360 Virtual Reality Farm Tours – They’re Udderly Amazing!

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

Like many, I enjoy knowing how things work — there’s a reason shows such as “How It’s Made” have been through nearly 30 seasons, after all.

In the spirit of seeing first-hand how something comes to be, I’m excited to say Farm & Food Care’s latest project, FarmFood360°, is now live. With a new website and mobile capability, the project uses 360 degree video and VR (virtual reality) technology to give viewers an immersive look at where our food comes from.

The first tour looks at a dairy farm where the animals are in charge. It’s a modern farm where cows use a voluntary milking system; that’s a milking system that, quite literally, lets them choose when they want to be milked.

The remaining two tours showcase dairy processing plants: one for milk and one for cheese — one of my personal culinary favourites.

Being able to tour facilities like these virtually is also a handy thing because access to these type of locations is, generally, restricted to ensure food safety and quality.

Understanding that there are real people behind the food we eat is critical, too, so there’s also a wealth of interviews with dedicated Canadian farm families and food processing company employees. The story of our food begins and ends with people, after all, so it only makes sense to include them.

At Farm & Food Care, we’re planning to expand the FarmFood360 website to include more 360° tours in 2017. Food literacy is important to so many people, whether in a personal or professional capacity, and I’d like to think this project helps those interested get the facts in the most compelling way possible — both where food comes from, and how it gets to store shelves. 

We’re appreciative too, to our partners at Dairy Farmers of Canada and Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd., to helping us get this project off the ground.

If interested, check out www.FarmFood360.ca. Our 23 older point-and-click virtual farm tours are there too (filmed over the last 10 years); they may not look as fancy, but there’s still a wealth of information on all kinds of Canadian farms, from vegetables and eggs, to ostrich and elk. 

It’s up now, it’s free, and in my humble opinion, the Internet is  better because of it.

10 Reasons to Love (and Trust) Your Food

Guest Post by Patricia Chuey

I always embrace any opportunity to visit my home province. In addition to getting back to see family a few times each year, every so often I’m fortunate that my work also takes me there.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an agricultural tour sponsored by Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and a number of groups representing many of the main foods grown or raised in Saskatchewan including flax, pulses, lentilsmustard (and Frenchs), barley, canola, chicken, eggs,beef, pork along with tourism Saskatchewan and Crop Life Canada. This type of tour came at a very important point in my professional life in regularly facing questions and grave concerns from consumers about quality in the food supply. I wish I could have magically had every person whose ever asked me about organic, free range, hormones, steroids, animal welfare, genetic modification and related issues by my side as our group of food writers, media dietitians and chefs from North America met many farmers on their farms, toured an egg processing plant, visited agriculture and bioresource greenhouses and the University of Saskatchewan Grains Innovation Laboratory. (We toured a prairie brewery too!) But, having them all join me wasn’t possible.

farm-collageBecause I couldn’t do that, I want to share 10 thoughts from many critical conversations on the tour. I left feeling renewed and more confident than ever in the quality of the food our Canadian farmers provide to the marketplace. Although I still feel heavy-hearted for the many people I’ve met who feel completely confused about what to eat or to safely feed their family, in many ways I felt both ‘cured’ of mass confusion and energized to continue sharing the truth of what I witnessed. Our group also left very well fed and richer in spirit for having experienced the passion and commitment these food producers put into the food they feed their families and share with Canada and the world.

There were countless reminders of the conscientious commitment farmers make to providing safe food to consumers and the challenges they face from often misinformed, yet vocal, adversaries. Here are few points I encourage thinking about:

  1. Less than 2% of Canadians are directly involved in farming to provide food for the remaining 98%. Typically, the more removed a person is from the farm, the more critical they are of farming. So unfortunate and a source of mass confusion and misinformation. It’s worth finding out the farm experience and background from the person who may be criticizing farming. Asking questions is great and very strongly encouraged. Unqualified folks scaring people about farm-raised food, isn’t.
  2. Canadian farmers are very open to talking about their operations and have nothing to hide. The industry is strictly regulated and uses the latest SAFE technology to produce food that is nutritious and affordable. Big corporations have NOT taken over Canadian farms. More than 97% of Canadian farms are family owned and operated.
  3. There is zero difference nutritionally between white and brown eggs. The difference lies in the feather colour of the hens they come from. Brown are perceived as healthier. What applies to brown bread or brown rice versus white with fibre content, is NOT relevant to eggs. If you buy free range or free run eggs and the shells happen to be brown, know that isn’t a characteristic indicating a free range egg, but simply a brown-feathered hen. Free range eggs also come in white shells. There’s actually more risk of contamination in free range eggs as the conditions in which the chickens are raised can’t be monitored quite as carefully as indoor operations. Egg farmers are committed to providing a variety of egg choices in the marketplace in response to consumer demand. I suggested the egg producers start selling a dozen odd-shaped or non-uniform eggs if we really want to see “natural” eggs. Consumers want ‘natural’ yet also want 12 eggs that look the same. Go figure?! Maybe someday NUeggs (Non-uniform eggs) will be a thing! #HeardItHereFirst
  4. Egg yolk colour is determined by the type of feed a hen eats. Wheat-based diets produce pale yolks while corn or alfalfa-based produce darker yellow. Yolk colour is not an indication of freshness or nutritional value. Organic eggs are fed certified organic grains which cost more.
  5. It is ILLEGAL in Canada to use hormones or antibiotics in chickens. “Ads promoting hormone-free chicken are like adds promoting water that is wet”. No pigs, chickens, turkeys or egg-laying hens in our country are fed hormones. It has been illegal for decades. And they’re not used in milk production in Canada either. Some beef farmers do use approved hormones in cattle. Hormone levels in beef from cattle treated with hormones are virtually the same as beef from untreated cattle once in the food system. Any hormones are administered to cattle in safe time before they are made available for food. Calves are immunized for the same reasons we immunize children – to keep them healthy.
  6. Why the heck don’t we eat even more lentils and other pulses? If we are truly serious about food sustainability let’s eat more of these affordable, nutritious legumes from our home country – the world’s largest EXPORTER of pulses!
  7. Farmers follow strict federal laws for humane animal treatment. A Canadian farmer is not keeping you out of his or her egg operation housing 60,000 hens because anything controversial is going on, but rather for strict biosecurity to protect the chickens. Farmers are as shocked and enraged as everyone else, if not more so, when situations of animal cruelty happen. I chatted with passionate, professional egg farmers who are considering taking on the expense of having large viewing windows and video cameras in the next barns they build to reassure consumers. These kind of measures becoming standard will increase egg prices. (I don’t require a web cam on my dentist’s office or other professional I trust.)
  8. Farmers are the original active environmentalists. Their livelihood depends on healthy soil, water and air to grow crops and raise livestock. We met sixth generation farmers, farmers whose healthy 87 and 91 year old parents still live and work on the farm, rugged male farmers who tear up when talking about the damage misinformation is doing to food security in Canada, strong, young female farmers who wrangle cattle and much more. The common thread: a deep commitment to the environment, passion, hard work ethic and a safe, healthy food supply for all. We were humbled when the combine drivers actually stopped during active harvest to talk to us (VERY expensive to their operation to do so) and saddened to hear farmers say that MISINFORMATION IS MORE OF A THREAT and worry to today’s farmers than crop-destruction from pests or the weather conditions. Crazy and very disturbing. We should all be concerned about that.
  9. Canadians pay a mere 10% of their available income for food, one of the lowest percentages in the world yet for top quality domestic food. Without the use of APPROVED pesticides to prevent complete crop destruction we’d risk complete crop devastation and food shortages. If no approved, regulated pesticides and GMOs were ever used, Canadian farmers would need 37 million more acres to grow the same amount of food as today.
  10. There is more risk in food raised by people who “dabble” in farming as a sideline than food produced on regulated, inspected large farm operations. That said, farmers are very happy to share gardening tips and encourage us to use any available land to grow at least some of our own food.

We have a WORLD CLASS food system that is envied around the world. We need to understand it, celebrate and support it. Absolutely learn and make informed decisions about crop spraying, GMOs, organic vs conventional and where food comes from but avoid information from unreliable, misinformed people that is negatively impacting the very food system that feeds us and many others on our planet.  I remain 100% confident that it makes more sense to question unrecognizable ingredients in packaged food (even the organic ones) with lengthy ingredients lists and long shelf lives than the wholesome home grown WHOLE food from Canadian farms.

Thank you Saskatchewan!

(Sincere thanks also to the chefs and hosts at the Delta Bessborough, Wilbar Farms, Wilbar Cattle Company, Agar’s Corner, Riverside Country Club, Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Boffins Public House and the University of Saskatchewan)

Reference: The Real Dirt on Farming

 

This post first appeared on Patricia Chuey’s blog, and is used with permission.

Leaving the Barn Door Open 24/7

By Kelly Daynard, Farm & Food Care

At the turn of the 20th century, farmers made up 60 percent of the Canadian population. Today, that number has dropped to less than two percent.

This move from farms into towns and cities has led to a growing disconnect between rural and urban areas, with Canadians now often three or four generations removed from any ancestors that farmed. The agricultural industry knows from polling data that non farming Canadians want to know more about food and farming – they just often don’t know where to source accurate information. And that’s why a growing number of Canadian farmers are increasing their communications efforts – many are turning to social media to share their stories.

The issue isn’t unique to Canada or North America, though. 

Stefan Teepker

German farmer Stefan Teepker and his daughter Marit in front of the windows in the new viewing gallery he’s built on the side of his chicken barn

Stefan Teepker is a chicken, grain, and hog farmer in Northern Germany. He recently opened his farm to delegates at the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ congress (an event that’s held in a different country each year).

The 35-year-old farms in cooperation with his brother Matthias, and he’s also the honourary chairman of the “Young DLG” – a division of the German Agricultural Society for farmers aged 35 and under. Teepker is increasingly concerned about the misconceptions that exist about modern farming practices and he’s determined to do his part to change that.

“There are big discussions happening about animal welfare in this country. We have to be able to show how we produce the majority of the meat. We have to start the discussion,” he said to the visiting journalists.

For many years, he’s visited a local school twice a year, talking to students about his farm and farm animals. Those students, in turn, visit his farm as part of a forest walk program, where they’re excited to see the animals that he’s talked about.

To expand his efforts, he’s just finished building a unique viewing gallery onto the side of one of his chicken barns. He paid for the 25,000 Euro project (about $36,000 CAD) almost entirely on his own with only a 1,000 Euro grant from a farm organization.

Stefan Teepker

Anyone passing by this German chicken farm is welcome to stop in and see the birds. This viewing gallery, built on the side of the barn, is open 24 hours a day.

Their farm is near a busy highway and popular hiking and biking path. With the grand opening last week, the gallery will be open 24-hours a day. One criticism he’s heard is that farmers only show the nicest photos of their barns and animals. With the new viewing gallery, he says he’ll be able to say “come when you want.” Passersby will be able to stop in at any time to see, for themselves what’s happening and what the birds are doing.

Signage will explain the age of the chickens, what they eat and drink, how the ventilation works, where they were hatched, when and where they’ll go to market and more.

Teepker said that some farmers think the signs should be more technical, focusing on bird genetics and such. But he knows firsthand that consumers are interested in going back to the basics. The most common question he’s asked? “Where are the cages?” To which he explains that broiler chickens are always raised in a free run (floor system) barn – just like here in Canada.

Guests at the viewing gallery will also be able to buy fresh meat and eggs (provided by neighbouring farmers), from a special vending machine.

When asked whether he’s concerned about farm security as a result of the increased attention and visitors, Stefan was definite in his “no”. While he has installed security cameras, he says that they’re only meant to protect the birds and doesn’t expect problems.

He’s also created a Facebook page for the farm where he engages regularly with his 2,000 (and growing) followers. Through updates, he introduces his farm staff, talks about environmental initiatives on the farm (including solar panels and a biogas plant) and answers questions about his pigs and chickens. He also posts regular videos – the top one has 180,000 views to date.

And, new this year, the farm is sponsoring local soccer teams as another way of engaging with his community.

Are his efforts making a difference? Teepker thinks so – but emphasizes that there’s always more that can and should be done. “You see a mind shift when people come to see the farm for themselves. They don’t know what they will see if the doors are closed – so we’re opening the doors.”

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. 

Family of Nine Featured as June’s Faces of Farming

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care Ontario

Farming has been on Andrew Henderson’s mind for most of his life — or at least since high school. It was at that relatively early point that Andrew realized farming was the career for him. Now, almost 25 years later, Andrew is busy running a successful, enterprising farm while raising a large family.

“After high school I went to Kemptville College for agriculture,” says Andrew. “I graduated in 1998 and have been farming ever since.”

Andrew and his wife Tracey are the sixth generation owners and operators of Kenora Farms — a Spencerville-area dairy farm named after Andrew’s grandparents Ken and Nora. The couple married in 1998, and have seven children: Anna (age 13), Sam (age 11), Lily (age 9), Grace (age 8), and triplets Claire, Kate, and Luke (age 5). Andrew works on the farm full-time, while Tracey, an engineering graduate from Queen’s University, works off the farm as a math and science teacher at a local high school.

Andrew Henderson

Andrew, and his farming family, is featured for the month of June in the 2016 Faces of Farming calendar. Now going into its eleventh year, the calendar is published by Farm & Food Care Ontario, and the Henderson’s page is sponsored by Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Limited.

Kenora Farms has seen a lot of changes and expansions over the years, particularly since Andrew moved home after completing his post-secondary education. At that time, the farm housed 50 Holstein cows in a free-stall barn, and included 300 acres of corn, alfalfa and pasture. Since then the number of dairy cows has steadily grown to 160,  as did the farm’s acreage; now, there are about 900 acres of alfalfa, corn and beans under the Kenora Farms banner.

See more about the Faces of Farming calendar here

Kenora Farms has a number of characteristics that help Andrew keep things running smoothly. Andrew’s father Paul is still very involved in the farm’s day-to-day operations, and works on the human resources aspect of the business. In terms of facilities and equipment, a new heifer barn was constructed in 2010, and a robotic milking system was added to the main dairy barn last year. This milking system allows the cows in Andrew’s barn to walk into a stall and be milked – by a robot – whenever they want.

The robot may have been an expensive investment, but it has proven quite valuable to the Henderson family. As Tracey explains, “It frees up more time for [them] to do more things together.”

In the same year the new heifer barn was built, Andrew and his family incorporated a soybean crushing system into their farm. This system crushes and separates soybean seeds into oil and meal, allowing Andrew to supplement some of his cows’ food, and consequently, reduce the amount of money spend on purchasing feed. The leftover soybean oil can also be sold, adding even more value to his family’s soybean crop.

The construction of the new heifer barn and the incorporation of soybean processing machinery even helped Kenora Farms earn a “Producer of the Year” award at the Canadian International Farm Show in 2011.

As a business, Kenora farms has also expanded vertically through the supply chain. It is, for example, one of 1,200 farm companies behind Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd. – which is the second-largest dairy co-operative company in Canada – with Andrew himself acting as one of 60 producer delegates. Andrew and his family have also been a part owner of a milk-trucking company for the last few years. Overall, this means they are involved in the production, transportation and processing of their cows’ milk.

0D4A0148aBoxThe Henderson family are also very involved with their local county milk producer committee and Holstein club. All of Andrew and Tracey’s children downhill ski, and play soccer and hockey.

Andrew and Tracey also say they are not too focused on succession planning at this point in time, but will be paying close attention to how the next decade proceeds; that is, they will be looking to see which family members start expressing interest in being the seventh generation of Kenora Farms

An egg farmer examines hen housing

By Ian McKillop, egg farmer and vice chairman of Farm & Food Care Canada

Hen HousingGrowing up in the 1960’s, I’ve fond memories of my brother and me helping collect eggs. We had a small flock of several hundred hens in chicken coops. We’d reach into nests for eggs, put them in a basket and wash any dirt or manure off. Often the hens would peck us – or each other, sometimes causing death. If they became scared, they’d flock to a corner and could even suffocate themselves.

In the 1960’s, conventional cages became popular, providing a healthier and safer environment for hens and the farmers caring for them. So in 1967, my parents built a new barn with conventional cages.

The barn held 6,000 hens, large by 1967 standards, with three hens per cage. Pecking and suffocation were virtually eliminated. Gathering eggs by hand was easier, plus the eggs were seldom in contact with manure anymore. Overall, the cages allowed a safer way of housing our hens with fewer deaths, improving the quality and food safety of the eggs, while keeping costs down. The birds were content and so were we. Continue reading

Barn fires are devastating to all involved

By John Maaskant, chicken farmer and chair of Farm & Food Care Ontario

barn fire 4a

Stock photo

There have been a lot of news stories lately about barn fires in Ontario. Without exception, the stories have been tragic and the incidents devastating to these farm families in so many ways – with the loss of animals being at the very top of that list. Often, a barn fire affects an entire community with neighbours joining together to support each other and help clean up the terrible aftermath. Economic concerns, while very real, are always secondary to the loss of farm animals that these farmers have raised and nurtured.

And it doesn’t matter what type of farm animals are involved. The dairy farmer who milks his or her barn full of cows every morning and night – and knows each of their individual traits – is as emotionally affected as a pig farmer, horse owner or chicken farmer like me. Continue reading

Renovating the family farm business

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care

Scott Douglas stands next to his combine.

Scott Douglas stands next to his combine.

(Leamington) – It was in the midst of the Great Depression in 1935 that Scott Douglas’ grandparents first purchased 50 acres of farmland on a small concession road just north of Leamington, Ontario. Now, after 80 years, two generations and several major farm changes, the Douglas family farm is going stronger than ever.

The now 1,800 acre farm, known as Cloverview Farms, produces corn, soybeans and wheat, and features a small hobby operation usually containing a couple of beef cows, a few pigs and some chickens. Scott farms alongside Jennifer and parents, Harold and Linda. Scott and Jennifer also have three children – nine year old Graydon, seven year old Shannon and five year old Cameron – who help with the small number of animals. Continue reading

The real dirt on hen housing

By Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

The Real Dirt on Hen HousingHaving recently become a new homeowner, it’s amazing how many different housing options there are are out there. You might be a high rise condo dweller living in one of the many buildings that populate the horizon or maybe in a single detached family home that is more your style.

Townhomes, executive penthouse lofts, cottage living – the options are endless with each choice presenting different benefits and amenities. If you’re anything like me, the only restriction is your bank account!

It’s not that different when it comes to housing options for farm animals. Modern barns today offer many benefits that the traditional red bank barn of our grandparents’ age would never be able to provide. New advancements in technology have allowed the reconstruction of modern barns to provide things like climate-controlled environments, enriched amenities, access to feed and water 24 hours a day, smart phone alerts if an issue arises in the barn and much more.

But how do we know what good and what bad environments for farm animals actually are? Science helps to tell us this. There has been a lot of research around the globe on housing of farm animals and on how different environments affect them. Many researchers have dedicated their entire careers to this area of science: studying animal behaviour, environmental impacts, natural behaviours and many more aspects of how housing influences an animal’s life.

Let’s talk about laying hen housing – housing for the birds that lay the eggs that you enjoy for breakfast. Continue reading

A chance ad brings this calendar-model couple back to farming

2010 calendarBy Resi Walt

(Thamesville) – It was a chance sighting of an advertisement in a local newspaper that gave Clarence Nywening and his wife Pat the opportunity to return to their farming roots.

Clarence was raised on a beef farm and Pat on a dairy farm. But, after marrying, they had moved away from the farm and on to a different business ventures. However, Clarence said, “It was always my dream to go back to farming.”

In the early days of their marriage they owned a cleaning business, cleaning churches, houses and offices. One day, while cleaning at an office building, they noticed an ad in a newspaper for a farm that was for sale. They knew instantly it was where they wanted to be. Continue reading