“Milk does not grow in containers on the shelves of your local grocery store. Milk is produced by farmers…”

What does the circle of life, eggnog and a passion for farming have in common?
Quick answer: Joe Kleinsasser

Joe started working in a hog barn when he was a kid. “We don’t have hogs anymore but I love the circle of life, it’s the eternal cycle of renewal, raising the young animals, that somehow speaks to me. That’s what I love the most about farming. I would go down to the barn after supper and make sure that everything was quiet and the animals were resting; you could step back a bit and enjoy what you had worked hard all day to do.”

Joe lives just north of Rosetown on a Hutterite Colony; a multi-commodity crop and livestock family farm. Together they farm 8500 acres of canola, peas, lentils, barley, and wheat.  The livestock operation includes a beef cattle herd of 300 animals, 100 dairy cows and 11,000 laying hens.

Joe loves farming.

“We are in the business to produce food as sustainably as possible.” Joe says. “You cannot farm unless you are totally passionate about it, whether it’s caring for your animals as living breathing entities or your land as a renewable resource. You cannot afford to be lackadaisical about anything. You have to look after them first from a moral perspective, and then from a production perspective.”

There’s a lot more invested in the food production system than just the food that comes out of it.

On Joe’s farm primary agriculture is a big part of the social structure.  As Joe explains, “It’s the time. It’s the passion. The love of what you’re doing.  I think if you put all that together you’ve got it.”

“For us simply because of our lifestyle, social structure and ability to function as an entity, family is extremely important. It is so much more important that the kids stay on the farm because it’s not just a particular lifestyle that’s gone if they don’t; it’s a social structure, they ensure continuity. Our success is based on transitioning to the next generation so family is very important.

”You need people that you can depend on.

“No one can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year; we need somebody to pick up the slack.” Joe explains. “I know for me there have been a lot of times where I’ve been on different committees, different Boards of Directors, at functions where I was part of leading the industry. Every time you leave the farm somebody has to step up, that’s where family and your coworkers come in. You certainly could not do it without them.”

As Joe reflects, “We have to give a lot of credit to our farm manager’s holistic management practises. Not only in future planning but in the day to day running of the farm; developing a farm safety plan, an environmental farm plan, and animal handling and animal welfare controls that are continually being upgraded. You need to build systems that become the everyday practice, something that’s done as routinely as feeding and watering the animals.”

Bio security warnings on the doors to the chicken barn help keep out disease and harmful pests.

“I think Canada has one of the safest food producing systems in the world. With the regulations we have in place I think we can give people assurance that they are eating safe healthy food, grown in an ethical and sustainable manner.”

What would Joe like people to know about family farms?

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there, folks that think farms are primarily profit driven, that we do this because you make tons of money farming. I remember going to a seminar and the speaker saying if you want to get rich buy shares in Microsoft, don’t buy a farm. Yes, we can make a good living farming, but let’s face it there are easier jobs. For me those jobs wouldn’t be as satisfying.”

When you go to your grocery store looking for a particular product, perhaps eggs and milk to make your eggnog, take a little bit of time to think about what went into getting that product there. Joe reflects “You would be surprised if you stop to think about all the different steps and the different people who have committed time and energy putting your food on the grocer’s shelves.”

Farm outreach with a global perspective

Christine enjoys a little R&R on her family’s combine

By Christine Wilkinson

It’s been a long and winding road to get to where I am now.

I grew up on a farm in Milton, Ontario.  Yes, Milton – a Greater Toronto-Area city that had a population of 25,000 people when I was a kid, and now has over 100,000 residents.  Right out of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do.  I knew I wanted to travel and help people, so I went to school for International Development at the University of Guelph.  Being a farm kid, I chose to specialize in agricultural development because that was my other area of interest.

In my third year I had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program, and attended the University of Essex in England.  To make myself feel more at home, I joined the Young Farmers Club of the UK – and it was the best thing I did while I was there.  I made friends from across the county, and even one from Australia (she also had the idea to join while working as a nanny in a nearby town).

I quickly realized that agriculture isn’t just an industry or sector; it’s a community and a family. Although I was pretty involved in 4-H growing up, my experiences in England made me realize how lucky I am to be part of a global community.

Showing cattle for 4-H

I took my experiences overseas home, too. As my undergrad came to an end, like most students, I struggled with figuring out what I wanted to do next.  After taking courses in agricultural communications, and rural extension, I decided to apply for the Ontario Agriculture College’s Masters of Science program in Capacity Development and Extension.

I didn’t really know what all of that meant, but I knew I wanted to learn more about improving public trust and teaching people about agriculture.  I’ve become very passionate about this topic, especially over the last few months, while working with Farm & Food Care as a summer student.

Prior to working with Farm & Food Care, I worked on a public farm in Milton doing outreach and education programs, as well as leading/interpreting tour groups and school field trips.  In these roles, I’ve realized how passionate I have become for agriculture, and showing people the story behind their food.

At the time, I may not have thought my undergraduate program was the best fit for me, but it ended up being a pretty interesting path. I’m still doing outreach, and continue looking forward to sharing what agriculture is all about.

“Our lives revolve around our animals”

Doesn’t every chicken have a nutritionist? Isn’t the morning rush only in cities? Well, maybe not. These appear to be some of the secrets to success on the Wiens farm (part of the Fehr family farm) near Hague.

At seven weeks old, Jackson Wiens is happily swinging in the kitchen—it’s early days for this fourth-generation farmer. Jackson has decided that for a few years yet, it will still be his Mommy and Daddy, Kaylin and Tyler, working the family farm.

Kaylin and Tyler farm with Kaylin’s parents, her two brothers and their families. Together they have 60,000 laying hens and raise chickens for themselves and for sale. They also farm 3,000 acres of land and raise about 80 beef cattle.

What does a typical day look like working in their hen barn?

“Usually, I get to the farm at about 8:00 a.m. and collect eggs for the first two and half hours,” says Kaylin. Note that Kaylin is talking about the morning rush, when about 25,000 eggs are collected. “The birds’ houses are designed so that the eggs roll onto a moving belt. The system is automated to bring the eggs to the front of the barn where a packer puts them into trays. When I’m collecting eggs, I’m actually putting stacks of trays filled with eggs onto a pallet.”

“We check everything. We have a system that will call us and tell us if our power goes out because that is a huge deal for us. We have backup generators that power the whole barn in the event that the power went out. It keeps the fans running and the lights on so our chickens are always protected.”

After the morning egg rush, Kaylin makes food for the hens. Feed is made every day of the week so that there is enough to get through the weekend. The diet is largely wheat, canola, and soy oil, calcium and for protein they add peas and soy. “We work with a nutritionist who determines the recipes for our feed,” Kaylin explains. “The nutritionist makes a recipe based on the weight of the hens, the weight of the eggs, and how many eggs our birds are producing. The rations are adjusted based on the chickens’ needs. The micro-nutrients, vitamins and minerals, we add by hand. We are in constant contact with the nutritionist to ensure our hens are getting the nutrition they require.”

After lunch, Kaylin does the farm’s bookkeeping for an hour or two, followed by the afternoon chores. Then there is another hour and a half of egg collection, but only 10 to 15, 000 this time. Cleaning the barn wraps up Kaylin’s day by about 6:00 p.m.

Sometimes Kaylin is discouraged by the portrayal of farmers in the media.

“There are so many misconceptions about farming. We are often painted as not caring for our animals and that is very frustrating. Our lives revolve around our birds. That is our number one priority to make sure they are cared for every single day of the year. It doesn’t matter if we have plans. If something is wrong with our hens, they always come first. If we didn’t treat our animals well, it just would not work.”

“In order for our farm to be sustainable we have to care for our flock; it is a symbiotic relationship.” – Kaylin Wiens

Every day, the Wiens family works hard to care for their chickens.

“We closely monitor everything in our barns from the daily production of eggs to how much water the hens drink, how much feed they consume, the temperatures in the barn, the humidity… We check everything. We have a system that will call us and tell us if our power goes out because that is a huge deal for us. We have backup generators that power the whole barn in the event that the power went out. It keeps the fans running and the lights on so our chickens are always protected.”

Kaylin & Tyler farm with the Fehr Family near Hague, SK.

Kaylin really loves farming. “I look forward to going to work every day. I was born into farming and that is what I am familiar with, but it is also where my passion lies,” she says. “I love that it is different every day. It is great to see the industry constantly change and improve for the better. I like working with my family—it is such a blessing that we can work together. We are so thankful that we can bring our son Jackson into the family farm. That is really cool.”

“When was the last time you changed your mind?”

By Sarah Sheppard

I recently had the chance to attend a screening of a new movie about food production, breeding methods and technology at my alma matter, the University of Guelph. It was followed by a panel of a group of scientists and activists who I think I are really cool.

The Food Evolution movie tells the story of how genetically engineered crops are perceived by scientists, activists and the public and the friction between the groups to figure out how to provide enough food for a growing world population.  Narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, it compares the debate of genetically engineered crop use in Hawaii with the debate in Africa (Kenya and Uganda specifically).

Since I have not yet talked about genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), here is a quick crash course.

Genetically engineered (GE) organisms, also often referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are things that have had a gene from either a different species or a synthetically produced gene added to their DNA to allow the organism to have a trait it would not be able to get through traditional breeding methods or to have a trait appear faster than it would be able to through selective breeding.

This means that organisms can be improved to have more disease resistance, to have more nutrients that humans need in their diets, to have resistance to herbicides that can kill weeds, to maintain genetic diversity, to improve the hardiness of crops in the face of climate change, to improve animal welfare, and to more effectively produce livestock for human consumption.

Some genetically engineered products are already available – corn, soybeans, and cotton all have genetically engineered varieties that are widely used, as well as sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, squash, canola, and potatoes.  There are also apples, salmon and eggplant (brinjal) that are starting to come to the market now.

Some consumers and activists are ardently opposed to the use and sale of genetically engineered products for a variety of reasons, including playing God, concerns about effects on the environment, food safety and human health concerns. However, there is no scientific evidence of these concerns being actual problems across thousands of scientific studies and there is a consensus among scientists that GE products are safe. The problems lie in the fact that the people opposed to GE crops are often so passionately opposed to them that they are able to sway politicians into banning these crop and animal varieties and that keeps these products out of the hands of the people who would benefit most from them.

Two resources that I like to point people to when they have more questions about GE technology are the Genetic Literacy Project and GMO Answers. For those of you wondering why I keep using the term GE instead of GMO, Dr. Kevin Folta recently wrote a piece about how use of language matters in the technology debate, although it is generally accepted that the two are interchangeable (you may remember Kevin from my first post as someone who helped me get this blog off the ground).

Food Evolution explains the fear associated with GE products but then goes through the scientific process and allows the research to be explained by renowned scientists.  It features skeptics, farmers, politicians and researchers from both America and Africa. It particularly focuses on the Rainbow Papaya in Hawaii and bacterial wilt-resistant bananas for Africa, two crops that are able to resist diseases which are crippling to them when the diseases occur. These crops are another tool farmers can use to help produce a viable crop for consumers and they bring in enough money when sold to allow the farmers producing them to make a living.

The movie screening was followed by a panel with Dr. Kevin Folta, Dr. Allison van EenannaamMark LynasAdam Kighoma MalimaRobert Wager and Dr. CS Prakash.  Prior to the movie screening, the audience was polled to see where they stood on genetically engineered products. 90% of the audience was in favour of the use of GE crops and the rest were opposed or unsure. Personally, I found it interesting how the first 90 minutes of the panel was made up of questions from people who were very opposed to GE technology, even though the made up the minority of the audience.  Some had thoughtful, valid concerns, about things like how a neighbour growing GE crops would affect their organic crops, while others had questions that seemed intent on out-foxing the panel and trying to force them into saying something they didn’t mean (the panel handled it much more gracefully than I would have…).  By the end of the night though, the tone of the questions changed, and the pro-GE part of the audience started asking more questions, wanting to know how we in the audience could support science, science communication, and bringing the technology into the hands of the people who need it.

I took a lot of notes over the course of the movie and the panel, and true to form, I cannot read a damn word I wrote. As such, some of the more refined points I wanted to bring up are squiggles that I can’t unravel.  The title of this piece is a quote I can read though, and I thought it was powerful because everyone who holds an opinion on GE crops (or any other debatable subject) often feels very strongly about the matter. Be it science, politics, religion, it is often hard to change your mind and even harder to admit that you have. That seems to be part of the problem with people in the GE debate, and that is part of what makes panel-speaker Mark Lynas so credible in the GE debate because he was so opposed to the technology for so long.

The other quote that stuck with me (and that I can read!), was one from Dr. Allison van Eenannaam in the panel, where she asked:

“How do we make people evaluate the risks based on what is more likely to be bad? The risks people worry about are the ones they don’t have control over, like the way people are more afraid of flying than they are of driving, even though driving is more dangerous.”

I find this poignant because at this point in time there are quite literally thousands of studies saying that GE crops are safe (including this meta-analysis of 1783 studies from a 10 year period), but because so many people are so far removed from the food system and are really trusting the people growing, processing, auditing and regulating their food to keep it safe, the general public can be wary of GE foods.

I think movies like this help. I think hearing from a panel of experts like I did helps. I think people who support the technology sharing information about it with people who don’t know or are indifferent helps.

Unfortunately, the screening last week was the only Canadian one scheduled so far and no US, Canadian or European broadcasters have picked up the movie to air it.  I’m hoping that Netflix will pick it up because then it will likely be accidentally stumbled upon by a person who would not necessarily watch the movie if it was shown on a TV station.

If you get the chance, please go see this movie, it is so worth it.

 

***This piece originally appeared on Sarah’s personal blog site City Mouse in AG

 

More than dogs & cats

Why I want to be a farm animal vet

By Shannon Finn

Ever wondered what it takes to be a veterinarian? As a fourth year veterinary student at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, I thought I’d give some background on the process, and our role in Canadian Agriculture.

I grew up in Baden, Ontario – a beautiful and agriculturally rich area of Southern Ontario, and an area where I would like to practice when I graduate. Coming into vet school, I didn’t have as much large animal veterinary experience as some of my classmates, but I love rural life and have a true appreciation for farmers and the work they do.

The road to vet school itself is a long one! In Ontario, in addition to at least two years of a

Shannon Finn

university undergraduate degree, you must get three professional references – two of which need to be from veterinarians. This usually involves working or volunteering at veterinary clinics so they can get to know you. I worked at two small animal clinics during high school and undergrad. I also got experiences with horses by working on a horse farm in high school.

My advice when volunteering – don’t be scared to ask questions. Volunteering continues throughout vet school with lots of extracurricular activities, so it’s best to learn early how to make the most of it.

When you acquire references and enough hands-on experience, you can apply to school. I started my application after finishing two years of an Animal Biology degree. The top 200 applicants go through an interview process, but only 120 are selected for the program.

There are four phases, or years, in vet school. The first year involves learning everything that is “normal” for healthy animals. The second year is all about learning what can “go wrong” – how and why an animal get sick or injured. Third year is the last year of “book learning,” and we learn how to diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions in many different animals.

Fourth year is an entire year of clinical learning on rotations. To start off our clinical year we also have to do an 8-week externship at a mixed animal practice. You can read more about what we do on our externship at OVC’s Externship Blog Project!

One of the cool things about being a veterinarian is you are able to specialize in animals that interest you the most. I chose what’s called the “Food Animal stream” for my fourth year because I’m passionate about keeping entire herds healthy – as well as individual animals – and because I’m also very interested in food safety and biosecurity.

Considering food safety, herd health, and animal welfare is a big part of being a food animal vet. It also includes building relationships with farmers, communicating knowledgeably with the public about agricultural issues, and a willingness to be on call so people can reach you whenever an issue arises.

I will be one of the Externship Project bloggers this summer, and I hope you follow along with me! I’m hoping to shed some light on the kinds of things we do as future veterinarians, including what it’s like to work in rural Ontario, and how we work to keep animals healthy. You can also follow me on Twitter at @SFinnDVMStudent!

The greatest thing about farming is working with family

Lorna Callbeck

Jeff Mathieson is a fourth-generation farmer who runs the day to day operations of their grain farm near Watson, SK. During the busy times, like seeding and harvest, Jeff’s dad comes out of retirement to run the sprayer and drive the combine but they also hire some part-time employees to make sure everything gets done on time. They grow crops like barley, oats, canola, flax and pulse crops like peas and lentils.

Farming is much different than when Jeff’s parents and grandparents started out.

Jeff’s grandfather was considered a pretty large farmer back in the 1950s when he was farming 800 acres, which is just over 3 square kilometers of land. Today, many consider a large farm in Saskatchewan to be over 10,000 acres, which is just over 40 square kilometers. Jeff says at 2,600 acres, their farm is not massive, but it’s still a big change. “I try to imagine what my grandfather would think of the size of our equipment and the technology we’re using today and how we do things,” Jeff says. “I bet it would be amazing for him.”

Jeff goes onto explain that farms don’t get bigger just because farmers want to get bigger. It’s a matter of economies of scale and efficiency in order to maintain a family farm. “In Western Canada, based on the price the consumer is willing to pay for food and what my family is growing, farming isn’t economically sustainable on only 800 acres. We can’t purchase equipment, pay the mortgage on our land, or manage the costs of a grain farm that small these days; it is just not financially viable.”

He’s at that age where he’s having a lot of fun playing farmer” says Jeff of son Andrew

“To me there are two really great things about being a farmer.” Jeff says. “The first thing is that we grow food for people. Basically, we take all kinds of energy, add support from the equipment we purchase and the methods we use to grow the crop, and we turn that into a saleable product. To me, that’s pretty cool. There aren’t very many opportunities in the world to take the energy from the sun and the gifts of Mother Nature and help feed people. And we create a sustainable and renewable resource that we sell into the economy.”

“Our house and yard is in the middle of one of our fields and we grow a crop about 100 yards away from where we live. Everything that we do to produce the food that we sell to consumers is done outside our home. Where we live is the biggest testimony to the safety of the food that we produce because we are living right where the food is grown.”

The other great thing about being a farmer is the daily connection to family. “In central Saskatchewan, we have one planting season, one growing season and one harvest season,” Jeff explains. “While we put in many 15 to 18 hour days during those busy times of the year, I can spend more time with my family in the off-season and take part in activities like taking my 3-year-old son Andrew to the science centre or spending time at the lake with him and my wife Shawna.”

“Farming is my choice. I have a university degree and experience in other professions. I could be doing anything anywhere else and maybe earning a higher salary. In my mind, working for someone else wouldn’t give me or my family the same opportunities.” Jeff goes on to explain that the significance of having family on the farm is the ability to build something that can live on beyond oneself and be transferred to the next generation.

To keep their farm sustainable for future generations, one of Jeff and Shawna’s main goals is to leave the land better each year than it was the previous year. “Everything we do, every crop we plant or the fertilizer or pesticides we apply, we ask ourselves, is this going to make it better? If the answer is yes, it’s absolutely something we’re going to do. If it will hurt the quality of the soil or the environment around us, then we find a different way. As farmers, our job is to take care of the land so it will be there for the next generation.”

“Our house and yard is in the middle of one of our fields and we grow a crop about 100 yards away from where we live. Everything that we do to produce the food that we sell to consumers is done outside our home. Where we live is the biggest testimony to the safety of the food that we produce because we are living right where the food is grown. The Mathieson family farm follows and supports the rules set out for safe food production by commodity organizations and regulatory bodies to make sure that food produced is a safe product right from field to table.”

Bringing food to the classroom

Experiences of an AgScape Teacher Ambassador

 

By Amy Dunslow, OCT, AgScape Teacher Ambassador

Growing up in Chatham-Kent (Ontario), I had the privilege of learning about agriculture first hand – by visiting farms, eating fruits and vegetables bought at the local farm stand, and running through the fields across the street from our home.  Even though I didn’t live on a farm, I recognized and understood the hard work and effort it took to bring food to our table. This recognition and understanding is often missing for many of the students I meet when I visit urban high school classrooms as an AgScape® Teacher Ambassador.

This is understandable, though, because most people have little opportunity to experience what I grew up with.

At the beginning of each lesson I always start with one question: “What is agriculture?”  The answers I receive often surprise me – from “I don’t know” and “A culture about something,” to the more promising “Culture of food” and the occasional “Farming”.  These kinds of answers remind me that we live in a time where most of us are drastically disconnected from the people, places, and processes that bring food to our table.

When I introduce AgScape® to a class I always comment, “The more you know more about the food you eat, the better choices you will make for your health and the more respect you will have for your food.”   Usually I have to go on to explain that what I mean by ‘respect for your food’ is an appreciation for the abundance and choice of foods we have, a true understanding of where it comes from, and recognition of the energy, thought and care that went into producing it. This understanding is the primary reason AgScape’s Teacher Ambassador Program® is so important – it brings students the knowledge they need so that they can understand how their food is grown and processed, and it prepares them to make informed choices about that food.

In every classroom I visit, I see opportunity for learning, growing and making good decisions.  Today’s students are great at asking questions and trying to find what matters most to them. On several occasions my ‘lessons’ have transitioned to more of an open ‘question and answer’ period, with students picking my brain about agriculture.  I don’t get lessons shift focus – I’m happy that these students are curious and asking questions about what interests them.  This often happens in my Local Food lesson when students are surprised and excited to learn about how much food we actually grow in Ontario.  It’s often a revelation to them, and their surprise is understandable when we consider that they are urban students and the nearest farm is a 45 minute drive away.

In an age where almost any kind of information is readily available to them, talking about food in school – and doing so with balanced, fact-based programs and resources – is very important. It’s right that we focus our attention on something that’s so important.  The Teacher Ambassador Program® has a wide variety of topics for teachers to choose from – this variety allows us to connect to many parts of the curriculum in most of the subject areas.  It’s a great program and I look forward to working to promote it in as many schools as possible.

**********

A partner organization of Farm & Food Care, Agscape works to promote food and farming literacy in Ontario’s school curriculum.

More information is available on on there website:

Agscape.ca

 

Don’t judge an egg (yolk) by its colour

Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

It’s a common belief that eggs with darker colour yolks are more nutritionally dense and consequently healthier than eggs with lighter coloured yolk.

Yolk colour is determined by the presence or absence of carotenoid pigments in a laying hen’s diet. It does not indicate the quality of its nutritional value.

As it turns out, that’s just not true. Yolk colour is determined by the diet the laying hens are fed. Specific feeds like corn, alfalfa or grasses contain carotenoids. These pigment molecules are absorbed by the hen and deposited in the yolk. Hen diets that contain high levels of carotenoids will result in darker coloured yolks.

In Western Canada the climate, soil and environment allow farmers to easily grow wheat. Wheat that doesn’t meet the high standards for human consumption is used as feed for laying hens. In Eastern Canada, corn is more predominantly grown and not surprisingly, is a common feed source for laying hens. Wheat contains very few carotenoid pigments whereas corn has a high level meaning that table eggs in the east are generally darker than the west.

Free range or backyard laying hens regularly eat plants like alfalfa and grasses that are high in pigments. This explains why free range eggs tend to have darker yolks.

In fact we consumers have come to expect our egg yolks to be a very specific colour depending on the region where we live. Therefore laying hen diets are controlled to ensure the yolk colour comes out just the way we like it, not too light and not too dark. How does that happen you ask? By adding colourant like marigold or capsicum extracts to their feed rations.

So now you know, regardless of the yolk colour and environment of the hen, eggs still pack the same nutritional punch loaded with quality proteins, fats and vitamins and minerals.

 

Have a question? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at info@farmfoodcare.org

 

My working world – so far

By Stephanie Vickers

It’s officially been a year since I made my way from university to the working world. While my school career may be over, however, one thing is certain – my first “adult” job has showed me there’s still plenty to learn.

My first job out of school was (and still is) with Farm & Food Care Ontario as a Communications Coordinator. In this position, I help run social media, coordinate and work at events like Breakfast on the Farm, and speak to the public about agriculture. All these tasks involve connecting people with the food they eat and the people who produce it, and hopefully, help clear up a lot of misconceptions about farming.

It’s a role I never thought I would be in, though.

As someone who grew up on a dairy farm, my love and passion for agriculture started young. Needless to say, it was no surprise to anyone when I decided to attend the University of Guelph for Agriculture Science. Growing up on a farm near a small town, I never fully understood why – and to what extent – people were so unsure about farming. I saw the care, time and effort that my dad put in everyday to make sure our cows were treated well, and wondered how people couldn’t see it too. In short, I had little idea why someone would doubt farmers and their intentions.

I’ve learned that speaking with Canadians is so much more complicated than the young farm girl could ever have imagined. As an industry, agriculture has been on the defense for a long time, and I sometimes feel this has affected the way we speak to those with genuine questions. People are just curious about the way their food is grown and my job has really showed how important it is to have these conversations.

My experiences so far have opened my eyes to why people doubt agriculture – and why they might love it too – and I hope that my efforts have helped foster more enthusiasm for the food we eat. The vast majority of people are not out to get farmers, after all, and my conversations with them have been a great part of my first job.

Besides, if we don’t answer their questions, who will?

 

Have questions? Don’t be afraid to get in touch!

Meet ‘Agriculture Today’ blogger and farmer Angela Jones

Angela Jones and her husband Michael operate their farm in North East Saskatchewan. They grow cereal, oilseed, pulse crops and raise bison with the help of Michael’s cousin.

They currently have one other employee and their boys who are 11 and 14, put in shifts when they can. Michael oversees all parts of the operation and handles the marketing, while Angela handles the finances. During seeding and at harvest time though, everyone pitches in! Whether it’s operating equipment, washing windows, fuelling up machinery, running for parts or any other job that needs to be done, everyone participates. Truly, a family business.

Angela began blogging in 2014 after trying to explain farming practices to a young university student. “It was at that moment when I realized farmers were fighting an uphill battle to help consumers understand the challenges facing food production. When blogging it is sometimes difficult to find a narrative that appeals to both consumers and people involved in food production. My goal is to connect with consumers and to be transparent about the parts of agriculture that I have experience with, while hopefully learning from and supporting people in other areas of agriculture.”

RealDirt: How has farming changed since you started farming?

Angela: The changes in farming are too numerous to list! Technology in every area of agriculture adapts and adjusts so rapidly that it is a full time job to keep on top if it all. I think this is why I love farming so much, it never lets you get bored and there is no monotony (well, unless you are picking stones – that’s pretty monotonous). My kids constantly bug me and Michael about the amount of time we spend ‘playing games’ on our phones when in reality I am reading up on the newest studies and advances in crop breeding or pesticides and he is keeping up on the latest marketing news or equipment technology.

RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?

Angela: My husband and I do a lot of volunteering. He sits on the local minor sports board and works with a local group of farmers on an annual crop fundraising project called Farmers and Friends, I help out with the local 4H Grain Club, and we both recently sat on a Cameco Hockey Day Committee that raised over $100,000 for our local recreation centre. We keep busy in the winter with our youngest son’s hockey team. Our oldest son enjoys outdoor activities, so we try to find time to camp or fish when we can.

RealDirt: What has been the most challenging part of farming?

Angela: I have been asked this question before and my answer was the financial uncertainty that comes with farming. There is no doubt that it is tough to put your heart & soul and all your time into something without a guaranteed pay cheque – we cannot set the prices of the product we sell and Mother Nature or government regulation can make things tough. BUT recently I have reflected on this answer and decided that the increase in misinformation about agriculture through social media is by far the hardest part. Time after time I see blog posts & web pages promoting false information about food production in order to sell consumers something, film producers exaggerating claims about agriculture in order to make a documentary more dramatic, or activists sharing untrue messages in order to push an agenda. The question on how to get the truth to consumers often keeps me up at night.  

RealDirt: What is one message you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do? 

Angela: I think the most important message to convey to people not involved in agriculture is just how much we care about what we do. The profession of farming is one based on pride and a deep sense of responsibility and we do not take management decisions lightly, whether that is using hormones, antibiotics, fertilizer or pesticides. So I guess the message I really want to get across is that farmers care. We care about our animals, we care about the soil, we care about the product we sell, we care about our customers, and we care about the environment. We care about those things a lot.  

 

You can connect with Angela on her blog, Instagram, Twitter (@AGtodayblog) or Facebook.