Thompson Rivers University

Grad digs in to revitalize farming

June 27, 2022

Brian Daly, VP University Relations, Gillian Watt, program coordinator of Applied Sustainable Ranching and donor Brian Garland present the Cariboo GM Bull Pen Award to Julia Morgan and her son, Ethan.

Determined. Resilient. Passionate. Three words that describe Julia Morgan, a recent graduate of TRU’s Applied Sustainable Ranching program.

The program is based in Williams Lake and is the first of its kind in Canada, providing graduates with a solid foundation in business and enterprise management as well as regenerative agriculture skills. Morgan was one of 11 presenters vying for the 2022 Cariboo GM Bull Pen Award, sponsored by long-time TRU donor Brian Garland. After presenting to a panel of six experts at the event on May 26, Morgan was chosen as this year’s recipient of a $1,000 award.

“Julia’s presentation was excellent. She was knowledgeable about her proposed business in terms of the cost to set it up, the market for her products and services and the sustainability of the (proposed) farm,” says Dallas Jasper, vice-president of Cariboo Auto Group and award panelist. “Julia has a real passion for this proposal and I genuinely hope she can make it a reality.”

Morgan plans to operate JEM Farms, a regenerative farming operation that will include pasture-raised sheep and chickens as well as educational opportunities. Animal and soil health are key components to Morgan’s plan, thereby offering consumers nutrient-dense products. According to Morgan’s presentation, “The farm is dedicated to fostering a thriving community of diverse micro-organisms in the soil that provides distinctive health benefits to the land, livestock and end user.”

She’s working with Young Agrarians, a farmer-to-farmer resource network for new and young Canadian farmers, to find and lease land on the Gulf Islands. She has the skills, the passion and the determination. All she needs now is the land.

“My dream is to provide visitors with an education as well as a farm experience,” says Morgan. “I’d like to find land on Mayne Island, but I’m also considering other Gulf Islands or other places.”

In addition to running the farm, Morgan plans to host educational programs, providing hands-on experiences that highlight topics such as soil microbiology and the connection between food and health. Her interest in the connection between food and health stems from her search for answers to her son Ethan’s health challenges.

Health challenge leads to change of direction

In 2011, Morgan was a young executive living in Toronto when her son Ethan was born with severe health issues. As a single mother, she quickly realized her career was going to have to take a back seat to his health.

“When Ethan was seven weeks old, one of his doctors suggested I take a couple of years to focus on his health and finding a diagnosis,” said Morgan, adding that a couple of years has since turned into 11. “With rare diseases, it’s often a lot longer than that to find out what’s going on. We are still on the journey of testing and treatments but have come a long way.”

Ethan has a chromosome disorder that effects his endocrine system and has life-threatening implications. When Morgan heard that living in a coastal climate could have a positive impact on Ethan’s health, the duo headed west. Since the move, Ethan has significantly reduced his need for asthma medication.

Ethan and Julia Morgan visit a friend's miniature ponies.

Ethan and Julia Morgan visit a friend’s miniature ponies.

Morgan has dedicated her life to finding a balance between advocating for her son while pursuing her own passions. As she has discovered along the way, both priorities often intersect. It was while Ethan was participating in a study that looked at the human microbiome and its connection to disease and well-being that her interest in soil microbiomes and the impact they have on nutrition was piqued. When she registered for the program at TRU, she found both the educational opportunity and support system she’d been searching for.

“I signed up in 2019 while I was living at Ronald McDonald House,” said Morgan, adding that Ethan was in the midst of a health crisis at the time. “I needed some hope for the future and this program and TRU offered me that. The people in the program were a lifeline supporting me and helping me work toward a better future.”

Through the program, she says she developed a further passion for soil health and received all the tools necessary to run a regenerative farm.

“The program gives you a full understanding of running an operation, from animal health to creating a business plan,” she says, adding she is incredibly grateful to many people involved. “They were a light in a really dark time. I would like to thank Gillian Watt, Ty and Ingrid from Onward Ranch, Judy Reid from Williams Lake campus, the expert panel of the Bull Pen and all the staff at Williams Lake.”

Morgan also received the Bill Freding Memorial Award in 2020 and the Williams Lake TRU Grit Entrance Award in 2019 and 2020.

With a supportive team behind her and a commitment to lifelong learning, Morgan is determined to find a beautiful space to raise her son, build a future and offer guidance to others carving a path through difficult circumstances.

“I hope that I can be an inspiration to other women, give them hope and show them that it’s possible to follow their dreams,” says Morgan.

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