As the western hub manager for ALUS Canada, Christine Campbell provides financial and planning support to farmers and ranchers to establish and maintain environmental projects on their lands.
“We work mainly on marginal lands so that we aren’t reducing food production, which is obviously super important. Our collaborative projects support clean air, cleaner water, pollinator habitats, and biodiversity while creating an economic value for the farmers and ranchers.” Campbell finds her work hugely fulfilling because of the on-the-ground difference the program is making and the positive reception the ALUS program receives from farmers, ranchers, municipal officials and other supporters from across Alberta.
Campbell balances this with her life as mom of a preemie (her son is now 11-months-old), which brings a unique set of challenges. A typical day might see Christine visiting a ranch in Red Deer County to tour an alternative grazing management project, then heading north to Brazeau County to attend a Partnership Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting, and stopping off in another corner of rural Alberta to chat with municipal staff and residents about bringing ALUS to their own community. The next day, she may be working in her home office in Calgary, having her son interject in a conference call with a series of babbles, sometimes with the dogs joining in the choir. We wanted to know more about her work, and how motherhood has impacted what she does.
Why did you start doing what you do?
I always wanted a career that would have some kind of impact, and went to school originally thinking that I would become a veterinarian. I started with a bachelor of science in biology, and realized that there are so many environmental causes that need attention and got waylaid there.
After school, I started working for a consulting firm doing reclamation research in the oil sands, so it was all about taking this area that had been destroyed to enormous proportions and trying to get it back to what would actually be beneficial to the planet again, and I loved that. But then that ended and I had to work on projects that were the opposite, trying to minimize environmental impact but more about getting projects approved. It was not where I wanted to go at all. I was not having a positive impact, and it was making me so unhappy in my life — it was depressing going to work every day.
So, when I left that company, I knew that I wanted a career with purpose and started looking at NGOs. I’d never actually worked in agriculture before, and was a city gal, and so when I found ALUS Canada I reviewed what they did and thought, Jeez there’s no way I’m qualified to do this work because I didn’t have the agricultural experience, but they decided to take a chance on me and I love it. I’ve been there since the fall of 2015.
What does this work bring to your life?
It’s incredible when you go out and tour the sites, because it is such a source of pride for so many people. Hearing the farmers or ranchers talk about their project, and the difference they are seeing on their land. They’ll tell us, “My grandfather used to tell us that they’d see burrowing owl on their land, and we haven’t seen them in 60 years — now we have one that is nesting here!”
Those kind of stories are just the coolest thing, and it makes me realize how much we rely on everybody being a global citizen. That couldn’t have happened if the farmer or rancher had to do it on their own, as much as they would have liked to. At the end of the day they still have to feed their own families. Knowing that ALUS can have a benefit for that individual farmer, or his or her family, and then see the benefits that the greater society is having, say the city that is downstream of that farm, can reduce water treatment costs and provide cleaner water to the citizens there, it really just makes the collective impact that much more real.
Why is this work important?
There have been a lot of programs available, but I think a lot of them were missing the mark and not accomplishing what was needed. By no means is ALUS the be all and end all, or the only solution, but I think it’s really important to have this tool in the toolbox because there is a lot of work to be done and we need every solution that is available. If we don’t start implementing these changes now, then we’re just constantly playing catch-up. We have used all of the resources that the earth has given us and we are running at a deficit. We have to find a way to catch up, and we have to do that quickly.
Has parenthood changed how you view your work?
Everytime I see a project, I see that it will have a direct benefit for my son growing up. I want him to live in a world where we have these resources available, where we have biodiversity. I grew up loving animals more than anything, and when we see them disappearing on the landscape that’s an enormous problem. I want him to be able to see a burrowing owl or a sage grouse. I think that’s just so important, and when I can see ALUS make that direct connection, I can’t help but think about my son with every project now. I never imagined that it would make that much of a change, but when parenthood happened it just changed everything.
When I was on maternity leave I was just itching to get back to work because the work that we do is going to have a direct impact on my son’s life, so there’s no time to take your foot off the gas — this work needs to be done yesterday, we can’t be waiting.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other parents about working/living with purpose?
It is all about finding something that you’re passionate about. I think it’s hard then to make the distinction between work and parenting. I never feel like my hours working for ALUS are hours away from my family, so if you can find something that is fulfilling that passion for you then it doesn’t feel like a trade off.
I think it’s also really important to recognize the opportunities within your support network. My son was born premature and had some challenges in his early days. He’s still not ready to go to daycare or anything like that, but because I am so passionate about what I do it was incredibly important for me to go back to work. So, we took full advantage of it being 2017 and the wide range of opportunities and options that brings. I could never have returned to work so soon without the support of my partner who has become a stay at home dad. We’re breaking the traditional mold, but for him that is living with purpose, spending that time with our son. For me it is splitting my role between parenting and ALUS.
What do you think you have in common with other moms?
Becoming a parent is like entrance into this whole new social circle with its own tribes. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, they’re not wrong. Since we had our preemie, everybody we talk to has a preemie story, “I was a preemie and look at me now,” or “My nephew is a preemie.” It’s nice sharing that collective experience and realizing you’re never alone no matter what your challenge is as a parent, or how big or insurmountable it seems to you at the time. You can always look around and see other people who’ve gotten through it. I find that really valuable.
What’s been hardest about what you do?
Honestly, taking maternity leave was the hardest thing that I had to do because so much was out of my control with it. I was due in November, but in September I was admitted to hospital and all of a sudden I was taking maternity leave starting that day.
I’m so passionate about the work I’m doing at ALUS that I didn’t want to slow down for a second. I’ve always been someone that goes a million miles a minute, especially when I’m passionate about a cause. And all of a sudden I had two causes that I cared very, very, much about. Sitting in the NICU was so hard, because there was so much that was out of my control for my son. Things were touch and go for a while, and there wasn’t much I could do — everything was in the hands of this medical team and we were just waiting. The only thing that I could do was just sit there and cuddle and love him. The lack of control is worse than anything, especially for a control freak like me.
My son was in the NICU for 91 days. You see someone so tiny fight so hard and overcome these obstacles that are so huge, and it seems absolutely asinine that we cannot deal with some of the global environmental issues that we have. How can we not just make small changes? Even if it’s just a little thing like taking transit every now and then instead of driving your car, or taking your reusable bags to the store, or filling up a water bottle instead of buying a bottle of water.
Those little things add up, and sometimes we feel like they’re an imposition, but when you look at somebody so small struggle and overcome those odds, you have to think, “Bringing my travel mug for my coffee isn’t really that hard.” We have to be fair to ourselves because we can’t do everything, and that’s fine, we can’t do everything perfectly all the time, but I think we need to take the emphasis off of what we aren’t doing and put it on what we are doing.
What other moms do you admire?
I admire all moms. Anybody who is putting their child or family first, and trying to make that balance and do something that suits that as well is just incredible. I especially admire the moms, and dads, who are living a life with purpose. I feel like those are the people who will improve life for all of our children in the future, and it is not necessarily an easy task, and it doesn’t work for everyone either.
The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.