By Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate
A great man in agricultural education was given a much-deserved recognition by the Ontario Farm Animal Council at its annual general meeting on April 5.
Fred Cahill, owner of the Texas Longhorn Ranch and known to countless people simply as “Cowboy Fred” has joined an elite group of agricultural enthusiasts who have received the “Friend of OFAC” award over the last 12 years.
Unaware that he had been nominated, Cahill was presented the award by Bruce Christie, Past Chair of OFAC.
In making his presentation, Christie said, “Fred Cahill is a great voice for agriculture, and is passionate about educating people on where their food comes from. His key message while speaking with the public is that Canadian farmers are doing the best job in the world, keeping animals healthy and comfortable while producing safe, wholesome food.”
Personally, I could not be happier to write about a man who I first met so long ago. I am a past camper at the Texas Longhorn Ranch. I went there two summers in a row, as did my sister. It may seem strange for a pair of farm girls to want to spend their week off during the summer at someone’s ranch, working with someone else’s horses but we loved it.
Fred did not grow up wanting to teach people about farming. Instead, his life-long dream was to be a cowboy. He and his family moved to a farm from Montreal when Fred was 11 years old, and for the next ten years, Fred helped on the farm. In 1982, Fred leased the ranch and in 1992, he and his wife Gail became the owners. The ranch has changed a lot over the years, and has offered a number of different things to visitors. One thing which has remained constant, though, is their desire to show guests what life is like on the ranch from day to day.
“I’ve got a million memories of wonderful kids we got to meet. Every day there’s a kid that makes your day, who looks up to you like you’re something special. I’m just living a dream. To come from where I came from and live my dream…I’m the luckiest man alive,” says Fred.
On top of everything Fred does at Texas Longhorn Ranch, he also has a show teaching people about agricultural education. As Cowboy Fred, he started doing guided barn tours at the Western Fair in 1993. He then started Cahills’ Country Coral, a show designed to teach people about farming at the Western Fair.
“This is the natural area of fit for Fred at the fair. Fred can talk about any area of agriculture and make it shine,” says Cheron Chamberlain, agricultural manager for Western Fair which nominated Cahill for the award.
Fred also worked in the education ring at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair for several years. He keeps all of his shows entertaining and sincere.
“Someone once told me ‘Fred, the mind will only absorb what the rear end can tolerate.’ I do my best to make it fun so people stay for the whole show,” says Fred.
Listening to Fred describe some of his favourite memories from the camp and doing agricultural education brought tears to my eyes. Here is a little piece from our recent phone conversation:
- “Peterborough Cattleman’s Association came to see the cows. We pulled up with a wagon load, and the kids, on their own, rounded the cattle up and grouped them around the wagon and held them there. (Remember – these are campers who are only there for one week, and have probably never herded.) We were just in awe. We all clapped for them.”
- “I’ve seen some things here that make you pinch yourself…the autistic kid whose teachers are unsure of if he’ll get on the horse, and he climbs on and takes off. It may be the only thing that kid has done better than his classmates; or, the blind kid who gets to touch my horse at shows. To give people that experience is the greatest thing to see.”
- “The thing I miss the most is the young people that worked with me at the end. At the start you work with what you’ve got, at the end we had past campers who volunteered for a year and then were hired. They were terrific. If you work hard you’ll get rewarded.”
Even now, Fred’s past staff members come to visit annually at Christmas. How many bosses can say that?
I still have fond memories of camping at Texas Longhorn Ranch even though it was years ago. It was such a great, positive place to be. Fred loves kids, and is great at helping them find their strengths. Fred is quick to say the kids of today are great. I think part of it is that Fred is so good at finding the positive qualities in everyone.
When attending the Royal or the Western Fair, my family would always hope to see Fred so we could say hi and share a story or two. I have to say, the biggest surprise I have ever gotten was just recently. I called Fred to ask him about some of his memories for this blog. Just going by my first name, my voice, and the fact I was a past camper, Fred knew exactly who I was, even though I had not spoken to him or seen him for years.
After 20 years of running a summer kid’s camp, Fred and Gail have decided it is time to try something new, and now have converted some of the covered wagons where the kids used to sleep into the “Covered Wagon Get-away”, which is a bed and breakfast-style escape.
The ranch also offers trail rides, school tours, week-end events for groups like the Girl Guides, retreats, and corporate team building sessions.
Not only has Fred taught literally tens of thousands of people from all over about farming, he remembers the people he has interacted with and truly hopes to have the chance to interact with them again. Fred is a very deserving winner of the Friend of OFAC award, and will continue working hard for years to come telling his story. We can all learn something from Fred, whether it is about farming or about how to teach the public about farming.
The Friend of OFAC Award was created in 1999 to recognize individuals, organizations and businesses that have helped to inform the public or the agri-food industry about animal agriculture.