“I owe it to my grandmother”

Dairy farmer proud to continue family legacy

A stone’s throw from Holland, Man., is a quaint 200-herd dairy farm run by sisters Marianne and Isabelle Parvais. Their farm, Parmarisa, is a mashup of their names and a testament that sisters are a mighty force. The pair has worked on the dairy farm since it was formed by their father Raymond, upon relocating to Canada from Halle, Belgium, in 1978.

Marianne Parvais’ passion for dairy farming was instilled at a young age and she took great inspiration from her paternal grandmother Madeleine Lemercier-Parvais, who farmed until age 85.

“She was such a strong woman,” says Parvais. “Her whole life she was independent with her cows.”

Similarly, Parvais took an immediate shine to the dairy world. As a young girl, she would be attached at her father’s hip, completing whatever tasks needed to be accomplished. At night she would verbally translate agricultural newspaper articles into French to him. Non-stop reading instilled a strong business acumen in Parvais early on.

By 13, she knew so confidently dairy farming was her future that she applied to have a share of the family farm. According to Parvais, she is grateful how the dairy industry has afforded her non-stop security and predictability.

“You know what you are working for and delivering,” she says. “I like that stability.”

Despite formative years during the harrowing interest rates of the ‘80s, Parvais remained committed, absorbing everything she could about dairy farming.

“You keep learning every day on a dairy farm,” she adds. “Technology is always changing; it’s an ongoing process and I love learning.”

In 1994, at age 19, she began her own farm with 15 dairy cows near the family farm. That experience gave her the confidence in 2001 to amalgamate with sister Isabelle, who also ran an independent dairy farm. Their biggest technological leap was in 2013 when they acquired two automated milking systems. With these systems in place, cows can come and go to the milking station as they please.

“I thought, ‘there has to be a more efficient way,” says Parvais. “I was a bit scared, and it was such a huge investment. Dad said, ‘I trust your instincts.’ He always believed in me.”

Since then, the farm has added an automated calf feeder – and data is monitored electronically, which helps Parvais with caring for her herd.

Today, married with two children, Parvais takes her role as a mother and leader seriously for her two daughters. As she continues to farm, Parvais knows one day her girls may be the next generation of sisters to operate the dairy farm.

“I’m working so there is a land base ready for them,” she says. “I will be there for my girls, even if they want new technology, just like my dad was there for me.”

Each day as Parvais prepares for her daily chores, she admits with pride how grandma Lemercier-Parvais continues to serve as an ongoing mentor.

“I’m proud to be a dairy farmer and produce a nourishing food for people,” she says. “That’s what keeps me going. I owe it to my grandmother.”

Photos by Marianne Parvais