Friday, March 22, 2024

I was thrilled to sit down with Amber Dekker, a former schoolteacher turned farmer and the wife of my son, Ryan! We discussed how she and Ryan liquidated their assets to follow their dream of turning a hobby farm into a commercial operation. Read on to find out the challenges they experienced and the power of persistence as they pursued their vision.

Ken: Over the past few years, Ryan and his wife, Amber—my daughter-in-law—discovered a newfound passion. This past year, they made massive changes in their home situation to follow their dreams. I’d love to talk to you, Amber, about your experiences over the past year and how you navigated the challenges you encountered along the way. Because we know that when we decide to make changes, particularly dramatic ones, we encounter challenges. So, Amber, you and Ryan took a risk. What did you do?

 Amber: Ryan and I got our dream dog, a chow chow. I loved the breed so much that I wanted one in every color! They come in six colors, so my dream was to breed them and see other people get these little puppies in their homes. To do this, we needed more land for a kennel, so we found this amazing 21-acre property. 

Ken: Okay, so let’s back the bus up a little bit. You are trained and educated as a school teacher.

Amber: Yes, I taught high school and junior high for years.

Ken: Teaching would have been a relatively safe income stream, right? 

Amber: Yes, I had an opportunity to build into the Ontario Teachers Pension, which is one of the best in Ontario.  

Ken: People probably thought you were already living the dream life, but your passion wasn’t in teaching.

Amber: It was for many years; however, when our kids came along, I found it really challenging to divide my time between my children and my students. Teaching is not a typical nine to five job in the sense that you’re working late most nights lesson planning or marking because you always want to do your best for your students. It was causing our family life to suffer and after a few years of it, I realized I needed to find something else. 

Ken: So, describe what you fell in love with.

Amber: The breed is called a chow chow. It’s funny because I don’t even consider myself a dog person. But I was always drawn to chows because of their fluffy coats and teddy bear faces. It actually was one of Ryan’s dream dogs as a kid, as well. I don’t even consider myself a dog person, to be honest, but when we got Pippi and then later a second pet chow, Dandelion, we fell in love with these little animals. 

Ken: It was almost like a therapy dog, wasn’t it? It was important for your family.

Amber: It was! Pippi helped out every single member of our family in a different way. 

Ken: And then you got a second one, Dandelion, because you loved the first one so much. That was where some of your family might have said, “Are they crazy?”

Amber: Oh, definitely! We were living in a small house. And we hadn’t shown much interest in dogs before. So people who knew me well were thinking, “Dogs? Where’s this coming from?”

Ken: Then, after that, you said you wanted to breed them, so you took the chance. You brought in some breeding dogs because neither one of those dogs was a breeding dog, right? You had had them fixed.

Amber: Yes. And to get the best “quality” we could find, we had to import them from other countries to get these certain bloodlines. And it was all new, and I spent months learning as much as I could by interviewing other top chow breeders around the world. 

Ken: Okay. And so, at some point, your house didn’t work for that passion of breeding the chow chows, right?

Amber: Yes. To stay within zoning regulations, we had to move to a different area of the city. That got us on the search for looking at different properties.

Ken: That was a bit of a risk. That must have turned things upside down for your family.

Amber: Oh, my goodness, it was really a challenging season. And I did not expect it to be nearly as hard as it was. We listed our house in March 2023. We painted the house and packed everything up for showings to make the house as presentable as possible. It wasn’t going to be picturesque for long with our two kids and dogs, so we moved our dogs outside with a covered area out there, and we moved into Candice’s house. Ryan’s sister.  

Ken: How long did you live there?

Amber: For a month. 

Ken Dekker: And how many dogs did you have at that time?

Amber: We had five dogs. So, during showings, we had to put all five in our van for three hours or whatever. Take them out of the van for a walk, both Ryan and I had to do it because I couldn’t walk them all at once. And even then, three dogs with one person is challenging. 

Ken: Now, you also took the risk of buying the farm before you sold the house?

Amber: Yes. In this case, we had to move fast on the property, so we trusted we could get our finances and everything else in order. Let’s be honest, buying acreage in the city of Ottawa isn’t exactly cheap. Our offer was without conditions in order to get the price we needed to afford it.

Ken: Now that’s a pressure cooker.

Amber: Thankfully, I trusted my REALTOR®!

Ken: Haha, you trusted your husband? And the Dekker Team?

Amber: It really helped to know you guys so well. I’d calm myself down thinking, “If anyone can sell our house this quick, they can do it!” It was also a bit stressful because this was right as interest rates skyrocketed, and our mortgage was due the following year. So after we bought the house, we were figuring out if we could port our mortgage or if we were going to pay a penalty and struggle with a much higher rate. 

Ken: You didn’t have a door-to-door move either.

Amber: The house was a major do-it-yourself-er – it just was not a healthy space to move into. So we moved into a camper on our property. We thought we were only going to be there for three months, from June to August, and we ended up getting in just after the big snowfall in the last days of November. 

Ken Dekker: Why did it take so long? 

Amber: Things just kept going wrong. Our well failed, and then after we put in a new one, we hit a water line with a backhoe. We only had running water in the camper for a few weeks for those months. Which meant the camper toilet didn’t work. We had hot water for a few days only, which made doing dishes, showering, and everything much more challenging. We had internet issues, so even though I normally work from home, I’d have to leave Ryan with the kids during the day so I could work. So he had these screaming, fussy kids while he was trying to renovate every day. It was so hard. We didn’t have laundry, so we took that to relatives to do, and we had to shower at relatives’. We had an electrical fire at one point. It just felt like one thing after another. Sometimes, it felt a bit like a nightmare, and I struggled with a lot of guilt for putting my family through this. 

Ken: This brings up another challenge, wasn’t it? When you follow your dreams, sometimes you have to depend on other people to make it work. Or to start. 

Amber: Yes. And I’m okay with asking for help because I enjoy helping others. But when you’re stretching yourself, you find out you can’t do a lot of the things you assume you can do alone. So you have to ask for help a lot more than maybe you are comfortable with. Some things can be so much bigger than you realize, and you really have no other option. 

Ken: And one of these areas was cash flow issues. Was that for buying the dogs, or was that for renovating the farmhouse? 

Amber: It was for farming, actually! We fell in love with the farming lifestyle that Ryan actually found a passion for high-quality food – free of chemicals and genetic modification and all the things you run into nowadays in grocery stores. Ryan wanted to sell quail as chicks, meat, and eggs. So, renovating the barn requires a lot of upfront costs before you can start making money from the business. 

Ken Dekker: And in the meantime, that summer, you raised 100 meat chickens in your pasture to sell, right? Along with all the farmhouse renovations, changing the windows, and making the home as energy-efficient as possible. 

Amber: Yes. I saw the LIFE’s Inside Track episode on net-zero housing. It really inspired me. 

Ken: So the cost was a little more. And recently, you sold your triplex that you had to pay for all these costs. Now you view that investment property as your retirement savings, did you not? 

Amber: Yes, it was terrifying to me. And we decided to because we had an opportunity on the farm that had the potential to turn into an amazing business, and we wanted to go for it. Ryan has a vision that you shouldn’t have to be a homesteader to eat like one. He is passionate about regenerative agriculture and reusing and composting everything to make the nutrients go full circle. 

Ken: I’ve eaten some of the chickens that he’s raised. They were amazing. And now quail will be going in shortly.

Amber: Yeah, who knew? Just like me with the dogs. But Ryan just fell in love with quail and went off to Quail Con and learned as much as he could. Yes, Quail Con is a real thing. It’s in the States every year, and we are joking that we’re gonna go dressed as quail next time. All jokes aside, it’s a great weekend with quail enthusiasts from all over North America. Ranging from people who have 5 quail in their backyard to commercial farmers who have thousands. They have seminars and you can learn a lot from them. 

Ken: Now you needed some financial help during all this as you fixed the house and barn. Some people loan you some money in the shortfall periods. What other help did you need? 

Amber: When we first got there, we had to do fencing, a lot of fencing. Our dogs were tied up for two weeks, and if you’ve ever tied up a dog, you’ll know how miserable they are. Honestly, there was so much. While we knew we’d need some help, we needed more than we’d calculated, and we definitely couldn’t have done it ourselves. Every day, there was something we depended on, whether it be someone’s expertise or guidance from someone or having someone physically come out to the farm to help us.

Ken: Yeah, because when you’re doing construction sometimes you just can’t do it by yourself. You need a couple able-bodied people to be able to lift something. There was a lot of heavy construction work, fixing the foundation, and digging trenches to bring hydro and water to the barns. 

Amber: Yeah, I couldn’t even list all the details. It was just constant chaos. Some days, I’d come home from work and find half our two-acre homestead portion, the part that wasn’t fields, would just be completely torn up. And we’d have to use platforms to get into the house. Or find out we’d be without electricity for a week. One weekend, I lost my new-ish iPhone, and we lost water and internet after we had finally got it back after a few weeks, and one of our dogs was hit by a car and needed major surgery. At times, I was basically hyperventilating, wondering how we were going to get through it. 

Ken: Now let’s separate those; first of all, you lost your phone. 

Amber: Because it was one of the many days we had dug up our property and filled in portions, we were out there in the dark calling the phone to see if it would light up in the dirt. I prayed so much to find the phone. 

Ken Dekker: But somebody found your phone a week later on the road! 

Amber: Yes, a week later, I got a call from a friend. A farmer who lived 20 minutes away called him using my phone to find out who it was. He was tending his fields a mile or two from our house and noticed it in a ditch! He saw my friend’s text pop up and was able to call him even though my phone was locked. 

Ken: And it actually turned on!

Amber: Yes! And it had poured that week, so there it had been out in the rain! As if that wasn’t cool enough, the friend who messaged me had a good laugh and said, “When you get your phone, check out what my text was!” You know what it was? “God is watching over you.” 

Ken: How amazing is that? 

Amber: We had so many miracles this summer. Like I said, one of our dogs was hit by a car. Surgery was going to be in the five digits, and the surgeon wasn’t even that hopeful he could save the leg. I spent three days calling all over Ontario, Quebec, and the States, and all the quotes were similar because it was a very difficult surgery. We couldn’t afford it without putting our finances in jeopardy. It’s hard when you really want to look after your pet the way you want. But if you can’t keep a roof over the head of your family and animals after surgery, that doesn’t help, does it? We knew we would have to make some hard decisions. I just felt sick; I felt so much guilt. Here, I had stepped out on a limb to follow my dream; the family went along with it, and I saw it hurting those I loved most.  

Ken Dekker: So, did you have to amputate the leg? 

Amber: It’s amazing because God told us He was going to bring a doctor to help us, and he did. This vet, who wasn’t a surgeon, knew our breeding program, loved our dogs, and did the surgery for us at cost. We offered more money, and she wouldn’t take it. It was just miracle after miracle of God stepping in when we were beyond ourselves. That helped get us through. It really strengthened my faith and helped Ryan and me. We had felt God leading us this way, but as I said, it was so strange for us to have such newfound interests that I often questioned the path. 

Ken: And the dog is okay? 

Amber: A black dog lying on black pavement in the dark! She shouldn’t even be alive! The surgery was very, very hard. The doctor said it took four hours instead of the anticipated two. Every time she’d tie ligaments together, another pair would break apart. It was going to be a miracle, even after the surgery, for her to keep her leg. But God helped us. She has a slight limp now, but nothing compared to what could have happened. 

Ken: That’s a lot! And we haven’t even gotten into how this impacted your kids. 

Amber: Oh yes, that is another whole story. They found it extremely hard as well leaving their home, friends, having a new school, bus ride, everything. It ended up being okay though! They have settled in. We had some great family time in the summer in the camper, a bit like Covid with the tight quarters. And now, they have made new friends, and they love all the animals, gardens, and opportunities the farm has to offer. 

Ken: Yes, so how are things now for you? How far are you in the process? 

Amber: Things are really starting to come together; it’s amazing. We got another breeding dog, which was another God story. I’m getting messages almost every day from people asking for our puppies. The puppies of several litters we have coming up this year are almost all presold. We’re getting messages from people all over the world who love our dogs and who follow our social media channels. Ryan has a lot of people following our farm channel who want to know more about quail. People are contacting him about how we’re setting up our barn. We have a strong focus on the humane treatment of our animals. We want them to have the best life possible. We are doing things with quail on a commercial level that really haven’t been done before – intellectual enrichment for the birds. We have much larger pens, dust baths, bugs, and all kinds of things that let the quail keep their natural behaviors the way they were intended to live. Ryan is learning from people, and he, in turn, is developing those ideas, and people are learning from him. We are starting to see that the impact we thought would only be local is getting to be bigger than we thought. We had such a strong sense when we were going to put in an offer on the farm that God said he was going to bless people through it. We didn’t know what that would look like, and we’re not arrogant enough to say it’s from anything we’re doing. God has brought people to our doorstep, and we keep hearing people say how peaceful it is and what a blessing it has been for them. From the workers to people buying our dogs… We have thrown ourselves on God, and He is doing some really cool work. 

Ken: And what’s the name of your farm? 

Amber: Sun Dynasty. And the chow program is called Sun Dynasty Chows. We can be found on Instagram and Facebook. 

Ken: Well, thanks, Amber, for taking the time to chat about all this. 

Amber: You are so welcome! Thanks for having me. 

If you have a passion for something and you feel it is time, reach out to the Dekker Team. We’d be happy to sit down and do a consultation because maybe following your dream requires a move. Transitions like that aren’t easy, but we can certainly walk you through those steps. Send us an email at so we can move you forward together.