A ranch kid turned engineer revisits his roots with an eye to solving one of the planet’s greatest challenges

If the future of farming needs a face, well, you’re looking at it (and, no, we’re not talking about the cow).

Lucas Barr grew up on a cattle ranch northeast of Three Hills, Alberta. After high school, he left to pursue a civil engineering diploma at SAIT, followed by an undergraduate degree at Lakehead University and a master’s in geotechnical engineering from UCalgary in 2011. Throughout, Barr worked as a geotechnical consultant, a career that took him across Western Canada, often to interface with ranchers and farmers like those he’d grown up around. Eventually, his roots beckoned: Barr decided to go back to the ranch, so to speak — though with an atypical agenda in mind.

“Through my geotechnical work, I saw how smaller, sustainable operations were getting left behind with so much intensive, factory farming going on,” says Barr. Even growing up, he says, “I never liked that.” His own family’s commitment to finding ways to reduce their environmental impact deeply influenced his perspective. “We always strived to be low-impact, low-energy,” he says. Ten years into his career, Barr was ready to use his experience — as well as enrich his education — to elevate awareness and actions around sustainability in rural communities. “I knew we could do something better.”

In the fall of 2018, Barr completed a Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Development. It’s a multidisciplinary program between the Haskayne School of Business, Schulich School of Engineering, and the faculties of Law and Environmental Design. Barr says exposure to the various interdisciplinary courses expanded his knowledge base and networks in industry, and gave him opportunities to deepen his learning through global projects (his capstone project took him to Burkina Faso to install solar panels to power milling machines for a women’s co-operative).

The world will soon have to feed 9 billion people — that’s a huge, crucial issue — and we’re impressed with how Lucas is using technology to create smarter farms.

— Dr. Jon Fennell

In spring, 2017, Barr applied for a scholarship to help fund his final year of graduate school. In his letter, he wrote that he aspires to “be a leader in combining sustainable energy development principles with opportunities for farmers and ranchers… to help make food production more economical and, ultimately, sustainable.” Barr was delighted to win the inaugural Fennell Sustainability Graduate Scholarship, created by Heather Fennell, BComm’84, and Dr. Jon Fennell, MSc’95, PhD’08, to support students who are keen to solve global sustainability challenges.

“We’re so impressed with Lucas’s passion,” says Jon, a hydrogeologist and vice-president of consulting and water security at Integrated Sustainability. “The world will soon have to feed 9 billion people — that’s a huge, crucial issue — and we’re impressed with how Lucas is using technology to create smarter farms.”

Barr is striving to start his own consulting company to serve farmers and ranchers transitioning to renewable energy or biofuels. His dad, who now ranches in northern B.C., is an enthusiastic trial client: Barr is helping him cultivate biodiesel from poplar trees. Sometimes, home is where the heart and the head come together.

The Fennell Sustainability Graduate Scholarship was created through an endowment that provides $5,000 annually for full-time master’s students in the Sustainable Energy Development program. The scholarship supports the development of holistic knowledge of energy and environmental management to help solve global sustainability challenges. 

Sustain me

A new certificate offers undergraduates an opportunity to elevate their degree and spark change



The TD Bank Group Awards in Sustainability, established in 2017, benefit students enrolled in the new Certificate in Sustainability Studies program. Open to undergraduate students to complement their program of study, the certificate is among the first embedded program for education in sustainability in Canada.