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“I would really like to see more of our youth take a serious look at the agriculture and food industry for their careers. It is the largest industry in the world, offering global opportunities. And it’s not just for farm kids. The industry needs people who didn’t grow up on the farm because they bring new ideas, new ways of thinking, new lenses to look at the industry. We need the best chemists, physicists, biologists, mathematicians and computer engineers. We need CEOs of global corporations and small start-ups alike. Agriculture is the place to be for all of these professions and more.”
Art Froehlich of Calgary has made it his life’s work to build Alberta’s agriculture industry. His wealth of knowledge and sage guidance is sought by research agencies, post-secondary institutions and entrepreneurs alike. He facilitates agricultural education and enterprises at home and abroad as they strengthen families, communities and economies.
Arthur Klause Froehlich was born on December 7, 1953, in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. The eldest of five, he was raised on the family farm in east central Saskatchewan near the village of Rhein. Art’s father John emigrated from Germany to Canada in 1950, where he met Art’s mother Evelyn. The family operated one of the first feedlots in their region, while raising a multitude of livestock and crops, making it a study in diversification. “There was never a doubt in my mind that agriculture was going to be my life. It was my calling,” says Art.
Art’s family was close, their lives revolving around three things: the farm, 4-H and curling. John and Evelyn were both 4-H leaders, and all five children – three boys and two girls – were members at various times. At the age of 10, Art joined the Yorkton Multiple Project Club. He met Shirley Benjamin as they competed against one another in the 4-H beef show. Their curling teams also competed with one another, with Shirley’s team consistently beating Art’s. He figured if he couldn’t beat her, he’d ask her out. The high school sweethearts married in 1974.
From a young age, Art was keenly aware that healthy soil meant a healthy farm. So he attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon to complete his B.Sc. in Agriculture with a major in soil science, an unusual focus in those days.
“Soils have always given life to human populations. And now, with the global focus on climate change and soil health, I realize I could not have selected a more important discipline in agriculture to study. We’re so dependent on that top metre or two of soil,” he says.
Art’s personal and professional turning point came after his first year of university when he won a four-month 4-H study scholarship to the United Kingdom. The Dalgliesh Shipping Company Study Scholarship gave him the opportunity to intern at a wide range of companies owned by shipping magnate Peter Dalgliesh. As such, Art learned about agriculture from a European perspective.
“It was a life-changing experience. From then on, I was determined to work internationally in Canadian agriculture. And that’s what I’ve done for roughly 40 years. I’ve visited close to 50 countries around the world in pursuit of agriculture business opportunities,” he says.
After graduating with his agriculture degree, Art landed a job with Farm Credit Canada. Over the next 25 years, his career focused on managing large agricultural corporations as he moved from Director of Sales and Marketing at Hoechst Canada, to General Manager of Operations for Alberta Pool, to President of Westcan Malting.
Art completed the Advanced Management Program at the Wharton School of Business in 1993. Like the Dalgliesh study scholarship, Wharton provided a life-changing epiphany, helping him realize that he’s an entrepreneur at heart who is happiest when he’s running his own business, rather than working for someone else.
Art hasn’t looked back since having that epiphany. His business interests have spanned primary food production, agri-business and agri-marketing in Canada, the United States, Europe, South America and Asia. He continues to support the export of a wide variety of agriculture and food products from Canada to markets around the globe. Art also became an enthusiastic supporter of entrepreneurs as an investor and founding shareholder, investing in more than a dozen start-up companies in the agriculture, food and biological sciences sectors.
When two of Art’s close friends founded AdFarm, the highly innovative Calgary-based agricultural marketing communications company, they asked him to join the company as the president in 2000. Over the years, he also served as board member, investor and advisor. Under Art’s leadership, AdFarm enjoyed tremendous international scope and impact.
Art’s commitment to the innovation community has long existed on multiple levels as he has worked closely with industry, research and development groups, and post-secondary institutions. He has also guided innovation and policy organizations, serving on the boards of the Alberta Agricultural Research Institute, Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions Corporation, Genome Alberta and Ag-West Bio.
As the first Thought Leader in Smart Agriculture at Olds College, Art helped lay the foundation of the Smart Agriculture Ecosystem. As vice-chair and board member, he provided sage guidance for five years. A generous donor, he established a number of scholarships for undergraduates. As a mentor, he gave generously of his time. To this day, he continues to serve on the committees for operations and management at Olds College.
Art is committed to supporting the next generation of leaders in their educational and professional journeys. In formal mentoring programs and informal relationships alike, he has shared key business skills and tools with entrepreneurs, mentoring many university students well into their careers. Most recently, he has played a significant role as a mentor, associate and private investor with the Ag Stream of the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL)-Rockies.
Art has volunteered with multiple international organizations. He contributed his soil science background and his familiarity with Ukrainian soils and farming practices to the search for a soil remediation strategy for the Chernobyl nuclear accident, led by the global charitable foundation Wellcome. He also worked with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, conducting food audits to ensure the success of this award-winning program that connects Canadian producers to areas of global need.
Always open to sharing information and learning new things, Art particularly enjoyed his collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Their Engineering with Nature program seeks alternative solutions to engineering challenges, such as stabilizing slopes and mitigating the erosion of beaches. With Art’s guidance, the Corps learned how plants could replace dams and berms in stabilizing soils and waterways to shore up erodible areas.
“Farmers have always engineered with nature. It’s part of everything we do. As the Corps address issues like eroding coastlines, I’m a firm believer that agriculture could play a huge role in solving our climate change issues,” he says.
Art is as generous with his pocketbook as he is with his time. The Froehlich Family Foundation supports a multitude of social agencies at the local, provincial and national levels, while also enabling women and young agricultural scientists in Africa to attend major agricultural conferences.
Thanks to Art’s agronomy expertise, the foundation helped create and sustains the Manchay Gardening School in the arid mountains outside of Lima, Peru. The school teaches women how to grow vegetables in their home gardens, despite the terrain and climate. In addition to growing nutritious plants and crops, the school has produced other benefits for the community, such as increasing the organic matter in soil, using wash water from homes to create simple irrigation systems, providing better seeds and tools, and hiring a local agronomist. So far, the gardening school has seen 400 women graduate from the six-month program.
A great number of public and community organizations have sought Art’s knowledge and guidance as a board chair and/or member. Just a few include AVAC Ltd., Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and ATB Financial. His impressive resume is also bolstered by a long list of appointments to corporate and industry boards.
Given his remarkable contributions to Alberta’s technology, research and innovation ecosystem – particularly within the agricultural and biotechnology industries – Art has received numerous recognitions. In 2005, he received the Distinguished Agrologist Award from the Alberta Institute of Agrologists and the Alberta Centennial Medal. Art was inducted into Alberta’s Bioindustry Hall of Fame in 2012, and received an honorary degree from Olds College in 2014. In 2022, he was awarded the Rotary Paul Harris Fellow Award, and will receive the Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal (Alberta).
These days, Art’s schedule remains full, from working with boards and charities, to advising and investing in businesses. He and Shirley live in Calgary. They have two children – Lindsay and Robert – and two wonderful grandchildren, John and Ellen.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence