Youth Farm Bible Camp started in 1941 (Check out the history section of our Website), but we have been a community farm since 1909! The Rosthern Experimental Farm was started in 1909 and closed in 1940. The story of how this farm was developed is filled with intrigue and mystery.
In 1886, the federal government established Dominion Government Experimental Farms in Ottawa, ON; Nappan, Nova Scotia; Brandon, Manitoba; Indian Head, NWT; and Agassiz, BC. As western Canada was developed at a fast pace in the early 1900s, there was a widely expressed need for additional experimental farm sites. By 1906, the federal government realized there needed to be an experimental farm in northern Saskatchewan. Yorktown, Humboldt, Melfort, Saskatoon, Warman, Rosthern, Duck Lake, Prince Albert, and North Battleford were examined as possible sites. There was land available close to a railway line in Yorktown, Melfort, Saskatoon, Rosthern and Duck Lake. Yorktown was not as valuable because it was too close to the farm developed by Indian Head. Duck Lake was near the northern limits of the present wheat growing district. Now the decision was between Rosthern, Saskatoon and Melfort. (from The Developing West)
The most logical site for the farm would be Saskatoon. It was a larger centre with three railways serving the town. Politically, Rosthern had a stronger backing and the decision became a political decision. A quarter of land was purchased by Rosthern Realty Company (owned by the liberal connections in the community) and then sold to the Government for a very high price of $50 per acre. The farm was purchased and developed. A few years later, three more quarters were purchased to increase the amount of land used for experimental purposes.
The farm had many workers and built houses, barns, and corrals. They planted trees, both ornamental and fruit bearing. The site was well taken care of and became a very important site for the community of Rosthern. Seager Wheeler, the Wheat King, helped develop the ground and worked at the experimental farm.
When World War II started, the government decided to shut down some experimental farms through the war measures act. The Rosthern Dominion Experimental Farm was now for sale. There was concern from politicians that it could not be just turned into a family farm. There is much more housing available then what would be required by a farm operation. There were more farm buildings then what a farmer would find necessary, as well, the amount of trees would be too much for one farm to care for. So when the Agricultural Minister - James Gardiner, received a letter from JC Schmidt requesting that the farm be used for community purposes, he was greatly interested.
JC Schmidt writes: "We as an organization have as one of our objectives, the opening an “Orphanage". The Rosthern Experimental Farm would be a splendid site for this undertaking. It would also serve as an ideal campus for other religious and social undertakings. This would also be a most desirable site for our Bible Institute, now located in the town of Rosthern. Now the farm is being neglected, however, with the above plans, it would be well taken care of.”
James Gardiner agrees and for the sum of $20,000 (less then the original price 30 years earlier for the land) the farm was purchased by the Saskatchewan Mennonite Youth Organization. This land was developed by a group of Mennonite Youth (hence the name Youth Farm). The first events that were held at the farm were the Youth Retreats where close to 200 people would come to the Mennonite Youth Farm for a weekend of worship, biblical instruction, and fellowship.
Along with JC Schmidt, Henry W Friesen was one of the visionaries for the land that was purchased. Homes for the elderly, children, adults with intellectual disability and children with physical disabilities were developed. As well, the farm was a central part to the mission of the organization. Volunteers would come to work in the homes and the farm. Resources from the farm were used at the homes and excess was sold to help pay for missions both on the yard and a far - Mexico, India, and Japan.
In 1949, Milk Pasteurizing Equipment was purchased from The DeLaval Company for $2644.75. For the next 15 years, the Youth Farm had a dairy herd, pasteurized the milk and delivered it to the homes of customers in Rosthern. This brought in money to be used for the homes on the yard and missions across the world. A video of the farm and all of the other activities of the Saskatchewan Mennonite Youth Organization was made in 1957. The video is shows what the facility was like in the 1950s.
From the late 1950s until the 1970, Americans of military age were able to fulfill there 1W service (Conscientious Objector) on the farm. They volunteers helped in various phases of the farm operation and participated in community and church activities. There are a few who married Canadian women and have immigrated to Canada. There was always an abundance of work on the farm and it was greatly appreciated to have the American Volunteers. One volunteer wrote an essay about what it was like to work on this community farm.
Starting in 1965, the farm operation was scaled back. The poultry operation was discontinued in 1965, the hog operation was discontinued in 1972, the dairy herd was dispersed in 1974 and the beef cattle were sold in the late 1980s. While some farm operations ceased, two organizations on the yard grew - The Mennonite Nursing Home and the Youth Farm Bible Camp. The Mennonite Nursing Home was started as a small home for the elderly in 1944 (11 residents). The home currently has 65 residents in longterm care, up to 40 residents in Assisted Living, and 20 residents in the personal care home.
The Youth Farm Bible Camp lives in the legacy of the farm. A horse program was developed for the camp which meant that animals have never left the yard. A petting zoo that was started for the summer only now has hundreds of animals on site - donkeys, llamas, rabbits, potbelly pigs, ducks, chickens, goats, sheep and more. We once again have hens laying eggs and sell them to the community of Rosthern!
Since 2008, thousands have come to our community farm in the fall to participate in the Youth Farm Corn Maze. This agritourism activity showcases our 8 acre corn maze, animals and wagon rides through the pasture. This farm was developed 110 years ago for the sake of the community. We are now living in that more then ever! Funds raised through the Corn Maze support our summer camp program for Children and Youth as well as Adults with Intellectual Disabilities. We have also been able to give to the communities food bank - Good Neighbours Food Centre. Our staff and volunteer team go to Tijuana, Mexico each spring to build homes along with the local Mexican community. Hundreds of youth groups are coming out for retreats, camps, and corn maze events. Its exciting that this land is still being used for the dreams that Mennonite Youth had in 1941. The Corn Maze of today is like the Milk Pasteurizing Plant of the past - a farm experience to the community that funds ministry!
The mission of the Youth Farm Bible Camp is to Share Jesus with People and Provide a Place to Serve. This has been the vision since 1941. To let others know about Jesus (through word and deed) and have people come and serve at this place. People serve now at the Corn Maze, at Fall Suppers, at Summer Camp and at Retreat Groups. We all seek to follow the greatest commandments in the Bible - To Love God and Love People!