HHSS Co-Op Series
By Darren Lum
The following is the first in a series of co-op placement stories, featuring Haliburton Highlands Secondary School students and area employers in Haliburton County. Open to Grade 11 and 12 students, the co-op program enables students to earn high school credits by integrating course curriculum with learning at a work placement.
With an eye on the disc harrow behind him and a firm hand on the tractor wheel in front of him, senior high school student Nick Daw was doing more than just discing a field in Minden for farmer Casey Cox, he was making his mark towards fulfilling a lifelong dream through co-operative education.
The Grade 12 Haliburton Highlands Secondary School student, who will turn 17 in a few weeks is a unique case among students with not just how he went after setting up his farming co-op placement directly with Casey, but the deep passion he has to work in the agricultural industry.
He sees an inherent value in agriculture work that doesn’t exist in other fields and it started long before this year.
“I always liked it [because] you’re stewards of the earth they say. Take care of the land, animals. Stuff like that. That was always my reason. I was always interested in that. It was my only thing. I’d sit in class and daydream about it all day,” he said, referring to when he was in elementary school located in Millgrove, a rural community outside of Hamilton.
There are photos of Nick as a toddler, wearing a costume that made him a miniature combine, complete with a corn head and the Case logo during Halloween several years ago. His mother, Karen said he’s a veritable walking encyclopedia when it comes to heavy farming equipment. She can remember him beaming during visits to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show.
On his dad’s side of the family, there is a farm where he got to be completely immersed in the world that spoke to him like nothing else.
“I always loved being around the farm. When we came up here it’s a little different. There’s no farmland, barely any. There used to be. Not anymore. And I was thinking about my co-op and farming always stuck with me and I knew who Casey Cox was and figured I’d go and talk to him and see about a co-op. And it would be something different than working at a store or whatever. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s just not for me,” he said.
The Grade 12 student already had held retail positions before and saw co-op as an opportunity for a new work experience related to something he is passionate about.
He remembers seeing Casey, who knows Nick’s dad Wes with his work at Tom Prentice and Sons, during a shift at Minden Home Hardware. He knew he had everything to gain and nothing to lose, if he asked about gaining experience from Casey rather than leave it to HHSS teacher and co-op coordinator Jason Morissette to ask for him.
“A lot of people are more interested, if they see a kid go out to them instead of a teacher. If you’re really interested in something, you go out there and inquire and you go chase after that because it’s not very often it’s going to come to you. You have to go to that,” he said.
Casey has appreciated Nick’s enthusiasm and his abilities with operating heavy machinery such as the tractor while discing and cultivating.
“He seemed like a kid that wanted to try and what did I have to lose?” he said.
“We’ve got more work done this year than ever at this time of year and he’s good on tractors and he’s interested. That’s the big thing. It’s not that he thinks he is interested, he is interested,” he said.
Nick made repairs, moved hay and observed a diverse range of farm operations.
He started the year with the full-day, four-credit option, but later switched to the two-credit option, alternating mornings and afternoons, four days a week, because he needed more courses for post-secondary education requirements.
The 16-year-old is planning to apply to two programs for business agriculture, one at Algonquin College, which is a two-year diploma program that includes the option of a co-op placement and the other is at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus.
Nick appreciated what Casey and his son Chad did for him, which includes taking the chance on him, helping him one-on-one with different tasks, and entrusting him with working their plots of land.
“I’m very lucky that he took the opportunity to bring me, show me and teach me. Nothing but good things to say about him. He’s a great guy,” he said, referring to Casey.
He adds, this experience has bolstered what he knew going into it.
“It made me realize more that this is what I want to do and this is what I strive to do and want to learn more and more,” he said.
Casey, who bought his first set of cows at 13, has farmed in Minden all his life and said he doesn’t know how to stop farming. He adds making a living from farming now is extremely difficult unlike when he started, but it isn’t impossible, particularly for Nick.
“But he’s got the drive, you know what I mean? It depends on what you want to make I guess,” he said. “But he seems to have the drive to do it. But he’s young. We all had a lot more drive when we were young.”
Casey is among only a handful of farmers that operate in the Highlands.
Although his adult son is interested in cash crops, Casey is responsible for the most head of cattle in Haliburton County with close to 100 out of an approximate 150 estimated to be in the area. His properties total about 50 acres in Minden.
What Nick did was beneficial for Casey, who has had retirees help with his farm in the past.
“I got some good help. There’s lots of retired guys that live at the lake. You know, they worked for Bell or they worked for IBM. They’re always bored with a day here and day there. So, this year, Nick kind of gave those guys a break in a way,” he said.
Although Nick had experience on a farm before and the drive, Casey acknowledges that at the start it took some patience on his part to get things rolling.
At this point, Nick’s career pursuits are not specifically tied to any one profession.
“I’d love to farm, but with the prices of real estate and everything right now it’ll be a challenge, but that’s the end goal for sure. But anything in agricultural will be great for me,” he said.
When it comes to encouraging others about the value of a placement it comes down to going after what you want to do and taking the steps to fulfill that desire.
“Anybody that wants to do something just go out and do it. Take that opportunity because it’ll change your life. If you like something, go and chase your dreams. Dreams only work if you do,” he said.