Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce's 71st Rural Urban Awards Dinner award recipients. November 22, 2017. (Photo by Sarah Cowan Blackburn News Chatham-Kent).

CK’s Top Agriculturalists Recognized At Rural Urban Awards

Chatham-Kent’s top farmers and agriculturalists were recognized at an awards ceremony for their ground breaking innovations and contributions to the agricultural community.

The Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce held its 71st Annual Rural Urban Awards Dinner at the John D. Bradley Convention Centre on Wednesday.

The recipients of the awards include “4-H Members of the Year” Molly Sayers and Matthew Vermey, “Friend of Agriculture” Dr. Peter Sikkema, “Agriculture Innovator of the Year,” Laurent ‘Woody’ Van Arkel, and “Agriculturalist of the Year” Mark Richards.

The guest speaker for the awards ceremony, Jay Blake, traveled all the way from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to be at the event.

Blake started the non-profit organization Follow a Dream to inspire children after losing complete sight, smell, and taste following an industrial accident in 1997. The former mechanic says his organization is designed to educate children and adults on the power of positive thinking, self-determination, and teamwork through motor sports.

Today, Blake is the only blind crew chief in the worldwide sport of auto racing.

“I realized that nobody was going to hire me, I was a mechanic prior to that and I wasn’t going to be able to get a job, so I decided I’d follow my dream and start a race team and go back and talk to kids at high schools about believing in themselves and working towards following their dreams… and that’s how Follow a Dream all came to be,” says Blake.

Mark Richards, who was chosen as the Agriculturalist of the Year, runs Richard Rolling Acres Limited and works side-by-side with Peaceful Acres Limited in Chatham-Kent. On the farm, he and his family manage the production of tomatoes, sugar beets, corn, soybeans, and wheat on a farm of over 2,000 acres.

“In my humble opinion, I think Chatham-Kent is one of the better places in the world to set up shop to be an agricultural producer,” says Richards.

Richards currently sits on the Chatham-Kent Agriculture Development Committee, but has also served all executive positions with the Kent Federation of Agriculture and has served as the chair of the Canadian Young Farmers Forum.

Laurent ‘Woody’ Van Arkel, who won the Agriculture Innovator of the Year award, is the president and co-owner of Van Arkel Farms Inc. Arkel grows grain, soybeans, and sugar beets on a farm of 500 acres.

He says he is being recognized for following a passion that he has for soil health and doing something outside the “norm.”

“There are three principles that I try to follow when I make a decision on the farm and that is to keep the soil covered at all times, try to keep a diverse living root system growing in the soil at all times, and do as little tillage as absolutely possible,” says Arkel.

Arkel says growing up, his father would always question why things are done and experiment with new ways to do things on the farm. He says this is where his passion to be innovative sprouted.

Matthew Vermey, who received the 4-H Top Male Member of the Year award, has taken on the role of president and youth leader for the last two years with Veterinary 4-H Club. He has completed 12 projects for 4-H in the last eight years.

“It means a lot to me, because it just shows the dedication that goes into 4-H and the involvement. I’ve been a youth leader for the vet club and it just really recognizes the volunteer work that I’ve done for 4-H,” says Vermey.

Vermey is currently in his first year at the University of Guelph studying animal biology.

Molly Sayers was the female recipient for the award. Sayers has been active in the Chatham-Kent 4-H community for the past six years, taking a leadership role in over 24 projects. She has even taken on executive roles such as president and secretary.

“This award makes me realize how much I’ve actually put into my 4-H career and how much dedication I’ve put towards it in helping other members and becoming a better leader myself,” she says.

Sayers says it is her goal to study animal science at the University of Guelph after she finishes high school.

Angela Sikkema attended the event on behalf of her husband Dr. Peter Sikkema, who received the Friend of Agriculture award.

“I think it’s a really nice award, because Peter, throughout his career, has always put the family farm, the operator, and the grower top of mind. Also, in his research, he is always thinking about the person on the farm and how it’s going to benefit them,” says Sikkema.