by Anne Miller | photo by Janis Jean Photography –
What do you want to be when you grow up? Greg Michell remembers this question from his high school career planning teacher, whom he answered with: “I already know what I’m going to be. A farmer. Should I just write that on my assignment?” Growing up on Michell’s Farm in Central Saanich, Greg’s early experience influenced him in positive ways.
Greg’s life has been, and continues to be, about growing – food, knowledge, a business and his son, Luke, who adores farm life, including the tractor rides. Greg’s success comes from hard work and embracing new opportunities. In school, he juggled studies and “rep” hockey along with participation in the farm. Then, a dozen dexter cattle unexpectedly arrived to occupy an overgrown pasture. They cleared the land quickly so Greg stepped forward to care for the herd. Thus began a steep and exciting learning curve for him.
“I learned a lot, the hard way, really fast, on my own.” No one else in the family had the time or knowledge to raise cattle, so Greg took the reins. He borrowed equipment and posed many questions to neighbouring farmers to learn the process. He found a mentor in Dave Adams, who had experience and who guided and supported Greg along the way.
After three years of relying on others, Greg reached a turning point. At this stage, market sales for the beef were successful. The farm had hay and pastures but there were no appropriate barns, equipment or long-term plans. Greg saw an opportunity and decided to ramp things up. While he was, and is, an employee of Michell Farms, he made a commitment to grow the beef operation, all the while taking advice from those with experience.
Greg learned that hereford and angus cattle produced superior beef, so the farm bought 10 hereford cattle and borrowed a bull for breeding. This bull produced large calves, however, so the cows needed help with birthing – help from Greg. Talk about learning on the job! With suggestions from farmers and YouTube videos, Greg pulled eight calves. It was stressful, though, so Greg bought a smaller angus bull himself. He had made a decision to build the beef operation; their beef was selling and Dave endorsed his decision. That’s how Jerry, the bull, became family.
For the first four years of the beef operation, Greg was still involved with the market but, as the herd grew, he felt spread too thin. Five years ago, he focused solely on making Michell Beef a success and justifying the huge financial outlay that Michell Farms and he were putting into it. The effort was huge. All Michell family resources, including time, were tapped managing the market, leaving Greg, handling the beef operation alone, close to burn-out. That’s when Andy, his right-hand man for the past year, came to the rescue. Andy’s skills and enthusiasm are invaluable. “All the wind came back into my sail. It was a game-changer.”
Now into its 10th year, this new arm of Michell Farms is prospering with around 100 head of cattle. Greg recognizes that this success wouldn’t be possible without Michell Farms, which helps to pay for equipment and vet bills and supplies the hay and the land. “I’m lucky. It’s not affordable for young people to buy a farm, equipment and livestock on their own. I’m grateful for my opportunity.”
Alongside farming, Greg contributes to the community. Seven years of volunteering with the Central Saanich Fire Department has given him a needed “mental interruption” from the daily grind and he’s proud to follow his great-grandfather, co-founder of the Central Saanich fire department.
More recently, Greg helped establish, and now serves with, the Vancouver Island Cattleman’s Association, which promotes and develops the B.C. cattle industry responsibly. He aims to promote Michell Beef as a brand that stands for truly local cattle – bred, born, raised and produced by Michell Beef.
Greg also poses for a fundraiser calendar for the Balfours Friends Foundation, a non-profit that provides assistance with vet bills. He is shown standing beside a fire truck with one of his cows. Now it’s expected that he’ll always bring an animal to the photoshoot!
Greg and Andy are working to make the operation more efficient by using an app that tracks records of each animal, which will free up time to contribute to the produce side again since “at the end of the day, this is a family operation.” Greg is in this for the long haul and has hopes that Luke will always find joy in animal farming and will value the natural world throughout his life. As he reflects upon his decision to grow Michell Beef, Greg has no regrets. “I saw that shot and I took it. As Gretsky said: “‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.'”