More Than Farming — Managing a Dairy Herd

By Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

MorethanFarmingAgriculture is much more than farming. It’s a diverse community of people who work closely with and support those farmers who grow our food, and without this supporting network, farming would not be what and where it is today.

This month, RealDirt spoke with Morgan Hobin who is the Manager at the Rayner Dairy Research and Teaching Unit at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The Center boasts one voluntary milking system (robotic) and a parlour (or conventional milking system), and is currently milking 104 cows with an additional 150 calves and cows that are not producing milk.

Hobin explains that although they are a commercial facility, they are not a conventional dairy. Among the requirements to produce milk that you will buy in the grocery store, they have extra space to allow for teaching dairy production to students and have two different milking systems which allows for different kinds of research.  “We also have the interactive cow walk suspended above the dairy so consumers, farmers and anyone, really, can observe the cows in their day-to-day life and to see where their milk comes from. And the other unique thing is that we are a commercial dairy in the city, which is quite rare.”

Morgan acts as the liaison between the barn operations, the research faculty (from the department of Animal and Poultry Science and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine) and the public and teaches dairy management labs to Animal Science students.

“It’s a very quiet and calm environment and you don’t hear banging or yelling or animals in distress. The animals get to take their time. It’s a pretty relaxed place.”

RealDirt: What do you feel are your most important responsibilities?

morgan-hobin-dairy-manager-1Morgan: My number one most important responsibility is taking care of the cows. This includes making sure the staff is on board for the day’s activities and goals for the week. I make sure the cows are fed the right diets, calves are taken care of, and cow’s reproductive systems stay healthy. We are a commercial facility but we have research responsibilities on top of the general day to day management so all of the team needs to be on the same page.

The second is to make sure that the research that is being done is high quality resulting in publishable data. And under that scope the most important thing goes back to the cows being taken care of. Our ultimate goal is that the research that happens here directly transfers and is practical for Saskatchewan farmers and their animals.

RealDirt: What does a typical day entail?

Morgan: I get to the barn around 7:45 am and I do my rounds. I see how much feed is left over in the bunks, and then I make adjustments for that day’s feeding schedule based on how much is left over from the day before. I look at the cows and the manure (which is important because manure tells you if they are healthy or not) and make sure that all of the cows are doing well. A healthy manure patty has good consistency, piles firmly and is a brownish colour. Manure that is too runny, too firm, has gas bubbles or grain in it, indicates a problem! Then I check the notebook – these are the notes that tell us if there were any issues from the night shift (we have people here from four in the morning until 11 at night) and deal with anything that has come up. This is followed by a team meeting so everyone can get up to speed about what is happening in the barn that day and if anything out of the ordinary is happening like a tour, or a special research project that might be starting. Then it’s all up in the air from there! I usually have a plan but every day is different.

There are a lot of tasks that happen on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. An important one is to make sure to look at our computer programs which provide specific info about each animal from the day before and a snapshot of the previous week which is another indicator of how the cows are doing and their health and well being. I look at animals that are due to calve and determine if any cow needs special attention or if we need to bring them in if they are getting close to  their due date.

And then there are all of the regular dairy farm duties. I need to pay bills, order feed, make feed sheets based on the morning bunk checks and check the bulk tank (the stored milk that will eventually go to the grocery store) to make sure we are on track for our quota (the amount of milk expected to be produced each month). And of course there’s scheduling all of the workers (we have six full-time, five casual employees, and four students).

In the afternoon, I often have meetings with faculty and researchers to hash out and schedule upcoming research projects. I also go to check on the calves in the calf barn and on the heifers and the rest of the animals outside, to see if they are doing well, body condition wise. Every second week we have “herd health” where the vet and several fourth year vet students come to check for pregnancies and do general post-calving checks on each cow to make sure they are all healthy. And, because we are a teaching centre, I teach dairy management to Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine students.

RealDirt: What do you love most about your job?

I love the fact that when I come to work I know that every day is going to be different. I love the combination of office work and caring for the animals and getting to be a part of the neat research we do.

RealDirt: What is the most challenging part?

Finding the sweet spot between meeting the demands of research and teaching while still being a productive and profitable herd.

RealDirt: What has changed since you started doing your job?

I’ve been here for two years and in that time, we’ve seen an increase in the technology that is available to help us on a cow-by-cow basis and for overall herd management. Everything is constantly evolving and improving.

RealDirt: What kind of training and education do you have to do this job?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and a Master of Science in dairy nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan. To do this job, I think it is important to have practical experience. I went to Australia and milked cows there for a year, so I understand and can work better with the team that’s out in the barn because I understand what they are doing. And having management experience definitely helps.

RealDirt: How do you interact with farmers?

Our researchers work with the provincial dairy industry so we can link the research with industry priorities which is the ultimate goal. Often farmers will stop by to view our facilities or they might have a guided tour. Farmers want to know the research that’s happening here so they can understand what’s new and what they may be changing in the future. They also want to see how our facilities work and often compare their own to ours.

RealDirt: What is the biggest misconception you encounter in your job?

I think it’s just general animal care and how cows are housed. I think visitors’ minds change when they tour our facility. For example, we have brushes in each pen, that lets the cows brush themselves and you can see how happy the cows look while getting scratched. I think visitors are surprised at how easily cows come to see you when you are on the floor which is a clear indicator to me that they aren’t scared or being mistreated – they want nothing more than to lick you. Plus we milk three times a day and people can come in (most of the time without us even knowing they are there) and see us moving the cows. It’s a very quiet and calm environment and you don’t hear banging or yelling or animals in distress. The animals get to take their time. It’s a pretty relaxed place.

RealDirt: What do you wish consumers knew about the dairy industry?

I guess I wish consumers knew producers respect the animals and the consumers. It takes commitment and attention to detail to make sure that there’s a high quality product coming out of the farm. And we wouldn’t pay attention to detail and try to constantly improve if we didn’t care. We want to make sure the consumers are getting a high quality, safe product because we care about them.

RealDirt: What do you think surprises visitors the most when they come to visit the Rayner dairy facility?

The biggest thing is that most people are surprised how much cows produce in a day: our cows produce about 40 kg of milk per day.  That’s the “holy cow” moment. There is a lot of work behind milk production like this and we need to pay attention to every detail of the cow’s life to help them be this productive. Stressed, sick, or unhappy cows do not produce milk like that. We also like showing people the robotic milker. A voluntary milking system is a great tool because you can have a 400 cow dairy and seven milking stations and it can be managed by one person. Voluntary systems are also good for animal welfare because cows can choose to be milked three or four a times day if they want, while others may choose not to be milked more than twice, so it gives them an option.

Robots can improve welfare for the animal and improve welfare for the farmer, too. These days in the dairy industry we work hard to find staff that we can trust our animals with. People ask me do you have kids? And I say “yes, 250 of them”. I can’t trust their health and comfort to just anyone. So having robots lets farmers provide great care to the cows and allows the farmer to have a quality of life too.

RealDirt: Is there a way for interested readers to connect with you (blog, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)?

Visitors are welcome at the barn between 12:30 pm and 4:30 pm,  seven days a week, or you can contact the Dean’s office to arrange a personalized tour at 1-306.966.4058

We’re blogging about Canadians working in agriculture. Each month, we’ll feature someone different on to show how diverse our Canadian agriculture industry is! Know someone that we should feature? Send us a note at



Pilot Mixes Aeronautics with Agriculture on the Family Farm

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

It’s been nearly 112 years since the Wright brothers successfully completed the world’s first heavier-than-air flight, and almost 113 years since Norm Lamothe’s farm was first cultivated by his wife’s family.

Why are these two facts relevant, you may ask? Both helped elevate Norm to the place he holds today —  happily farming, teaching, and even flying drones with his family on their farm near Cavan, Ont. .

Norm Lamothe is the face of October in the eleventh annual Faces of Farming calendar. His page is sponsored by the Grain Farmers of Ontario’s Good in Every Grain program, and the calendar is published by Farm & Food Care Ontario

Norm Lamothe is the face of October in the 11th annual Faces of Farming calendar. His page is sponsored by the Grain Farmers of Ontario’s Good in Every Grain program.

Norm is the proud father of three children – Noémie (age 8), Alec (age 5) and Max (age 3) — and husband to Emily, who works off-farm as a nurse. He has been involved in Woodleigh Farms Ltd., his in-laws’ farm business, for 10 years and a co-owner since early 2014.

The farm is 500 acres in size, with Norm sharing ownership with his brother-in-law Colin, father and mother-in-law Don and Marg. The family grows approximately 400 acres of corn and soybeans, while the remaining acreage is either rented to neighbouring farmers, used for hay and garden crops (vegetables), or remains tree-covered. 

“The farm used to be a hog farm for a long time. We got out of that a while ago and started focusing on a number of different crops,” says Norm. “We have a really diverse farm. It’s undergone a lot of changes over the years.”

Norm explains that his family maintains a number of wood lots on the more marginal land of each farm property, which helps decrease their environmental footprint. Some of those wood lots grow naturally while other parts are planted strategically, but all serve to increase the farm’s biodiversity and reduce soil erosion. As an added bonus, the maple trees provide the family with sap, so maple syrup can also be counted on the roster of products produced by the farm.

Another prominent farm feature Norm likes to highlight is a large pond they stock with trout. It is used as a swimming pool by his kids, a supper source by his father-in-law, who reels in a fish every week, and as an irrigation source for their market garden.

While Norm’s current farm business was originally purchased by his wife’s family in 1902, Norm himself was exposed to a less-common version of agriculture at a young age. His father was the manager of a prison farm in northern Ontario which meant Norm didn’t have to do much in the way of chores because they were done by the inmates. Regardless, though, he was intrigued by the work.

Norm eventually went to flight school, and subsequently flew planes in the commercial airline industry for ten years. Because the career meant he was often away from home, though, Norm eventually decided to leave the skies and take an active role on the family farm. That decision also had the benefit of letting him spend more time with his family, while maintaining a private pilot’s licence.

But don’t think Norm completely forgot about flying. Indeed, he is still an active aviator since, just this year, he started his own aerial drone field scouting business called “Eagle Scout Imaging.”

“The drones use an infrared camera to measure plant health through chlorophyll density,” he says. “It’s a pretty efficient tool for doing things like scouting for harmful pests, or measuring what parts of the field might need more fertilizer.”

On top of it all, Norm is fluent in French, and teaches the Entrepreneurship Course in the Food and Farming Program at Durham College. He also sits on a number of different boards, including the Millbrook Agricultural Society and Millbrook Figure Skating Club.

As for future plans, Norm says he and his family are focused on further diversification. They are considering delving into the world of “value added” crops, and they also plan on incorporating wheat into their seasonal crop rotation. That, says Norm, will do a lot to help maintain soil quality.

“We have some ideas on next steps, but we are still playing around right now,” he says.

Overall, Norm sees farming as much more than a career. He loves the diversity, the time with his family, and the opportunity to be creative in his own environment. It’s both a creative outlet and a lifestyle, and one that he looks forward to expanding in the years to come.

“With an acre of land you can grow a million different things on it, all of them unique,” he says. “It never stops being interesting.”

Animal Care Specialists Focus on Care in Transport

By Jennifer Woods, animal care specialist

Over the past 10 years, the agriculture industry, along with government, has invested significant time, brain-power, and research dollars into improving livestock transport. From environmental management and protection, to welfare indicators, to ideal time in transit, to handling and finally trailer design, all aspects of animal transport have been reviewed in our quest for constant improvement of animal welfare.

Bison are loaded and headed to the U.S. Photo credit: Robert Johnson

Bison are loaded and headed to the U.S. Photo credit: Robert Johnson

Canada is the only country that has a livestock transport training program (Canadian Livestock Transport Certification) that allows livestock transporters, handlers, and producers to become certified in transport of five species: cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, and poultry. To date, over 2,000 people are currently CLT certified.

Animals arriving at slaughter plants and departing or arriving at feedlots are audited to insure animal welfare standards are being met. Loads are also regularly inspected by CFIA for compliance to our animal transportation regulations.

Did you know? There’s an app for Farm Animal Care! It includes information on best practices for animal transport. Read about that, here.

All of the major commodity groups in Canada (cattle, sheep, dairy, pigs, horses, and poultry) have developed guidelines and decision trees to insure all animals being transported are fit for the ride. These tools provide farmers, ranchers, and drivers with direction and guidance on what animals can be transported.

First responders, enforcement personnel, and transporters across Canada have been provided opportunities for training in Livestock Emergency Response for motor vehicle accidents. They also have access to numerous rescue trailers specifically designed for response to emergency situations involving livestock.

Animal care specialists are continually working towards improvement in livestock transport through awareness, education, and management tools. Through training programs, transport auditing, research collaboration, and program development, farmers and transporters are provided many opportunities to expand their knowledge, develop their skills, and insure they are always doing what is best for the animals in their care.

Our Food Has a Story

By Serra McSymytz and Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

kids-and-vegetable-patchAs agribusiness professionals we’ve had the opportunity to talk to farmers about why and how they farm.

Just twenty five years ago, this wasn’t even a conversation. Farmers just got on with the business of working the land or tending to their animals.

Today it’s different. Consumers also want to know why and how farmers carry out their duties, growing and raising the food we sometimes take for granted. But how do you explain what farming is?

Well, there are a lot of things it isn’t.

It isn’t a 40 hour work week, sleeping in on the weekends or even through the night, at times. It isn’t a guaranteed paycheque. It isn’t easy or cheap, low risk, or low stress.

So why? Why would someone gladly raise their hand and say “I want to be a farmer”? Generation after generation?

farmers-by-the-tractorFor many, farming is a place to raise their children where they’ll learn the value of hard work, build strong principles, strengthen their character and intellect, and earn a sense of responsibility.

Farming is rewarding and challenging. It is the opportunity to give back, to do more and be better. Farming is often part of a family’s history and their children’s future. It is satisfaction, seeing something you have sewn and tended grow and thrive. It is reaping the reward of a nutritious meal prepared using ingredients you yourself have nurtured.

Farming is technical and constantly evolving; an industry always on the verge of the next advancement. It is the chance to earn a living from a passion rather than an employer. Farming is the fulfillment of feeding your family, your neighbours, and our world. Farming is a measure of who the farmer is.

The thing about farming though, is that its product is so much bigger than just one person, one family one cow, one field, one farm.

It is our food. It is our story.

farmer-in-the-tractorThere is a narrative woven through our long history. Each chapter is unique and told by the stewards who contribute to it. The rancher, beekeeper, miller, baker, berry picker, processor, butcher, grocer and, in the end, the consumer.

It is the food choices you make for yourself and your family. Farming touches each and every one of our lives because it provides one of the most basic necessities. Whether you buy local, conventional, organic, free range, with or without added hormones, we are all a part of the same story.

Join us in October during Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan and share your food story. #OurFoodHasAStory #AgMonth16

For more on events in Saskatchewan for Agriculture Month, click here.

10 Reasons to Love (and Trust) Your Food

Guest Post by Patricia Chuey

I always embrace any opportunity to visit my home province. In addition to getting back to see family a few times each year, every so often I’m fortunate that my work also takes me there.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an agricultural tour sponsored by Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and a number of groups representing many of the main foods grown or raised in Saskatchewan including flax, pulses, lentilsmustard (and Frenchs), barley, canola, chicken, eggs,beef, pork along with tourism Saskatchewan and Crop Life Canada. This type of tour came at a very important point in my professional life in regularly facing questions and grave concerns from consumers about quality in the food supply. I wish I could have magically had every person whose ever asked me about organic, free range, hormones, steroids, animal welfare, genetic modification and related issues by my side as our group of food writers, media dietitians and chefs from North America met many farmers on their farms, toured an egg processing plant, visited agriculture and bioresource greenhouses and the University of Saskatchewan Grains Innovation Laboratory. (We toured a prairie brewery too!) But, having them all join me wasn’t possible.

farm-collageBecause I couldn’t do that, I want to share 10 thoughts from many critical conversations on the tour. I left feeling renewed and more confident than ever in the quality of the food our Canadian farmers provide to the marketplace. Although I still feel heavy-hearted for the many people I’ve met who feel completely confused about what to eat or to safely feed their family, in many ways I felt both ‘cured’ of mass confusion and energized to continue sharing the truth of what I witnessed. Our group also left very well fed and richer in spirit for having experienced the passion and commitment these food producers put into the food they feed their families and share with Canada and the world.

There were countless reminders of the conscientious commitment farmers make to providing safe food to consumers and the challenges they face from often misinformed, yet vocal, adversaries. Here are few points I encourage thinking about:

  1. Less than 2% of Canadians are directly involved in farming to provide food for the remaining 98%. Typically, the more removed a person is from the farm, the more critical they are of farming. So unfortunate and a source of mass confusion and misinformation. It’s worth finding out the farm experience and background from the person who may be criticizing farming. Asking questions is great and very strongly encouraged. Unqualified folks scaring people about farm-raised food, isn’t.
  2. Canadian farmers are very open to talking about their operations and have nothing to hide. The industry is strictly regulated and uses the latest SAFE technology to produce food that is nutritious and affordable. Big corporations have NOT taken over Canadian farms. More than 97% of Canadian farms are family owned and operated.
  3. There is zero difference nutritionally between white and brown eggs. The difference lies in the feather colour of the hens they come from. Brown are perceived as healthier. What applies to brown bread or brown rice versus white with fibre content, is NOT relevant to eggs. If you buy free range or free run eggs and the shells happen to be brown, know that isn’t a characteristic indicating a free range egg, but simply a brown-feathered hen. Free range eggs also come in white shells. There’s actually more risk of contamination in free range eggs as the conditions in which the chickens are raised can’t be monitored quite as carefully as indoor operations. Egg farmers are committed to providing a variety of egg choices in the marketplace in response to consumer demand. I suggested the egg producers start selling a dozen odd-shaped or non-uniform eggs if we really want to see “natural” eggs. Consumers want ‘natural’ yet also want 12 eggs that look the same. Go figure?! Maybe someday NUeggs (Non-uniform eggs) will be a thing! #HeardItHereFirst
  4. Egg yolk colour is determined by the type of feed a hen eats. Wheat-based diets produce pale yolks while corn or alfalfa-based produce darker yellow. Yolk colour is not an indication of freshness or nutritional value. Organic eggs are fed certified organic grains which cost more.
  5. It is ILLEGAL in Canada to use hormones or antibiotics in chickens. “Ads promoting hormone-free chicken are like adds promoting water that is wet”. No pigs, chickens, turkeys or egg-laying hens in our country are fed hormones. It has been illegal for decades. And they’re not used in milk production in Canada either. Some beef farmers do use approved hormones in cattle. Hormone levels in beef from cattle treated with hormones are virtually the same as beef from untreated cattle once in the food system. Any hormones are administered to cattle in safe time before they are made available for food. Calves are immunized for the same reasons we immunize children – to keep them healthy.
  6. Why the heck don’t we eat even more lentils and other pulses? If we are truly serious about food sustainability let’s eat more of these affordable, nutritious legumes from our home country – the world’s largest EXPORTER of pulses!
  7. Farmers follow strict federal laws for humane animal treatment. A Canadian farmer is not keeping you out of his or her egg operation housing 60,000 hens because anything controversial is going on, but rather for strict biosecurity to protect the chickens. Farmers are as shocked and enraged as everyone else, if not more so, when situations of animal cruelty happen. I chatted with passionate, professional egg farmers who are considering taking on the expense of having large viewing windows and video cameras in the next barns they build to reassure consumers. These kind of measures becoming standard will increase egg prices. (I don’t require a web cam on my dentist’s office or other professional I trust.)
  8. Farmers are the original active environmentalists. Their livelihood depends on healthy soil, water and air to grow crops and raise livestock. We met sixth generation farmers, farmers whose healthy 87 and 91 year old parents still live and work on the farm, rugged male farmers who tear up when talking about the damage misinformation is doing to food security in Canada, strong, young female farmers who wrangle cattle and much more. The common thread: a deep commitment to the environment, passion, hard work ethic and a safe, healthy food supply for all. We were humbled when the combine drivers actually stopped during active harvest to talk to us (VERY expensive to their operation to do so) and saddened to hear farmers say that MISINFORMATION IS MORE OF A THREAT and worry to today’s farmers than crop-destruction from pests or the weather conditions. Crazy and very disturbing. We should all be concerned about that.
  9. Canadians pay a mere 10% of their available income for food, one of the lowest percentages in the world yet for top quality domestic food. Without the use of APPROVED pesticides to prevent complete crop destruction we’d risk complete crop devastation and food shortages. If no approved, regulated pesticides and GMOs were ever used, Canadian farmers would need 37 million more acres to grow the same amount of food as today.
  10. There is more risk in food raised by people who “dabble” in farming as a sideline than food produced on regulated, inspected large farm operations. That said, farmers are very happy to share gardening tips and encourage us to use any available land to grow at least some of our own food.

We have a WORLD CLASS food system that is envied around the world. We need to understand it, celebrate and support it. Absolutely learn and make informed decisions about crop spraying, GMOs, organic vs conventional and where food comes from but avoid information from unreliable, misinformed people that is negatively impacting the very food system that feeds us and many others on our planet.  I remain 100% confident that it makes more sense to question unrecognizable ingredients in packaged food (even the organic ones) with lengthy ingredients lists and long shelf lives than the wholesome home grown WHOLE food from Canadian farms.

Thank you Saskatchewan!

(Sincere thanks also to the chefs and hosts at the Delta Bessborough, Wilbar Farms, Wilbar Cattle Company, Agar’s Corner, Riverside Country Club, Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Boffins Public House and the University of Saskatchewan)

Reference: The Real Dirt on Farming


This post first appeared on Patricia Chuey’s blog, and is used with permission.

Saskatchewan Ranchers Recognized for Their Conservation Commitment

Miles Anderson installing fencing

Miles Anderson installing fencing

Media can sometimes paint a concerning picture of the relationship between agriculture and the environment. Stories of soil erosion, water contamination, and the eradication of native species at the hands of agriculture are all over the Internet, whether fact or fiction.

The stories that are less often told, however, are of the tireless efforts by many in the agricultural community to preserve the land on which they live and work. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA)’s Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA) has recognized ranchers who go above and beyond to enhance and protect Canada’s natural landscapes since 1996. This year’s recipients, Miles and Sheri Anderson of Fir Mountain, Saskatchewan, are the perfect examples.

The Anderson ranch is set amongst the naturally rich diversity of badlands, rolling grasslands, rich riparian areas, and sprawling sagebrush in the heart of the Great Plains. The area is home to numerous native species, including several Species at Risk (SARs). Miles Anderson has fostered a variety of relationships with researchers, conservation groups, and other ranchers for many years in his quest to learn about the ecosystem in which he lives and to bridge the gap between the scientific, conservation and agricultural communities. He was instrumental in building the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan (SKCAP) committee in the 1990s, which continues to be the official forum in Saskatchewan to discuss prairie conservation issues and policies.

L to R: Bruce Tait, Senior Vice President, Agriculture and Resource Industries, Sheri Anderson, Miles Anderson, and Bob Lowe, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Environment Committee Chair

L to R: Bruce Tait, Senior Vice President, Agriculture and Resource Industries, Sheri Anderson, Miles Anderson, and Bob Lowe, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Environment Committee Chair

One of the most prominent endangered species that makes its home on the Anderson’s land is the sage grouse. These native Prairie birds have been in danger of extinction, with the Canadian population declining by 98 per cent since 1998.

In an effort to be part of the conservation plan to save them, Anderson has studied sage grouse nesting habits and adapted his grazing rotation to ensure vegetation necessary for nesting is kept intact. He has also installed an innovate style of fencing to prevent endangered sage grouse from becoming injured in collisions. This innovation also holds benefit for antelope and other species and has captured the attention of other sustainable ranchers and conservationists around the world.

The Andersons have built environmental sustainability into their business and operational plans. Truly stewards of the land, these ranchers are a great reminder of the shared importance of preserving Canadian grasslands for generations to come.

This blog post was submitted by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association

Diverse Prince Edward County Farm Featured as September Faces of Farming

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care 

If there’s one example of a diversified farm business, Sandy Vader and her family are it. From their farm near Picton, they grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other crops for a local farmers’ market, raise sheep for wool and meat, and have even diversified into seasonal decorative arrangements.

Sandy Vader's page is sponsored by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. She is joined in the photo by daughters Kelsey and Kaitlyn

Sandy Vader’s page is sponsored by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. She is joined in the photo by daughters Kelsey and Kaitlyn

Sandy and her daughters are the faces for September in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario.

“We are always trying to diversify,” says Sandy Vader, mother of three and avid market gardener. “I like the animals, and the people from the market. It’s a very family oriented business.”

Sandy started farming with her father-in-law in 1987. At that time, she says, they were growing about 180 acres of crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat, and producing vegetables and fruits for canning companies, “but those companies eventually left Prince Edward County,” she says. The loss of the local processing meant she had to make some major changes to the family business.

Since taking over most of the market-garden side of the farm in 2000, Sandy has expanded her crop portfolio to include — take a deep breath — asparagus, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, beets, and various varieties of flowers, among other crops. All the produce generated by Sandy and her family is sold at the Belleville farmers’ market.

“We used to go to more farmers’ markets, but it can be pretty tiring. We like to stick with one that we enjoy and works for us best,” she says.

Sandy’s youngest daughter, Kaitlyn, has been actively helping run the business since she was five years old. She helps Sandy on a regular basis, and in addition, keeps a small number of sheep and goats. Sandy’s other daughter, Kelsey, has also been involved on the farm from a very early age, and continues to help on occasion despite working full-time at an off-farm job.

Kaitlyn and Kelsey’s brother, Cody, has a farm of his own where he keeps 200 ewes. When required, though, he does help in the day-to-day operations of the farm, the market, as well as any other task that “needs to be done.”

Several years ago, Sandy also began creating a kind of value-added product for sale at her market stand. Using some of the flowers produced in her greenhouse, she creates centre pieces and other seasonal decorative arrangements for Thanksgiving and other occasions. So far, she says, they have proven to be quite popular, and have done a lot for the business when vegetables and fruits are not in season. Consequently, she plans on expanding that side of her business.

“The decorations help make going to market in the winter useful, plus there’s something about working in a greenhouse that makes the winter shorter,” she says.

With the exception of flowers and a select few others, says Sandy, all their crops are started in a greenhouse before being moved to a field to finish growing. Lettuce and sweet corn, she says, are their most popular crops, with fresh-cut lettuce being available from April to December. That two-step process works well for them, but it is labour intensive and one of the reasons Sandy values the help she receives from her family.

In her limited spare time – and she does emphasize limited – Sandy enjoys sports of all kinds, but says she is particularly happy that she had the privilege of playing hockey with her girls when they were younger. She was also an active volunteer when Cody, Kelsey, and Kaitlyn were still in school.

Whether sports or farming, though, the key theme that repeatedly crops up in Sandy’s mind is her family. For her, working with her son, two daughters is the most rewarding career she could have, and it’s the cornerstone of their success.

“The farm is a team effort,” she says. “That’s a farm family – we’re always helping each other out.”

Be Wary of People Preying on Fear

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

No, this isn't how a GMO is made (and no, there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes, anyway)

No, this isn’t how a GMO is made (and no, there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes, anyway)

Do you see pictures like this from time to time? If so, do society a service and call rubbish.

Contrary to what such images imply, our food didn’t drop out of the comic book universe. It may have been produced in part with science — and some pretty incredible science at that — but such science hardly looks as controversial as sticking a tomato with a needle of malignant looking kool-aid.

I don’t know who takes the time to make these images, but the purpose behind doing so is, without a shadow of doubt, to misinform and frighten. I’d like to think that the designers genuinely don’t understand the science against which they rail, but it is perfectly plausible, of course, that they are well aware of how misleading such visual creations can be.

These pictures reduce food science technology to a level akin with antagonists from the Resident Evil franchise – you know, the Umbrella Corporation’s cronies and their zombie-spawning pharmaceuticals.

Assuming, then, that there is some kind of article or information accompanying the picture, can a person trust it? Likely not.

Here’s a typical example of something I see on an all-to-frequent basis. It’s titled “FDA finally admits 70 per cent of chicken contains arsenic,” and there are some major issues right from the start.

First, the article appears on what is, essentially, a blog site and not a legitimate news source. Second, the article features an image of a chicken being injected with some kind of tan liquid — a practice which exists solely in the mind of the image creator. Third, the very title of the article implies a distinct slant on the part of the author which, coincidently, seems to be a New York media production company with some very strong views on many science-y things.

Upon reading, we learn that a treatment for chickens produced by Pfizer – one of those pharmaceutical companies – is leaving traces of inorganic arsenic in the livers of chickens; the Food and Drug Administration in the United States has, as it says, “finally admitted” to the problem, and somehow manages to simultaneously condemn water companies by saying “the level of inorganic arsenic found in the chicken livers is equivalent to the amount of inorganic arsenic found in an eight-ounce glass of drinking water.”

The easy (and wrong) conclusion? Americans must be ingesting dangerous levels of arsenic whenever they eat chicken or drink water.

Of course, this conclusion is completely contrary to what the Food and Drug Administration said on the issue – there’s really nothing wrong with chicken, or water for that matter – but that’s almost beside the point. With so many things initially wrong with the piece – multiple misleading and fabricated pictures, a clear slant in the title, and an unaccredited information source – a person should, theoretically, never even get as far as the first paragraph.

If that were the case, though, I wouldn’t be writing this.

People read, and people listen. And not just disconnected, uneducated folks either — articles and images like this do nothing but perpetuate ignorance. Stemming the spread of this type of visual drivel comes down, at least in part, to critical thinking.

We live in a fast-paced world, and often don’t have the time or mental energy to research every issue in depth. Images of syringes sticking food products, though, should be an automatic red flag declaring “approach with caution.” They are ridiculous pictures, these things, and people employing them as fact should not be trusted.

Teach Me How to Agriculture

By Toni Anne Sarlo, Farm & Food Care

I never had a doubt in my mind that farming was hard work, but that was about the extent of my agricultural knowledge before joining the team at Farm & Food Care.

Toni Anne SarloI don’t want to say that I was ignorant —  let’s go with uninformed. I have lived my entire life in Toronto, or the Greater Toronto Area, and the closest I came to a farm was our annual family visit to Chudleigh’s Apple Farm. Granted, I do love fresh, crisp apples when they are in season, but it didn’t exactly show me what farming entails.

I think I speak on behalf of most city folk when I say that we are not educated about farming truths, enlightened about its multi-layered issues/workings, taught about the challenges or exposed to the lifestyle. Living in the city, we are not aware of the path our food has travelled to get to us. 

We follow what’s trending, not always what’s right. Is it hormone free? Is it organic? Does it have GMOs? These are questions with preferred responses suggested by the media or marketing professionals. Our decisions are influenced by advertisers far too often, it’s true.

I recently started working in agriculture, and it has changed my life.  My former perspective of the agricultural industry and its complexity could not have been more wrong. I used to be skeptical about farming practises and was deterred by negative publicity often associated with farming, but I no longer have that impression. I am conscious about the intricacies of farming and am able to make decisions based on my own experience. 

I have been given the opportunity to visit varying farm types.  Subsequently, I have toured, observed and spoken to farmers and family members while in their element. These are the people with real knowledge who live and breathe farming in all capacities. They know firsthand what the daily challenges are and what techniques are best utilized to improve sustainability. Agriculture is forever changing and progressing, and embracing innovation.

Conversations with farmers and those who represent the farming community have opened my eyes to a culture that I was only vaguely aware of previously.  The passion and heart that drives this industry is overwhelming and exciting.  I have learned that it’s so important to dig for the facts, and one of the best ways is to go directly to the source. 

What I’ve learned, is that there is no black and white, rather a large grey canvas for us to draw our own conclusions. The difference for me, now, is that I feel more informed as a consumer and can avoid blindly following trends.  I have developed a new found enthusiasm and appreciation for farming, and look forward to learning more.

Leaving the Barn Door Open 24/7

By Kelly Daynard, Farm & Food Care

At the turn of the 20th century, farmers made up 60 percent of the Canadian population. Today, that number has dropped to less than two percent.

This move from farms into towns and cities has led to a growing disconnect between rural and urban areas, with Canadians now often three or four generations removed from any ancestors that farmed. The agricultural industry knows from polling data that non farming Canadians want to know more about food and farming – they just often don’t know where to source accurate information. And that’s why a growing number of Canadian farmers are increasing their communications efforts – many are turning to social media to share their stories.

The issue isn’t unique to Canada or North America, though. 

Stefan Teepker

German farmer Stefan Teepker and his daughter Marit in front of the windows in the new viewing gallery he’s built on the side of his chicken barn

Stefan Teepker is a chicken, grain, and hog farmer in Northern Germany. He recently opened his farm to delegates at the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ congress (an event that’s held in a different country each year).

The 35-year-old farms in cooperation with his brother Matthias, and he’s also the honourary chairman of the “Young DLG” – a division of the German Agricultural Society for farmers aged 35 and under. Teepker is increasingly concerned about the misconceptions that exist about modern farming practices and he’s determined to do his part to change that.

“There are big discussions happening about animal welfare in this country. We have to be able to show how we produce the majority of the meat. We have to start the discussion,” he said to the visiting journalists.

For many years, he’s visited a local school twice a year, talking to students about his farm and farm animals. Those students, in turn, visit his farm as part of a forest walk program, where they’re excited to see the animals that he’s talked about.

To expand his efforts, he’s just finished building a unique viewing gallery onto the side of one of his chicken barns. He paid for the 25,000 Euro project (about $36,000 CAD) almost entirely on his own with only a 1,000 Euro grant from a farm organization.

Stefan Teepker

Anyone passing by this German chicken farm is welcome to stop in and see the birds. This viewing gallery, built on the side of the barn, is open 24 hours a day.

Their farm is near a busy highway and popular hiking and biking path. With the grand opening last week, the gallery will be open 24-hours a day. One criticism he’s heard is that farmers only show the nicest photos of their barns and animals. With the new viewing gallery, he says he’ll be able to say “come when you want.” Passersby will be able to stop in at any time to see, for themselves what’s happening and what the birds are doing.

Signage will explain the age of the chickens, what they eat and drink, how the ventilation works, where they were hatched, when and where they’ll go to market and more.

Teepker said that some farmers think the signs should be more technical, focusing on bird genetics and such. But he knows firsthand that consumers are interested in going back to the basics. The most common question he’s asked? “Where are the cages?” To which he explains that broiler chickens are always raised in a free run (floor system) barn – just like here in Canada.

Guests at the viewing gallery will also be able to buy fresh meat and eggs (provided by neighbouring farmers), from a special vending machine.

When asked whether he’s concerned about farm security as a result of the increased attention and visitors, Stefan was definite in his “no”. While he has installed security cameras, he says that they’re only meant to protect the birds and doesn’t expect problems.

He’s also created a Facebook page for the farm where he engages regularly with his 2,000 (and growing) followers. Through updates, he introduces his farm staff, talks about environmental initiatives on the farm (including solar panels and a biogas plant) and answers questions about his pigs and chickens. He also posts regular videos – the top one has 180,000 views to date.

And, new this year, the farm is sponsoring local soccer teams as another way of engaging with his community.

Are his efforts making a difference? Teepker thinks so – but emphasizes that there’s always more that can and should be done. “You see a mind shift when people come to see the farm for themselves. They don’t know what they will see if the doors are closed – so we’re opening the doors.”