My perspective - Stepping outside our comfort zone


By Kate Jackman-Atkinson

Neepawa Banner & Press

What is your comfort zone? How do you react to events or opportunities that push you beyond it? This week, for the ag section that ran in the Neepawa Banner & Press, that question came up in a couple of the interviews I did. It wasn’t a major focus of either one, but something that stuck with me as I talked to HyLife co-founder Claude Vielfaure and Zach Johnson, a fifth generation Minnesota farmer who runs a popular YouTube channel.

For HyLife, the company’s progression from a sow operation to an integrated food company happened in about 25 years. As the company grew, it needed to expand into areas in which the founders had little or no previous experience. Sure, the jump from selling weanling pigs, to feeding them yourself isn’t a huge step from sow production, but what about the company’s expansion further up the value chain? How does sow production prepare a person for the realities of running a processing plant, including the complex human resources component? How about foreign recruitment? Or selling meat into the international market? These were all challenges the HyLife founders had to navigate.

This is a hard step to overcome not just practically, but mentally. It requires you to think about your business in a different way. It requires you to redefine it. As entrepreneurs navigate their company’s growth, this is a challenge they will almost certainly face.

For Vielfaure, the answer was to hire the right people. That doesn’t just include people who had the knowledge the company didn’t, but also those who had the capacity to learn new skills.

Johnson operates a grain farm and his experience is similar to that of most large farmers on the prairies. He too, though, is stepping beyond his comfort zone. At least once a week, and close to daily during busy times, he opens his farm to the world, posting videos in which he talks about what he does on the farm and why. He started the channel in 2016 as a way of connecting with a non-farm population and helping to overcome misconceptions about the industry. Johnson’s farm looks and operates like many in Manitoba and while it might seem not that unique in a rural area such as ours, he’s connecting with people– his channel has close to 250,000 subscribers and 36 million views.

Johnson talked to me about the need for more farmers to open their doors and join the conversation, even if it means stepping outside your comfort zone. He’s right, many farmers are by nature secretive, about their own operations at least. He has personally seen what can be gained from stepping outside your comfort zone. A browse through the comments on any of his videos will show farmers and non-farmers from around the world sharing their experience; it could be as simple as the weather, or as educational as a discussion about different crops or farming practices. Johnson said that because of the connections he’s made through the channel, he’s trying things he never would have considered before.

In our interview, Vielfaure told me, “If you’re not growing, you’re falling behind.” While the advice was in the context of his company, I think it applies just as much to us as people. It’s easy to get complacent; complacent about our jobs, our friends, our hobbies, or our interests– it’s human nature, we like to be comfortable. Stepping beyond our comfort zones is scary, it’s hard and it’s uncomfortable, but in most cases, the reward is worth it.