By Natalie Noble
At the turn of the century, nine-year-old Kevin Steeves sat at his desk in the fourth grade classroom at Bluffton School, planning his career. “That year I told my teacher I was going to go to Olds College and then come home to farm,” he says.
What Mrs Boyes thought of this announcement we may never know. What matters is Kevin made good on his word. “Shortly after graduating from Olds College, I started renting some of her and her husband’s land. I still call her Mrs Boyes, too,” he says with a laugh.
Today, Kevin and his wife Rosalie farm family land near his grandparents’ original homestead near Hoadley, Alta., while custom seeding and spraying for others nearby. With three children aged four and under, the couple also own and operate Renuu Production Optimization. The rapidly growing oil and gas company uses clean bio-tech and has already expanded throughout the province, spanning from the Grande Prairie area into Gull Lake, Sask., in a few short years. It’s a lot to manage, but the Steeves say it works because of their strong family foundation.
“Family is top priority for us,” says Kevin. “Emotionally and geographically, we’re all pretty close together as neighbours. We thrive on integrity and our desire to help others, but we never forget family and we know that work will always be there.”
It’s no surprise Kevin is where he is today given his roots. His grandma and grandpa Healy farm near Milo, Alta. “Grandpa Healy and my uncle on my mom’s side are all still involved in agriculture,” says Kevin. “My dad’s parents, Grandma and Grandpa Steeves, bought the land I farm today about 70 years ago. Rosalie and I are raising the fourth generation as our kids grow up on this farm in the house my dad grew up in. I’ve got lots of mentorship and grounding on both sides of my family.”
As Kevin grew up, his parents farmed just down the road from his grandparents, moving closer to rent their land as the elder Steeves transitioned into retirement. In grade nine, adversity altered the course of Kevin’s life profoundly when it was discovered his mom had a brain tumour. “My brothers and I stepped in to take care of the farm along with my grandparents,” he says. “I was taking more of a leadership role at quite a young age thanks to incredible support from my dad and grandparents. I worked hard and started to make a few management decisions. It was the first major hurdle we went through as a family and it changed the trajectory of my life.”
As neighbours and family stepped in to help out, Kevin was given the opportunity to take the reins and run with the farm that summer. His earlier commitment to return home after college to farming and family was set in stone.
In 2011, Kevin followed his plan, earning his Agricultural Management diploma majoring in Production at Olds College. “It was a lot of fun and I made lifelong friends there,” he says. “The mentorship and friendship of the people and my classmates there were at least equally valuable to the education. I have this amazing network throughout Western Canada to bounce ideas off.”
Soon after graduation, Kevin and Rosalie began dating in 2012. Given where her future was headed, Rosalie’s natural easygoing sense of adventure has served her well. “I have zero farming roots,” she says. “I was raised on an acreage near Pigeon Lake my whole life and neither of my parents farmed. When I started dating Kevin it was a complete learning curve.”
That same year, Kevin purchased a tractor and drill to custom seed for farmers in the Hoadley area and contract operate with his dad. While he’d been renting farmland since high school, in 2014 Kevin seized the opportunity to purchase his grandparents’ home quarter. Since then, he and Rosalie have steadily grown their farm, which now includes a diverse rotation of wheat, barley, yellow peas, oats, canola and winter wheat, occasionally adding faba beans. In 2017, he purchased a sprayer to add custom spraying to his contract offerings. That custom work has turned into longer term rental agreements as neighbours around the Steeves slow down and retire, a win-win for the community.
Despite his full plate, Kevin prefers to take on as much work as a 24-hour day will allow. “Typically, I’m doing most everything from seeding to spraying, trucking, and harvesting,” he says. “It’s mostly me running equipment and Rosalie is my support staff running for parts, bringing meals and keeping the kids fed. We’re also grateful that my parents, in-laws, and both our siblings help out when they can.”
While Kevin likes to think of himself as a John Deere guy, he laughs and says he runs a “mixed operation” when it comes to machinery, which includes a New Holland combine, a John Deere sprayer and ConservaPak drill and a Massey Ferguson tractor. “We’ve always used what’s most economical for us at the time. We’re not stuck to one breed of equipment around here.”
All the Steeves’ commodities are sold through line companies besides some barley used as silage for Kevin’s parents’ purebred Charolais cattle and sold to a few neighbours.
Throughout the time building up the farm, Kevin also worked as a Canadian field representative for an oil and gas optimization company based out of Oklahoma. “I helped grow that company until the oil crash in late 2014 to early 2015,” says Kevin. “Their product consisted of live microbes but they were categorized under the cost code line as chemical in the oil and gas industry. When companies start lowering their budgets, chemical is one of the first things they knock off. They’ll switch from a preventative program to a reactionary model in operating their wells. We started losing work and three years after the day I started, I was laid off as the company left Canadian operations.”
Although out of work, he wasn’t out of optimism. Kevin quickly devised a plan. “I had seen what these microbes could do, so I asked the supplier if I could start my own company using this product. They had no problem with that and agreed to sell it to me,” he says. “In the span of less than 30 days I’d been laid off, started my new company and Rosalie and I got married. I was 23 and that was the beginning of our hectic life.”
Most Prairie dwellers have a general understanding of the oilfield and are connected to someone who’s worked in the industry in one form or another. However, the optimization service Kevin provides is a cutting-edge technology that will likely see others soon follow. “We use micro-organisms to break down wax, scale and asphaltenes, inhibit corrosion and knock out H2S on oil and gas wells throughout Western Canada,” explains Kevin. “These micro-organisms take the place of conventional chemical programs most oil companies are using. This technology is typically more economically viable for our customers and more environmentally safe for operators and landowners. As the energy sector, its stakeholders and the general public all shift to prioritizing green and clean environmental solutions, niche products like this will become more mainstream.”
As Kevin and Rosalie ventured into the business, they originally came up with the name Clean N Green Buggers – a literal summary of what the business provided. “We were just keeping our heads above water,” says Kevin. “Oil prices were still ugly, so work was up and down. Then we hit a stagnant stage.”
Knowing they had a winning product, but perhaps not the right outward approach, they enlisted a marketing agency, which helped them rebrand as Renuu by 2018.
“The new name and brand captured what we were trying to do, what the company meant to us, and we hit the ground running,” says Kevin. “Since then, we’ve seen exponential growth. This was another huge pivot for us.”
Three years later, Renuu’s daily sales match pre-rebrand monthly numbers. “We made it through the slowdown and the COVID-related challenges that slowed the oil patch,” says Kevin. “We’re stable in our relationships with the companies we work for and we were able to continue to grow through these hardships.”
Serving oil and gas companies from smaller “mom-and-pop” operations to large corporations, Renuu’s technology optimizes production on gas and oil wells and they’re venturing into heavy oil. “We’ve done it all under all sorts of different production methods whether it’s plunger lift, free flowing, pump jacks, we work on any well that exists,” says Kevin.
Renuu operates with just Kevin and Rosalie at the helm. “We definitely could use at least one or two more people, but I’m a little stubborn on hiring staff so I make this work fit into my day,” says Kevin. “I’m just waiting to ensure things go well in our move into Saskatchewan and then we’ll be hiring a handful of staff over there, too.”
What’s the hold up? It’s the memory of Kevin’s layoff back in 2015. “I’m still leery of having someone else’s family put their trust in us and letting them down if I don’t have enough work for them. I’ve been through that.”
As quickly as the business is expanding and given Renuu’s status as one of the only providers using microbes in the industry, they’re well positioned for growth. It’s likely Kevin will see the stability he seeks to bring on help sooner than later. “We have some opportunities to take our business overseas and we’ll see where those go,” says Kevin. “Our goal is to scale up to where each of us can take on more of a management role and we can experience our kids growing up. That’s a big goal of mine – getting to where I don’t have to be away from home so much.”
Despite Rosalie’s anticipation for more “Kevin time” with the family, she appreciates the value in their temporary sacrifice. “It means so much to us when we hear the customers Kevin works hands-on with in the fields telling other companies about him,” says Rosalie. “Kevin truly has a reputation for honesty. He has a real desire to help these companies out. He’s not in it just to make money. He really is passionate about what the microbes can do for the companies we work with. To hear our customers telling this to other companies is huge for us and speaks volumes about Kevin and the microbes.”
At just 30 years old, how does this couple make it all work? If you ask them, it’s all about the help and support from their families and their Christian faith. But an outsider’s perspective also sees a couple who are, beyond anything, the most incredibly supportive partners with matching values towards that prioritize family.
“We work together in our marriage, on the farm and in the business,” says Kevin. “We’re two strong minds who meet as partners in everything we do. I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve come through all of this stronger than we’ve ever been.”
That strength is going to come in handy with their growing family. You’d think the Steeves are maxed out with everything on the go, but they continue to be present in their community and family. Kevin never misses a routine appointment to donate blood. Rosalie is passionate about brain cancer research since recently losing her father to the disease. Together, they support their local 4-H club and they’re devoted advocates of mental health, especially post-partum depression.
On top of it all, this young and busy couple thrive on an adventure. “We still believe in Sunday drives and the thrill of spontaneity,” says Kevin. “In our early days, we once ended up in Texas. Today, we pack lunches for the kids and drive to Nordegg, the Icefields, wherever the road takes us. I’ll ask Rosie if she’s up for it, she’ll say, ‘yep, okay,’ and off we go. We’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of family and we’re sure having fun,” he says with a smile.