never mastered is penning goats. He no longer has goats as they were always getting out. A couple of years ago he paid his neighbor for all the flowers his escaped goats had eaten. “It wasn’t good,” said a still remorseful Juan, “but I had to do the right thing.”
Juan’s Canadian dreams are not over. He now talks about becoming a mechanic, something he has always wanted to do. His whole family became Canadian citizens on April 4.
They understand the importance of integration. Juan and Mary are very active at church. His wife is working at the Woolmine. His kids are now in high school. His son, Juan Pablo will graduate next year and wants to be a mechanic. His daughter wants to be a stewardess and travel.
Juan is very happy, having adjusted to his new life. He doesn’t even mind the cold weather.
“I have very good neighbors and very good friends.” Juan’s farmer friends know they can count on him to help sort cows or brand calves. One neighbor sells him hay for the sheep and delivers it as Juan has no equipment.
Always looking to make a deal, “Do you know where I can get a small tractor?” he asks.