Food Freedom Day— Canadian Food Privilege Is Inconsistent

By Matt McIntosh

It’s pretty hard to beat food. We need it, we like it, and it can be an incredibly significant part of who we are.

As any shopper knows, though, food can also be expensive.

The good news for us Canadians is our national food dollar isn’t actually that high. Despite what our grocery bills suggest, we have access to some of the highest quality – and cheapest – food on the planet.

Today, February 8, is “Food Freedom Day” in Canada. Determined each year by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, “Food Freedom Day” is when most Canadians have made enough money to pay for their yearly food bill. Where the event lands each year is determined by comparing Statistics Canada data on average individual income ($32,464) and yearly food expenditures ($3,497).

Based on these numbers, the Federation determined Canadians spend approximately 10.7 per cent of their income on food.

Now, 10.7 per cent might seem like a sizeable chunk of your wallet, but it’s an astoundingly low number when analyzed in a wider geographical context. In a 2015 report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), for instance, citizens of France – another highly developed western country with a particularly glorious culinary history – spend 13.2 per cent of their annual income on food, compared to 9.1 per cent for Canada. Canada and France may not have taken the top spot on the USDA’s list – the United States consistently takes first prize there – but both were still far into the upper echelons.

That same study, for instance, shows the Portuguese spend 17.3 per cent of their income on food, the Russians a whopping 28 per cent, and Nigeria, almost unbelievably, at 56.4 per cent. A similar 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service also put these countries in very similar positions.

Granted, the USDA and Congressional studies were created using different data than what the Federation used for Canada’s Food Freedom Day, but the point is the same – in the global scheme of things, only spending one-tenth of your income on food is pretty good.

The flip side of this is, of course, that Food Freedom Day hinges on what the average Canadian has to spend on food. When viewed within the confines of our own individual experiences – whether it be a trip to the market or a restaurant – food can certainly seem expensive. Indeed, Canadians spend so much money on food that affordability and rising costs are consistently ranked as one of our country’s top public concerns.

As can be assumed in a country as vast and rugged as Canada, different communities also experience vastly differing food issues. Canadians in the far north, just as one example, can spend a small fortune on everyday products such as milk and fresh produce. Contrast that to the experience to those of us living in Ontario’s deep south, and there’s little left in the way of meaningful comparison.

Food Freedom Day helps us understand and appreciate what we have as Canadians. We have choice galore, high quality, and relatively cheap products, and systems that help farmers, processors, retailers and everyone else maintain what is, essentially, a food-privileged society.

Food Freedom Day serves as a reminder that we are a truly lucky bunch. Many folks both abroad and in our own country do not have the same luxuries, and understanding the reasons behind that disparity is never a bad thing.

Solutions can’t be found if problems have no context, after all.

More than Farming — Bringing Dairy to the City

By Stephanie Vickers, Farm & Food Care

“How do cows go the washroom?” “Why don’t you bring a real cow to school with you?” These are just a couple of the questions that Dawn Stewart hears regularly in her role as an Ontario dairy educator.

Stewart knew from the start that she wanted to help answer consumers’ questions about their food.

After acquiring a degree in nutrition, working at a private school for over a decade, and taking time off to raise two children, Dawn decided to get back into teaching- which is how she found the position of dairy educator with Dairy Farmers of Ontario. 

As one of 53 Dairy Educators in Ontario, Dawn Stewart and her partner do more than 900 presentations annually to school children in the Toronto area.

As a Dairy Educator, Stewart travels to schools in the Toronto area to talk about the dairy industry. Annually, she and her partner deliver more than 900 presentations to almost 23,000 students about dairy and farming. There are currently 53 educators in Ontario. In 2016, they did 9,403 presentations to 217,126 students across Ontario.

“It is especially important [in Toronto schools], because there are a lot of kids these days that don’t have the experience on the farm, and they don’t have any idea where their food comes from” says Stewart. Stewart is one of 50 regional educators in the province that are employed by Dairy Farmers of Ontario.

Once hired as a dairy educator, Stewart spent lots of time in training, visiting modern dairy farms to see how they are run. She and her colleagues also visited the University of Guelph to find out the milk is tested before going to the consumer, and a processing facility to see how milk is packed to be taken to the store.      

Stewart works with the teachers to make the content she talks about relevant to the curriculum. When going into the classroom, Stewart’s main goals are to have the kids understand:

  • How cows are milked, and the respect they receive on farms
  • To respect the food we eat, and the process it takes to get the food to the table
  • The different healthy options that are available, as well how easy it can be to pick those options
  • By talking with the students about where their food comes from, it allows them to better connect to the food they eat and gain a greater appreciation for the work that is required to get it from the farm to the table.

“It has always been important to me that students understand what constitutes good food and bad food, and how they can make those choices, so they can live heathy lives… and I think kids can have a more active role in the foods that they eat” she said.

Dawn Stewart talks to visitors at the Canadian National Exhibition’s farm display about dairy cows

One of her favourite memories as a dairy educator Stewart says, was during a session at a special education high school “We were trying to make butter and I asked the students to help me shake the whipping cream container. One student was very excited to shake the container, so I passed it to her and with the biggest smile on her face she began to shake… her whole body moved with a fabulous enthusiastic shake but the container did not. It made my day!”

If you would like to get more information on how you can get a dairy educator into a classroom in your area, visit their website www.education.milk.org   for contact information. The program is free and can be linked to the curriculum from JK to grade 8.

Taking Back the Farm: The Münchhoff Farm’s Story

By Kelly Daynard, Farm & Food Care Ontario

I began working as a journalist almost 25 years ago and have specialized in writing about agriculture for most of that. Over the years, I have been constantly awed and inspired by the Canadian farmers I meet. Without exception they’re humble, imaginative, innovative, and passionate about what they do to feed their families, communities, and countries and the world. I love nothing more than to help share their stories.

For the last eight years, I’ve also been fortunate to be able to attend the annual congress of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ). The congress, held annually in a different country of the 40+ member guilds, brings together agricultural journalists and communications professionals to discuss common issues and learn about food and farming in the host country.

During that time I’ve met hog farmers from Slovakia; nursery growers from Finland; shrimp, crocodile, and sugar cane farmers from Australia; sheep farmers from New Zealand; beef farmers from Argentina, Belgium, and the USA; fruit, vegetable and grain farmers from all of those countries and more. While some of them may speak different languages than the farmers I work with in Canada, they share the same commitment and passion for their chosen careers.

And, while I find every one of their stories interesting, on occasion I’ll hear a story that touches me to the core.

The most recent congress, held in July of 2016, was in Bonn, Germany. After the main event ended, ten journalists from seven countries headed out for a deeper dive into farming in the north/east regions of the country. We toured chicken and hog farms, an agricultural research facility, large dairy processing plant, organic egg farm, grain terminal and much more.

At one stop we met Klaus Münchhoff. We were there to hear about his successful grain farm. He farms about 972 hectares of land, growing wheat, barley, peas, and rapeseed. He’s also recognized as a pioneer in German agriculture, introducing precision technology equipment into his business long before many realized its importance or value.

But it was the story he told after talking about his farming operation that had our group hanging on his every word.

He was born in 1953 in small town called Derenburg on land that had been in his family for more than 200 years (the current farmstead was built in 1871).

Klaus was only six-weeks old when his grandfather received word that his father and uncle were to be arrested the following night by the East German regime. It was a terrible time for farmers in East Germany, Klaus explained, and his grandfather had tried to protect the farm as much as he could. Years earlier, he’d divided the land into three parcels between himself and his sons so that the remaining farms were each smaller than 100 hectares, as larger farms were being taken away from the state at a much more rapid rate.

The Münchhoff farm as it looks today – restored after being run for decades by the East German regime

With the tightening of the borders in the early 1950s, rulings became even more severe. Klaus explained that taxes were being raised higher and higher and a farmer could be sent to prison (for example) if his cows didn’t give as much milk as the government thought they should.

His father and uncle escaped to West Germany as soon as they received that warning. Baby Klaus and his mother followed a few days later.

Left behind when their sons escaped, his grandparents and other relatives paid the consequences. They were forced out their family home; their livestock was confiscated by the state and the furniture that they couldn’t move on short notice was sold at highly discounted prices (20 cents for a cupboard as an example) with proceeds going to the state.

Thirty-six years passed. Klaus was raised in West Germany, attending law school and later opening up a property management business. But while he remembered nothing of his family’s home in East Germany, he always knew that was where he belonged.

His grandparents had eventually been able to join them in West Germany. As people became senior citizens, they were considered a burden to the state so they were encouraged to leave, Klaus explained, “They got rid of old people.”

German grain farmer Klaus Münchhoff shows a collage of photos depicting what his farm looked like after they reclaimed it when the Iron Curtain fell.

The wall between East and West Germany fell on November 9, 1989. Three days later, Klaus and his family set off for Derenburg, for a home that he only knew from old photographs.

When they arrived, he introduced himself to the man who opened the door. Upon hearing the name Münchhoff, the man said with surprise in his voice, “So now come in because this is all yours.” He had recognized the last name because villagers still referred to it as the Münchhoff farm.

Klaus’s father returned soon after for an emotional homecoming. “He was so overwhelmed that he cried for two weeks,” Klaus told the group of visiting journalists.

The farm looked very different than it had in 1953. It had been state-owned for more than three decades and run by a cooperative. The manor-style home had been subdivided into four shabby apartments and the many farm outbuildings were in varying stages of disrepair. Klaus considers himself lucky, though. The buildings were still being used to house livestock so they were standing – if not in the best of shape. Many farmers returned, he said, to find their houses and barns abandoned and destroyed.

The Münchhoff family was also fortunate that they were able to produce documentation staking claim to the property prior to it being taken over by the communist dictatorship. And although it took two years to get their land back, they were able to do so at no charge. Other farmers had to buy their land back or work in partnership with farmers from local cooperatives. Over the last 25 years, Klaus has restored his family’s home, at great personal expense.

This was only one of the stories we heard about the impact of the Iron Curtain.

Catarina Köchy, who farms with her husband, daughter and son-in-law on land in West Germany, just a few fields from where the wall once stood, acts as a guide at the Hötensleben border museum – where a 350 metre section of the wall and two guard towers still stand as a reminder of the country’s dark past.

As a young child, she recalled that her parents – and parents of her school classmates – would bring them to the wall during the holiday season to sing Christmas carols. She said that the students all hated the ritual – not understanding its importance. But after the wall fell and long-separated families and neighbours were reunited, those from East Germany said that they treasured the sound of that music knowing that they hadn’t been forgotten by their West German friends and family.

These stories, told as sidebars to the farm stories we were there to hear, were incredible to listen to and won’t soon be forgotten.

What it Takes to Create Success for a Small Dairy

By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

Keeping a diverse portfolio isn’t a bad thing in the business world, and agriculture is no different. For Rob and Julie Eby, for example, diversification is the cornerstone of their farm business.

The couple live on a small dairy farm near Ayr, Ont., called Pleasant Nook Jerseys on a property near the dairy farm that Rob grew up on. In 2009 Julie’s parents decided it was time to retire, and passed ownership of their dairy herd to Julie and Rob, who are the farm’s fourth generation.

Rob and Julie have three children, Rilee (age 6), Presley (age 4), and Brinkleigh (age 2), and along with their daughters, are the featured faces for the month of December in the 2016 Faces of Farming calendar.

 Their dairy herd consists of a mix of 30 Jersey and Holstein cows, a smaller herd by Ontario and Canadian standards, and they maintain 25 acres for hay and pasture land.

The cows are housed in a pack and box-stall barn – the ones located in Ayr, anyway. Pleasant Nook, you see, is actually divided between two locations, one in Ayr and the other further south in Fisherville. Rob explains that, while the farm was originally located in Fisherville, he and Julie are currently discussing moving the entire farm to their Ayr location.

Julie attended Ridgetown College for a general agriculture diploma before taking over the farm, and now she takes care of the farm’s day-to-day operations. Similarly, Rob went to the University of Guelph for agribusiness. And, despite also working as the owner and manager of a nearby farm equipment dealership, he spends a considerable amount of time with their cows during mornings, evenings and weekends.

Milk production, however, is only one part of Pleasant Nook. As Rob explains, his family and Julie’s family are well-known for both dairy cow genetics, and for producing top-notch show cattle.

“We’ve always been involved in showing cattle,” says Rob. “Cattle shows are a hobby, as well as a way to merchandize and get your farm name out there.”

When Rob says his family has “always been involved” with showing cattle, he certainly means it. Just a quick visit to the farm’s website – www.pleasantnook.com  – illustrates that point. They have received numerous awards and countless nominations at a wide range of events – from Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair and the New York Spring Dairy Carousel to smaller local events and 4-H competitions.

The root of the Ebys’ success at shows and other competitions, though, is good genetics. According to Rob, studying bloodlines and pedigrees, as well as good animal husbandry, is what helps his family achieve many of their goals. Rob and Julie incorporate this into their farm business through two methods; striving to make their cattle as attractive and productive as possible, as well as selling embryos and genetic stock to other farmers.

“Small farms can still survive, but sometimes you have to be a little more creative,” says Rob. “You can’t always just rely on milk production.”

As for future plans, both Rob and Julie say they would like to continue moving all the cattle to their Ayr farm, while simultaneously expanding their acreage.

Their children are very involved in figure skating, dance and gymnastics. Because of their involvement with cattle shows, the Ebys have a long tradition of involvement with 4-H as both team members and club leaders. Julie also, when time permits, volunteers at their local preschool.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the couple’s favourite pastime is still spending time with their family on the farm.

“Watching how animals develop is fascinating to us,” says Rob.  “Everything we do is for the love of cattle and the farm life.”

Sibling Chicken Farmers Have Multitasking Down to a Fine Art

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

Andrea Veldhuizen and Joseph Zantingh are siblings with similar traits. Both are busy raising young families, are active volunteers and, perhaps most notably, love to farm.

November2016 calendar

Andrea and Joseph’s page in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar is sponsored by Wallenstein Feed & Supply Ltd.

Andrea and Joseph both operate their own chicken farms in different parts of the Niagara Region. Along with a third chicken farm owned by their parents Henry and Janet, each location makes up a part of Zanlor Farms — the overarching name of their family business.

“We grew up on a dairy farm near Smithville,” says Andrea, “but my parents completely switched to chickens about 17 years ago.”

Andrea and her husband Ryan live and work on their farm near Wainfleet. It’s the newest of the three farms and just a short drive from both Joseph and Henry’s farms in Smithville. Henry is the current chair of Chicken Farmers of Ontario.

“We manage separate farms but we are still a connected family farm, we are all partners,” says Joseph.

The mother of four children – Cheyenne (15), Keean (11), Arianna (4) and Caleb (2) – Andrea first came into the family business about four years ago. Prior to that, Andrea went to school at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, and received degrees in both psychology and religion-theology. She then worked in marketing at a nursery and most recently took on the position of youth director at her church.  She made the transition to farming because she saw it as a better investment in her family’s future.

Joseph and his wife Diane have three children – daughters Alexis (4), Aubrey (3) and Erica (1). In addition to working as a welder, he has been farming for most of his life. He even remembers taking a pager to high-school just in case he was needed at home during the day.

Succession planning between their father and the siblings began about four years ago, and Joseph says he has been increasingly involved since.

“I always had fond memories of the farm. I liked the upbringing and want my family to have the same thing,” says Joseph.

Both Andrea and Joseph raise what they call “big broilers.” These chickens are raised for meat. They are kept on the farm longer and sent to market at a larger size. All the birds from each of the three farms are sold to Riverview Poultry, which is a chicken processor in Smithville. In addition, both siblings and their father Henry rent approximately 150 total acres to nearby crop farmers. 

“We are happy that we have a local processor. Everyone works together. My kids help on the farm too and they’re learning a good work ethic,” says Andrea.

“My wife is an accountant by trade, so we are optimistic that she will start to take over the farm books,” says Joseph. “She’s getting more involved as time goes on.”

In her spare time, Andrea volunteers at her children’s school, and acts as a youth director and mothers group leader at her local church. She also enjoys camping, cooking and baking, when time permits. Joseph says he enjoys fishing, camping, playing baseball and being involved with youth programs at his church.  He also enjoys spending time with Diane and their girls.

Their families and farms are, indeed, Andrea and Joseph’s most significant commitments. Looking to the future, the siblings both say they hope to continue growing and strengthening their family business in a sustainable way. It’s the best way, they say, for Zanlor Farms to stay viable for the next generation.

For more Faces of Farming, visit www.facesoffarming.ca.

A turkey farmer’s voice: How much do you want to know about turkey farming?

By Clair Doan, turkey farmer

As a turkey farmer it is important to be able to share our family farm story. Talking about how we grow and care for our turkeys is important to me because I am proud of what we do and, most of all, love eating turkey with my family. With the likes of social media,  it is not hard to be a part of the conversation or see the many posts about our birds and farm. However, last night I took the opportunity to view the W5 program on CTV called “Fowl Business” where our industry has been criticized for our handling of live turkeys from the farm to plate, mostly through the shackling and live stunning process at slaughter. My initial reaction was more mixed than I had anticipated, given our industry is directly impacted by consumer perceptions and influenced by media — perhaps there was some truth to this story.

I encourage you to watch this footage where the program relies on a “whistle blower” from Mercy for Animals, an organization whose main purpose is to convert people to veganism. I could focus on the inaccuracies and clear bias presented by this organization (as there were many). W5 counterbalanced this with the famous Temple Grandin. I could focus on the food itself and how consumers connect to their meals which I think is more effective, long term. As a farmer, the company implicated in the report was Lilydale, a Sofina Foods owned company, a sister firm to the buyer of most of our birds.

To clarify a couple of points first: I take great issue with undercover employees, with direct motives to identify irregularities in meat processing systems while knowingly being supported by Mercy For Animals. As well, the Lilydale employee, who was referenced a number of times, should most certainly be reprimanded and I am sure no longer works for the firm based on his actions and general lack of concern for the animals. However, in reality, we are always looking for the exception where rules are broken and people are not respecting the care and compassion for the animals.

Photo credit: Clair Doan

Photo credit: Clair Doan

The reality is the entire meat sector suffers from a similar crisis — their business of transforming a living animal into food, which for most part, people, is not a nice process to watch! Sure, we all love the end product on the BBQ, but connecting consumers to where their food comes from stops short of the animal leaving the farm.

Even as a farmer, after my turkeys are loaded off the truck, it is truly not my responsibility to what happens to them afterwards. What I do consider is ensuring that as close to 100% of the birds and meat were of superior quality as possible. As turkey farmers, I have personally undergone safe handling and loading of turkeys. We employ on-farm food safety protocols, which include all animals be respected and those suffering must be immediately and humanly euthanized on farm.

Recently, farm commodity boards have asked farmers to share their stories, to bring consumers, the media and influencers to their farm to share real stories of the people that truly care about our food system. I truly believe that we have a great story to tell on farm, but it begs the question, how much information is enough and how much is too much?

As a farmer, my primary goal is to raise healthy and productive turkeys. I do everything possible to maintain a positive environment for them including, fine-tuned nutrition, safe housing, ample bedding and medication, if it is required. The last thing I like seeing on my farm are sick or dead birds. So when it comes to slaughtering the turkeys, it is a difficult sight to watch. I don’t like blood in general and there are different sights, smells, movement and noises that come with the slaughter and processing of livestock. So like other consumers, the slaughter part of food production is never talked about, let alone seeing video footage of this stage. To me, the “Fowl Business” highlights the fact that living animals die for us to eat them, regardless of the perceived mishandling.

This past April, I had the privilege of visiting the largest turkey processors in Germany. It is estimated that 60,000 turkeys are handled per day, which equates to the entire Canadian production in about seven months at this one facility. Through using controlled atmospheric stunning, the facilities operated with utmost efficiency. When I spoke to the marketing manager, I asked “What message do you want me leaving the visit with?” His response was simple, that we value animal welfare from farm to plate and that their facility employs the latest technology which promotes efficient output of quality meat products. The visit in Germany left me with one on the most positive feelings regarding turkey meat, in that it was not a stomach turning, ethically questioning experience!

As an industry, I am interested to learn how Lilydale/Sofina will react to this news report, at the same time look forward to an overall industry reaction as I do believe it may be turkey today, but can easily be hogs or beef or chicken tomorrow. Yet at the same time, as a farmer, I am proud of our accomplishments on farm, yet we will only be successful in the future if we are part of an entire value chain that is effective at communicating our standards and expectations to all consumers, at the same time respecting their potential views on humane treatment of animals through the entire lifecycle.

The CTV show W5 called “Fowl Business” continues to irritate me by relying animal rights group spies and unfortunate employees that either lack training and demonstrate unacceptable behaviours to speak about the humane issues of turkey. At the same time there are reasons we pay for Canadian Food Inspection Agency, work within organized marketing boards, and abide by every increasing animal welfare protocols on farm that must work as succinct systems. I willingly continue to share our farm story in efforts of helping connect people with their food. Unfortunately delivering the message around the transformation from alive to dead is a difficult story to comprehend, but we must remember our food story does not end at the farm nor start at the grocery store.

This blog post first appeared on www.clairdoan.com

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.”

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.”

Answering Consumers’ Tough Questions

By Ian McKillop, Chair of Farm & Food Care Canada

Did you know that only 30% of Canadians believe that the Canadian food system is heading in the right direction? And that 93% of Canadians know little or nothing about Canadian farming practices? These findings, from recent research done by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, are alarming and should be of concern to everyone involved in the food system in Canada – from farmers, to processors, to retailers.

What can we do about it and how can we get our message out?  The good news is that while many Canadians know little about farming, over 60% indicated that they would like to know more. As farmers and the food industry, we have a huge opportunity to engage with Canadians and build trust in our food system.

Read more about the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity here

The task of getting our message out is extremely difficult. No one industry or organization can do the work that needs to be done; it has to be a collaborative effort. There are many excellent Canadian initiatives underway — each with a slightly different focus and mandate but each providing important tools to promote Canadian food, farmers, and agriculture.   

Farm & Food Care, Agriculture More than Ever, and Agriculture in the Classroom,  along with countless commodity specific programs all at various stages of their growth, are doing tremendous work in being agricultural advocates. 

Sign up for the Farm & Food Care Newsletter here

A few weeks ago I was honoured to become chair of Farm & Food Care Canada.  For those who haven’t heard of this organization, it’s a framework of farmers, food companies, input suppliers, and associations created in 2011 with a mandate to provide credible information about food and farming in this country. 

Where do consumers get their information? Source: Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, 2016

Where do consumers get their information? Source: Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, 2016

Farm & Food Care Canada is also home to the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI). The CCFI will be another source of credible information on food and farming related issues — information and research that has been compiled by trusted professionals within the Canadian and U.S. food industries.

One of the key elements related to the structure of Farm & Food Care Canada is the collaborative approach that it brings to the table. The ability to collaborate and work together with the groups mentioned above — and others — is unique and gives us a great opportunity to connect with consumers.

As we move forward, it is critical that all of us involved in the Canadian food industry (yes, that includes farmers) must put our personal agendas and biases aside and work together to get the good news story out about Canada’s food system.  If we don’t tell our story, who is going to talk to the 60% of Canadians that want to know more about farming?

Over the last few years, we have seen some common farm practices — practices that we as farmers think are normal — come into the spotlight.  As a result, some poultry and hog farmers are facing the fact that they’ll have to adopt new, costly housing methods for their livestock and some crop farmers will have to adopt alternative methods to protect the seeds they plant.

I can’t help but think that if there was a framework such as Farm & Food Care Canada 25 years ago, and if the average Canadian consumer had better access to accurate information, then maybe some of the challenges we face today could have been overcome. 

The work ahead is huge and we will not have success overnight.  However, the ground work that we lay together as a united agriculture and food industry today will help to ensure that the Canadian food system is trusted, healthy, sustainable, and robust for years to come. 

Engineering Help for the Great Lakes

By Howard Tong

Howard TongMy name is Howard Tong, and I’m using my degree in environmental engineering to help solve algae issues in the Great Lakes.

I have always been interested in the natural environment. As a kid, I was amazed at everything from Canada’s majestic arctic landscape to the calming, light rain showers I experienced while growing up in the city. Over time, however, I learned about many environmental issues that threaten our natural world, and those issues made me very concerned – my vivid imagination of what could happen only made things worse.

After a lot of doom and gloom, though, I decided I could make a difference by building a career focused on finding solutions. Now, with a degree in environmental engineering from the University of Waterloo, I am working on algae issues in the Great Lakes from both a drinking water and agricultural perspective.

As my undergrad came to a close, our class had the opportunity to help a drinking water treatment plant in Elgin County prepare for a potential harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie. Algae blooms in the summer months have already been a major problem for some municipalities surrounding Lake Erie, and after site visits and much lab work, we proposed a few solutions that could be used to retrofit the plant if the need arises.

Fast forward to my job at Farm and Food Care Ontario, where I’m working now as an environmental research assistant, and I am once again investigating algal blooms. This time, however, it is from an agricultural perspective.

When I was looking at the problem from the drinking water perspective, I looked for treatment solutions to eliminate toxins and bacteria. From an agricultural perspective, I am now looking at ways to prevent the problem by reducing nutrient runoff from farms — just one several causes of algae problems.

Read More: Farm Initiatives to Protect the Great Lakes

While the environmental world is vast, it is great to see a connection between municipalities and the agriculture industry in handling this shared problem. In the end, both types of solution are valuable to minimize the risk of harmful algal blooms.

Solving the algae problem in Lake Erie and other waterways is a huge challenge, but that’s why I decided to become an environmental engineer in the first place. The natural environment is truly a complex system, and every day I seem to have more questions. Thankfully, though, I have also learned many answers.