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The John Volken Academy Farm
 Tars Cheema
We introduced John Volken in our Fall issue, the man behind the vision to create therapeutic communities to bring hope, healing and function back to those struggling with addictions. The newest therapeutic community is the John Volken Academy (JVA) Farm.
The 108-acre Langley farm has been a staggering undertaking over nearly three years to create a state-of-the-art farm from largely forest lands. While many aspects of the wide-reaching farm vision are still in progress, two main We-Cover buildings have been ready for action since the summer. One barn holds the milking water buffalo dairy herd, while the other houses a bison herd.
Farm Manager, Marc Vance was raised in White Rock, BC, but fell in love with the ranching dream after time in Alberta. Marc was operating a bison farm on Vancouver Island when his path crossed with John Volken’s. Both men of faith, they shared a longing to make a positive difference in the world around them.
Marc has been with the JVA Farm three years, and he has never been more passionate about anything. The ranching dream has intersected with helping young men not just overcome addictions – but to be renewed entirely. The ‘students’ must commit to two years in the program, and the intake fee is a pittance. The John Volken Foundation carries the heavy freight, ensuring that financial considerations will never prevent one from getting help.
The farm will offer these young men varied opportunities to not just learn how to work with livestock and bond with these endearing,
The Buffalo Dairy
strange beasts, but the farm will have a mechanics shop, woodworking area, a small storefront to sell water buffalo milk products and eventually, they will have their own small dairy processing operation. They invite the public to come for scheduled tours given by students. The farm has already shown its value in providing a real-life work setting for young men to develop new skills, work commitment, people skills and self-worth. See the accompanying story of Jay – who is a renewed person, as a result of the broad program impacts.
The water buffalo dairy fired up their milking parlour in early October – a long anticipated moment! The 300’ x 150’ We Cover drive- through barn can house up to 60 mature buffalo on each side. One side is set up with a DeLaval VMS, which is expected to begin milking in December, while the other side is connected to the 6-stall DeLaval parlour. The parlour offers flexibility for milking while also providing hands-on milking training for students and a public viewing zone to build support within the community. They are currently milking 60 cows but overall capacity could be about 120. Both sides utilize a compost bedding pack, which works very well, but is labour-intensive since they are rotovated twice daily for optimal hygiene.
Brad Bennick, Herd Manager, had been operating his own buffalo dairy in Surrey, when he was approached by Marc and enticed to bring his buffalo experience and herd to join the mission of the JVA Farm. Brad oversees the herd and trains students to handle all responsibilities from milking to feeding/cleaning and raising the calves.
Two students – Sam (L) and Travis are Lead Milkers and awesome dudes! They are learning each cow’s individual personality – milk let down can be tricky.
The viewing platform affords excellent visibility across the barn. Calf pens are located along the outside right wall.
  Jay’s Story – A Journey of Healing
 Tars Cheema
Jay grew up on his grandparents’ ranch in Williams Lake, but at 17, took the opportunity to work in Alberta’s lucrative oil patch. “I knew the money was good,
a detox centre when I was medically discharged by my employer. I had burned all my bridges with family and friends. I had no job, no apartment, no
 The Three Amigos. (L-R) Students Jay and Coleman with Farm Manager/ mentor Marc.
and the first
from my
job sealed
the deal,”
he explains.
Built to
handle hard
work, Jay
worked 12 hours a day for 24-day periods on site doing scaffolding. “You work hard and play harder.” He explained how the drug/alcohol culture was pervasive among the workers and it was even ‘semi-glamourous’ as they traveled around Alberta. But there was no routine, little chance for a normal home life. “Everything was temporary – friends, homes, job sites, the money... the only common thread was alcohol,” he describes how his 20’s disappeared. Even as the economy slowed and work situations changed, his drinking continued. “I would dry out at work for 14 days, then drink at home for seven.”
Jay speaks with crisp clarity regarding his dysfunctional patterns fueled by alcohol. “I was miserable. I had no connections, no normal life. It became what I did all the time and I became depressed.” Through it all, Jay ‘beat himself up’ through the cycles, and eventually hit rock bottom. “I was in
one to support me.” It was at this moment that he knew he needed serious help to reclaim his life. “My mom helped me get into the JVA (John Volken
Academy). What’s two years when you’ve been trapped in alcohol for 12 years?”
JVA – Getting over the rough patch
Jay spoke with me candidly at the 21-month point of his two-year commitment. “It’s good now,” he says calmly. “I dealt with a lot of emotional stuff here – it was all buried. I was numb.” There were many times in the early months when he didn’t think he could do it, but there was always someone there to help him. “They believe in you here. They also hold you accountable,” he admits.
Gradually, the down cycles became shorter and less frequent. The early program is centered around helping the students process their problems in steps. Everyone leans on each other when they are stumbling – these guys become like brothers – they have been in your shoes. Students like Jay who
I dealt with a lot of emotional stuff here – it wasallburied.Iwasnumb.
 Building gates, fences and rails, also built Jay’s self-confidence and self-worth. J&D Farmers Dairy Service Ltd believed in him, supporting his apprenticeship hours, supporting his recovery.
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