State of the art barn designed for cow comfort

By Melanie Epp

Sixth generation siblings and dairy farmers Graham Johnston and Mary Ann
Doré’s ancestors have been farming in Brampton since 1842. Like each generation before them, Graham (married to Amanda), and Mary Ann and her husband, Joe, are working on a succession plan with their parents, James and Frances. The five are now in a full joint-partnership, working together as a team.

The Heritage Hill farm family includes (back row from left) Amanda, Graham, James and Frances Johnston; (front row from left) Claire Johnston; Mary Ann, Joe and Nadine Doré.

The Heritage Hill farm family includes (back row from left) Amanda, Graham, James and Frances Johnston; (front row from left) Claire Johnston; Mary Ann, Joe and Nadine Doré.

Graham joined when he finished school, and Mary Ann and Joe joined in 2010 when plans for the new farm began. Although Claire, their sister, was not interested in joining the partnership, she was involved in creating the building plans. She also helps out on weekends.

Both Graham and Mary Ann worked on the family farm in their youth. After studying at the University of Guelph, Mary Ann and Joe took jobs to gain off-farm experience.

Since the area around the family farm has changed and grown, there was no room around the original Brampton farm to expand, so the young couples moved to New Dundee where they are surrounded by farmland. The move meant a new facility, and with cow comfort being their main concern, they decided to make the transition from tie stalls to a free stall system.

“My parents are very much active on the farm and custom cash crop,” says Mary Ann. “They are raising our heifers in Brampton while we wait for our new heifer shed to be built.” Continue reading

Farming’s the second career for Six Nations innovator

By Lilian Schaer for Farm & Food Care

(Ohsweken) – Barry Hill calls farming his second life. After all, it was only meant to be a stress reliever from his work as an engineer.

Barry Hill stands in front of one of his corn fields in the fall of 2014

Barry Hill stands in front of one of his corn fields in the fall of 2014

What started with a small garden beside a cabin on the Six Nations Reserve near Ohsweken, Ontario and the region’s first soybean crop in the late 1970s eventually evolved into a 2,600 acre farming business growing corn, wheat and soybeans.

“I was told never to be a farmer, so I went off to be an engineer, but you can’t get farming out of the boy,” he chuckles. “I bought the cabin here instead of a cottage in Muskoka and started gardening. I won a vegetable prize that year, but also realized I can grow 40 acres of wheat in the time it takes me to garden.”

And so began, on the home farm where his dad farmed after World War II, Barry Hill’s second career as a farmer and innovator, farm leader and community champion, and advocate for Ontario’s native farmers.

In addition to his three main crops, Hill is always keen to try something new – he successfully no-tilled alfalfa into bean stubble and sold hay for a few years, planted organic soybeans and spelt. Continue reading

Day in the Life – of a Saskatchewan Grain Farmer

By Jean Clavelle Farm & Food Care SaskatchewanDayintheLife

I spoke to Trevor Scherman today from the tractor on his farm near Battleford in northwest Saskatchewan where he’s in the middle of seeding. See what he has to say about their family farm and being a grain farmer in Canada. Continue reading

What’s a typical Canadian farmer?

Quick – picture a farmer. What images come to mind? We can bet there might be a few that look like that. Our bigger wager would be that you might be surprised to learn who is farming today in Canada.

It’s difficult to describe a “typical” farm/farmer or ranch/rancher in Canada because every one of them is unique. Many of today’s farms have little in common with the images of Old MacDonald that you may remember from the popular children’s song. The important connection across all types of farms and farmers that spans the generations is the care and commitment needed for the animals and the land, 365 days a year.

Have big corporations taken over farm ownership? Absolutely not. More than 97 per cent of Canadian farms remain family-owned and operated, and are often handed down from generation to generation. From the very young to the young at heart, sometimes four generations work together on one farm. Continue reading

Innovative school programs bring food and farming to Toronto students

By Lilian Schaer

Toronto’s South Riverdale neighbourhood – also known as Leslieville/Riverside – isn’t one usually associated with farming and food production.

School Grown tent at the farmer’s market

School Grown tent at the farmer’s market

However, Eastdale Collegiate, a small, inner city high school near Broadview and Gerrard, is changing that. An innovative approach combining a culinary program with a rooftop garden is teaching students where their food comes from, building life skills, and instilling healthy eating habits.

Students in the school’s culinary program prepare the food for the cafeteria, feeding between 30 and 60 people daily. Culinary instructor Jan Main says the students make from scratch a daily soup, quiche or pasta, salad and four types of sandwiches, as well as baking all the bread, biscuits, squares and sweets they use.

“The veggie wrap is now our most popular sandwich, which is great because many students didn’t know what this was when we first started serving it,” she says. “For many students, fast food and frozen food was all they knew, and now they’re eating salads and asking for things like pesto, which we make for pizza, pastas and appetizers.”

Not only does this emphasize healthy eating, she adds, but the program also gives students the opportunity to learn job skills, building their confidence. In addition to the school cafeteria, meals are also prepared for catered and community events, such as the Recipe for Change fundraiser in support of FoodShare Toronto’s Field to Table Schools program.

A perfect complement to the culinary program is Eastdale’s new School Grown Rooftop, a garden on the school’s roof established last year in a partnership between the Field to Table Schools program and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Continue reading

Lanark dairy farmers are faces of “May” in 2015 Faces of Farming calendar

Amanda and Jason O’Connell’s Faces of Farming calendar page

Amanda and Jason O’Connell’s Faces of Farming calendar page

(Carleton Place) – Amanda and Jason O’Connell, dairy farmers from Beckwith Township in Lanark County, are the winners of the 2014 Outstanding Young Farmer Competition in Ontario. This prestigious award is presented to farmers by industry leaders. The couple will continue on to compete on behalf of Ontario at the national competition in November, 2014.

In 2015, the couple also appears in the tenth anniversary Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their page is sponsored by RBC Royal Bank and they are featured for the month of May. Continue reading

What does ‘social license’ mean for agriculture?

Social license is a buzzword that has gained traction in various industries and has recently firmly established itself as part of agriculture’s vernacular.

For centuries, farmers have been producing food to feed their neighbours, communities, and the world. Going back just a few generations, most people had a direct connection to the farm and understood how agriculture worked. Farmers didn’t have to talk about what they did because people knew. And people implicitly trusted in the food they ate and that farmers were doing the right thing.

Social licenseThe world is a very different place than it was when my grandparents farmed. Today, only about two per cent of Canadians farm. The other 98 per cent likely know very little about agriculture.

Couple this with the fact that people have greater access to information today than they ever have and a desire to know more about the food they eat and how it’s grown, and it brings us to the conversation about social license. Continue reading

After tragedy strikes, the Verburgs rebuild their dairy farm business

By Treena Hein

(Athens) – When a major tragedy strikes, rebuilding can seem like a distant reality. That was certainly true for the Verburgs of Roosburg Farms in Athens, Ontario, who had a major fire in early 2013. But more than two years on, they are again up and running, with the latest technologies in place to ensure top-quality milk, the best animal care and maximized profitability.

The Verburg family stands outside their newly rebuilt dairy barn

The Verburg family stands outside their newly rebuilt dairy barn

It was in January of 2013, in the middle of the night, that the barn fire began. Dozens of firefighters battled through the darkness until noon the next day, but all 130 cows were lost. “Almost our entire pedigreed herd was gone,” says Ian Verburg, co-owner of the farm with wife Abbey, his parents John and Debbie, and his older brother Cole and his wife Anjela. (John’s parents Nick and Jackie are also active in farm operation.) “My father and grandfather had been building up our genetics since starting the farm in 1960, and were close to earning a Master Breeders Shield. We’ve always had purebred lines and it was hard to comprehend that almost all of that was gone.” At the time of the fire, the Verburgs luckily had 48 bred and un-bred heifers in another barn.

Rebuilding the herd would of course be a long-term goal, but getting a new barn in place was the immediate focus. Perhaps the only bonus from such a fire was the opportunity to design a building to meet all their needs and incorporate the latest technology. The new barn features a viewing area for visitors and school groups, a vet diagnosis and treatment room, maternity pens and more. An adjoining nursery has a computerized system that keeps track of calf milk intake and automatically handles weaning. To help the calves feel comfortable, the nursery has skylights and landscape murals, painted by Debbie, Abbey and Anjela.

The Verburgs decided on a robotic milking system that is one of only three or four in Ontario. “In a feed-first system, the first one we had, the cows are obviously fed first and the only enticement to pass through the milker is to lay down,” Ian explains. “So you would get cows laying down after they ate but before they were milked and blocking everything.” In the milk-first free flow system they use now, cows enter the barn and pass through a sort gate into a crowd area. Each cow has an electronic collar, and the system uses its data to ‘decide’ whether or not to milk her through its database of normal individual milking times. Either way, if it’s not milking time or if milking occurs, cows are then allowed to enter the feed bunk area and return to their beds as they like. Cows make 10 to 12 visits through the system a day, and are milked three to five times. Continue reading

Celebrating soils

By Patrick Beaujot

Did you know:
• 95 per cent of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils
• A shortage of any one of the 15 nutrients required for plant growth can limit crop yields
• By 2050, food production must increase by 60 per cent globally and almost 100 per cent in developing countries
• 33 per cent of soil is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, and compaction
• It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of soil
• Sustainable soil management could produce up to 58 per cent more food
• Experts estimate that we only have 60 years of topsoil left

Source: United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization
The United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of the Soil. This is also National Soil Conversation Week so it’s fitting to consider what the soil and the earth provide.

Since 95% of our food comes from the soil, we should treat the soil with great respect.

To make sure our top soil is kept healthy and preserved for future generations, farmers have been changing their practices from using intensive tillage to conservation or no-till. Continue reading

Farmers: the original environmentalists

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day Love Copy