Ontario mink farmer featured in 2015 Faces of Farming calendar

Tillsonburg – Sandra Aspden is a grandma of six, a golfer and a motorcycle enthusiast. And now together with her husband Clarence, she’s added the title of “farmer” to her resume of interests and achievements.

Sandra Aspden’s Faces of Farming calendar page

Sandra Aspden’s Faces of Farming calendar page

The path to becoming a mink farmer in Norfolk County was anything but direct. Raised in Kitchener, she and Clarence met at a bowling alley in Woodstock more than 40 years ago. After marrying, they raised three sons – Wayne, Philip and Paul – while Clarence worked as a welder and Sandi as a factory supervisor.

In 2009, the two decided to take a great leap of faith and purchase a farm near Tillsonburg that they turned into a mink ranch. Clarence’s aunt and uncle had raised mink and he had helped them when he was growing up. They started with 1,000 females and have now almost doubled that with a goal of reaching 2,400 breeding females in their herd. On average, there are 8,500 kits (baby mink) born on their ranch annually. Continue reading

How to find out what a typical Canadian farm looks like

It is surprising to me that there is still such a massive divide between what society thinks and what actually happens on the farm. I recently spent some time trying to pin down a definition of “factory farms” with various individuals. I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion about agriculture or livestock farming I just wanted to understand what their definition was.  It turns out many think a typical Canadian farm would be considered a “factory”.

Female pigs in group housing on straw bedding.  Not what many people to be typical.

Female pigs in group housing. Not what many people to be typical.

I was surprised to learn that many have a perception that the majority of beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, and poultry birds in Canada live in dark dirty cages, without adequate food and water, individual attention, and are treated more like machines than animals.

Even though I didn’t set out to change anyone’s opinion I ended up sharing some StatsCan numbers about the average farm size (average beef herd size is 61 and an average dairy herd size is 70) and the fact that 97% of farms  are family owned and operated and shared pictures of actual living conditions as an alternative pictures commonly depicted by those not in favour of livestock use.  Other farmers also shared pictures of their farms and animals as well as personal philosophy and practices. I was again surprised to hear the response: “well sure, YOU guys aren’t a factory farm and obviously care about your animals but you are not typical”.   To this I mentally sputtered… but this IS what a typical livestock farm in Canada is like!  Is this belief system in place because we are programmed to believe the worst about agriculture (as perpetuated by nasty memes of suffering animals or pictures taken out of context like a cute little calf with a numbered ear tag) or is it simply that society has an image of farming based on idealic pictures of yesteryear?

To clarify, I do not think animal farming has it all right. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that not every practice is perfect or defensible and that some do need to change. There are also individuals that own animals that should not (even one of these people involved with livestock is too many) and they are the ones highlighted in sensational news stories. But does this mean that every farm in Canada is a factory farm? No. That any farm over a certain size is inherently inhumane?  No!

Do you want to know what a typical Canadian farms really look like? Head over to virtualfarmtours.ca to see what really happens.  Think this is just too biased to be true? Contact producer groups to get some real information and maybe even the chance for a farm tour to see for yourself.  If you don’t trust that those organizations are giving you the real answer, contact an elected government official. They can put you in contact with other government employees who work in the ag community and with producers as agriculture specialists (they give management advice and assistance to farmers).  Still don’t believe the source?  Go to the University of Saskatchewan and talk to researchers, scientists and veterinarians who study animal welfare (there are also researchers in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and the maritimes).  They can give you answers to your questions about farming and animal welfare and animal care.  Or feel free to contact me at Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and I will try and answer any questions you might have.

Thanks for taking the time.


Email me at jean@farmfoodcare.org

Taking initiative to protect the environment and build the soil

By Treena Hein

John and Grace Kinghorn are shown with two of their environmental initiatives – a double walled fuel tank and some of the trees they’ve planted on their farm.

John and Grace Kinghorn are shown with two of their environmental initiatives – a double walled fuel tank and some of the trees they’ve planted on their farm.

(Woodville) – John Kinghorn grew up with a strong love of the land, and it was that love which called him back to make concrete improvements to his farm and the surrounding area after a very successful career off-farm.

Kinghorn’s ancestral beef and crop operation is located near Woodville, Ontario. He farms about 250 acres with his wife Grace of 52 years. John’s great-grandfather settled the land, and his father continued the tradition. When John was ready to enter the workforce however, he was attracted to an education/work program at General Motors in Oshawa. “Over the years, I was able to be involved in many innovative new ideas and had the opportunity to travel extensively in North America and Europe to explore these ideas and be involved in implementation of some of them,” he recalls. “It was 35 years of a fairy-tale ride in the industrial world for a farm boy.” Kinghorn retired early at the executive level, as Operations Manager of the Oshawa Truck Plant. Continue reading

Third generation egg farmer proud to continue family tradition

By Andrew Campbell

St. Ann’s – Eggs have always been a part of Jacob Pelissero’s life. He grew up on his family farm, helping to gather eggs, feed and care for the hens. And, as an egg farmer, he’s proud of the fact that he learned to make a great omelet while he was still a child.

Third-generation egg farmer Jacob Pelissero is proud to continue the family farm tradition.

Third-generation egg farmer Jacob Pelissero is proud to continue the family farming tradition.

But for his family, the path to egg farming wasn’t direct. It didn’t come until his grandfather started losing customers in the original family business – ice. Many decades ago, that business was big around St. Catharine’s, where the family would deliver ice throughout the summer to homes to keep their ice boxes cool.

But then a remarkable new invention, the refrigerator, started making an incredible surge into homes, replacing the need for ice deliveries. Realizing that his business was collapsing, Jacob’s grandfather had to do something to support his family.

Finally it came to him. He already knew the residents of his community and which of them had purchased refrigerators. Why not provide something that could be stored in them – like farm fresh eggs. That idea started a new career for the Pelissero family and three generations later, Jacob couldn’t be happier. “Egg farming is an incredible way of life. When you take care of the chickens, they take care of you.”

On top of producing fresh eggs, his family also raises pullets. This is the term used to describe young hens from the time they’re hatched until they’re old enough to lay eggs. Once mature, the grown laying hens then move to live on egg farms across Ontario.

Pelissero has just graduated with a degree in agriculture business from the University of Guelph and is looking forward to the time when he joins his father on the family farm.

Why continue the career? “The short answer is because I enjoy it. The long answer, because I love the idea of managing my own business, and caring for the birds that have supported my family for so many years.”

One thing that he’s especially excited about is a new hen barn that was constructed last summer. The barn has a new – but increasingly popular – feature in Canada called enriched cages. These offer room for hens to lay their eggs in a curtained nest, perch, and enjoy constant access to fresh food and water that all hen housing provides. Said Pelissero, “I think this type of construction is a perfect balance between a clean and safe environment for the bird, farmer and the egg.”

This young farmer has also taken to social media to tell his family’s stories. He is a member of the new Dinner Starts Here blogging and Twitter initiative that features young farmers talking about their lives on Ontario farms.

“Talking about the effort and care that goes into every egg is something I’m proud to do, and hope other farmers do as well. It is more important than ever before that consumers understand where their food comes from.”

Pelissero also notes that part of the reason he wants to talk about his farm is because he feels there are misconceptions about egg farming. “If I can help someone understand where their egg comes from, how the birds are cared for and the quality control measures that go into producing eggs, I know that person will feel good about feeding them to their family.”

Pelissero also works part time for Gray Ridge Egg Farms, where he offers advice to other egg farmers on how they can improve their own farms through animal nutrition and egg handling. “I’m confident in every egg that is collected, washed, graded, packed and put into your local grocery store because I see what goes into ensuring that a Grade A egg is a safe and nutritious egg.”

By following the blog at www.dinnerstartshere.ca and Jacob’s tweets @Jakeandeggs, you’ll be able to learn more about what he is talking about.

Taking a farm sustainably into its second century

By Treena Hein for Farm & Food Care (Battersea)

It’s coming up on an exciting time for the Sleeth family farm in Battersea, Ontario. In a few

The Sleeth family includes (from left) Jeff, Ron, Eileen, Connor and Brody (Paul and Catherine’s sons), Paul and wife Catherine (Submitted photo)

The Sleeth family includes (from left) Jeff, Ron, Eileen, Connor and Brody (Paul and Catherine’s sons), Paul and wife Catherine (Submitted photo)

short years, Ron and Eileen and their family will celebrate the 200th anniversary of their ancestors’ arrival to Frontenac County from Ireland in 1820’s. They will also soon celebrate a century on the present farm, purchased by Ronald’s grandparents in 1921.

Ronald took over the dairy and cash cropping operation from his grandfather and father in 1962 when he married Eileen, who also comes from long-standing farm family in the area. In 1986, after their son Paul graduated from Kempville College, they established Eilevale Farm in partnership with him. Paul works off-farm, but plays a major role in the farm with repairs and cropping. Ron and Eileen’s other son Jeff is a veterinarian who looks after the health of the farm’s 75 Holsteins (30 milked daily). Ronald is the principal operator of the farm, with Eileen in charge of records and accounts in addition to maintenance of farm’s beautiful grounds and gardens. Eileen was recently recognized for 36 years of school bus driving as well. Two of Paul’s four sons are old enough now to feed the calves and heifers, and do the most of the field work and raise 100 meat chickens each year. Paul and Jeff recently purchased a neighbouring farm, increasing the family’s land ownership to 250 acres. Continue reading

Layering up – on the farm

Since every trip outside this time of year involves adding layers upon layers of clothing to stay warm, we asked the Dinner Starts Here gang (dinnerstartshere.ca) what their favourite piece of clothing is to tackle winter farm duties.

Stephanie says her insulated rubber boots are must in winter to keep feet warm on the farm

Stephanie says her insulated rubber boots are a must in winter to keep her feet warm while working on the farm.

“I could not live without my insulated rubber boots,” says Stephanie Campbell. In the winter they keep her feet warm and dry no matter what she’s doing around her family’s chicken farm – from fixing the manure spreader to cutting wood in the bush. “I’ve learned over the years that having warm feet makes a huge difference in keeping the rest of me warm.”

For sheep farmer Sarah Brien it’s definitely her Carhartt overalls and jacket. “They keep me warm and fairly clean when I have to do things in the barn,” she says, adding this is “super useful when I know I won’t have time to shower before I go somewhere else.”

Dairy farmer Justin Williams also loves his Carhartt pants. “They are very comfortable and stronger then denim to protect my legs,” he says. “They also have many pockets to store nuts and bolts.”

Storage is important to Andrew Campbell too, which is why you’ll see him most often in his duct pants around his dairy farm. “With lots of pockets to hold a jackknife, cell phone, keys and even pliers or a hammer if I need it, they are a must have.” Continue reading

A 50 year journey

By Lisa McLean and Kelly Daynard

The Heeman family

The Heeman family

London – It’s been a long journey from their homeland in Holland to a successful three-generation family farming business in London for the Heemans.

That journey started more than 50 years ago for Bill and Susan Heeman. Bill said that he was looking for new opportunities. “I was in love. I wanted to get married,” he recalls with a smile. Both Bill and Susan had family that had already moved to Canada so when a recruiter offered to sell them tickets to Canada, they decided that the time was right. Continue reading

Is our food SAFE?

Jean L Clavelle

Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

People are really asking "what makes food safe?"

People are really asking “what makes food safe?”

We are at the beginning of 2015 now, which is accompanied by the obligatory New Year’s resolution to cut back, get fit, eat healthy. But, what makes any food choice healthy? Is it non-gmo, gluten free, chemical free, antibiotic free, hormone free, eating clean? I’ve been pondering this question for some time and I’ve come to believe the underlying question people are really asking is how do we know our food is safe?

In Canada, the first place we turn to for food safety is Health Canada (HC). HC’s role is to “work with governments, industry and consumers to establish policies, regulations and standards related to the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada.” They are responsible for protecting human and animal health, and the safety of Canada’s food supply.

To begin, any person company or exporter that wishes to sell any type of chemical that will be used in part of the food production chain must submit detailed scientific information that examines the potential risks of the particular product. It often takes more than a decade to complete adequate research necessary to provide sufficient evidence to support the safety and efficacy of claims. Not surprisingly the result is thousands of pages of data at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. Over a period of several more years, HC scientists then rigorously review the information to ensure the product is not harmful to humans and the environment. They also cross check the data and compare their results with other international studies to verify that the data submitted is accurate.

Now, depending on what type of chemical is being submitted for approval, there are various regulatory branches of HC put into play. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency employs over 350 scientists with a responsibility for pesticide regulation. The term “pesticide” includes

A pesticide label is a legal document that must be followed by the user.

A pesticide label is a legal document that must be followed by the user.

herbicides (used against weeds); insecticides (used against bugs); fungicides and antimicrobials (used again fungus and other microorganisms); insect and rodent-controlling devices; and algicides (which can be used to control algae in pools). Every pesticide includes a label indicating the correct amount of the product to be used so that risks to human health and the environment are minimized. Did you know that a pesticide label (the information found on or in the container) is a legal document that must be followed? You might also be interested to know that any pesticide for sale and use in Canada (whether it be for agriculture, for use in your home, for conventional food or organic production – and yes there are chemicals used in organic production) has a unique number, called a PCP number, that any person can use to find its label instructions.

The Veterinary Drug Directorate (VDD) evaluates and monitors the safety quality and effectiveness of veterinary drugs for food producing animals like beef cattle, pigs and chickens. Once a drug has been authorized for use by the VDD it is given a Drug Identification Number (or DIN) which lets the user know that the product has undergone and passed a review of its formulation, labelling and instructions for use. A drug sold in Canada without a DIN is not in compliance with Canadian law. Regardless of whether a drug is for you or for animals it must have a DIN to be legal.

Once a compound has been shown to be safe within its intended use by HC, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for enforcing the food safety policies and standards that Health Canada sets. In my former professional life, one colleague referred to the CFIA as the most powerful government agency in Canada (much greater than even the military) because of its far-reaching and autonomous power whenever food safety might be a concern. Although CFIA can be a challenging government agency to work with, consumers should take heart at the diligence they have for food safety.

Of course this is a basic over view of one component of ensuring safe food.  It is always a good idea to use your best judgement and common sense when it comes to food safety, just please know that in Canada food production and food safety is overseen with a great amount of diligence attention and care.

The Highs & Lows of Week One On #Farm365

January 7, 2015

By Andrew Campbell, Ontario dairy farmer

Who knew so many people would want to look in on the farm?

What started as a simple idea on New Year’s Day based on other photo-a-day challenges, #farm365 on Twitter has turned into something far greater than a few pictures of corn or cows. It’s turned into a great force of farmers sticking up for themselves and consumers getting a better idea of what it takes to send food out of the driveway. I wanted to share a few highs and lows about the first week. Let’s get the lows out of the way. Continue reading

Be positive when responding to critics in social media

By Brent Royce, Ontario farmer

As I’ve watched Twitter over the last week I’ve been both surprised and disappointed by how those in Ontario agriculture have reacted to the point that for a few days I didn’t even know what to say or how to say it.

With the New Year, a new hashtag has emerged: #farm365 is the brain child of a very good agriculture spokesman – @FreshAirFarmer. The uptake of this has been amazing to say the least; agriculture has grabbed hold of this and have run to open their farm doors virtually to help connect with the urban public. Continue reading