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.

Cattle-farming sisters featured in 2016 farm calendar

By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

2010 calendar

Sisters Patricia Taber, Jennifer Smith and Sylvia Megens

(Uxbridge) – Sisters Patricia Taber (30), Jennifer Smith (28) and Sylvia Megens (22) got involved with their local 4-H beef club when they were each 10 years old, and have been around big bovines ever since. Cattle are, indeed, a central part of their lives, and part of a common interest that keeps them together personally as well as professionally.

Together, the three sisters are the owners and operators of Megens’ Cattle Company; it’s a small farm business consisting of approximately 15 purebred Angus and Simmental cattle raised as replacement females, and for competition in livestock shows. With sponsorship from The Regional Municipality of Durham, the three sisters and one of their prize-winning Angus show steers grace the cover of the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. The sisters are also featured in the month of January.

“We started with just two animals and focused on commercial as well as show cattle,” says Jennifer. “We’ve had a lot of luck over the years.”

The three sisters compete in over 20 spring and autumn fairs across Ontario annually. They use the time competing in smaller events, though, to hone both their handling skills and the look of their animals for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, which is the largest agricultural event of the year. While many of their animals have performed very well at different times, Jennifer says the first Simmental cow ever purchased by her and her sisters has been particularly successful, winning many awards over the last four years. The steer on the front page of the calendar went on to win the prestigious Queen’s Guineas competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November of 2015, and was shown by Sylvia in the competition.

The 2016 Faces of Farming calendar's cover image also featured the sisters.

The 2016 Faces of Farming calendar’s cover image also featured the sisters.

Right now, Jennifer describes Megens’ Cattle Company as more of a “hobby farm” than a full-time business venture, though that is not to say they don’t plan on developing the business further. The business originated as a small livestock farm run by their parents John and Debbie. John had emigrated from the Netherlands as a young boy and eventually became a livestock drover – a profession he shared with Debbie. After settling down on a small farm and introducing the three sisters to 4-H, Patricia says their herd evolved from a handful of market animals to a mix of purebred Simmental and Angus replacement heifers – young female cattle that have not reproduced.

“Our herd is currently a mix of bought and bred cattle,” says Patricia. “We would like to develop our own breeding program so we can have control over everything in the herd.”

Small though it may be, Megens’ Cattle Company does take up quite a bit of the sisters’ time. However, that doesn’t stop them from working full time too. Sylvia is a recent graduate from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College, and currently works as a research associate for a company specializing in the research and production of turf grass and forage crops.

Patricia lives and works alongside her husband and his family on their beef feedlot farm, where they raise about 2,500 cattle at a time, and have 1,600 acres of cropland. She also works for Grober Nutrition – a livestock nutrition company – but is currently on maternity leave with Brooke, her infant daughter. Jennifer works as a large animal veterinarian with a mobile practice, and helps her husband on their strawberry farm in between visits.

According to Patricia, Jennifer’s veterinarian background – and her experience working on a number of other livestock farms – is a big asset to their entire family.

“She’s our resident health management professional,” says Patricia.

With cattle weaving such a strong theme through their lives, it’s perhaps no surprise that the three sisters’ hobbies also sport a bit of beef flavour. Sylvia, for instance, is part of Durham West Junior Farmer association, and is a volunteer club leader with her local 4-H group. She also sits on the provincial board for the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario, and, more generally, says showing beef cattle is the “passion” which takes up most of her year. Patricia and Jennifer, too, say showing and working with beef cattle is their favorite way to spend spare time.

There’s yet more to it for Jennifer, however. More specifically, she and her husband keep a small flock of sheep, and have been planning on converting about 30 acres into pasture for the animals. On top of that, Jennifer works with Patricia as a leader in the York-region 4-H beef club, and is part of her regional Ploughman’s Association where she helps run the annual “Queen of the Furrow” competition.

When asked why they farm, the sisters are also of one mind. Agriculture, they say, has allowed them to stay close despite busy lives, and enjoy many opportunities in the process.

“We’ve been fortunate that, even as we start our families we are still close; we still get to work together and it’s a great way to raise a family,” says Patricia.

The eleventh annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario, is designed to introduce the public to a few of Ontario’s passionate and hardworking farmers – the people who produce food in this province. Copies can be ordered online at www.farmfoodcare.org.

The Top 6 Roundup

We thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on The Real Dirt on Farming Blog in 2015. Here’s how they stacked up in popularity with you, our readers.

#6: Day in the Life – ‘Kidding-around’ with a goat farmer

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Hi! My name is Anna Haupt and together with my husband and three young children, we run Teal’s Meats – a provincially licensed butcher shop on our farm in Haldimand County, on the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. I also raise a small herd of registered Boer goats on our farm, Springvalley Boer Goats. I enjoy showing, sell breeding stock to other producers and process our market animals for sale through our butcher shop. Our summers are extremely busy serving our butcher shop customers, so I like to kid out (giving birth) my does (female goats) in the winter months when I have a little more time to spend in the barn. Today on our farm…READ MORE Continue reading

Would the real factory farm owner, please stand up

Would the real factory farm owners please stand up 2By Kim Waalderbos

I must confess: I’m a word and math nerd. I’ve been intrigued by how letters and numbers puzzle together for as long as I can remember. Yet, one puzzle has me stumped.

Factory farming.

You see, in my three decades (and counting) in agriculture, I’ve never heard anyone in farming actually use this term to describe themselves, or a fellow farmer. In fact, I’ve only heard the term used in media and by anti-farming activists.

So, I consulted my word books and found these dictionary definitions: Continue reading

What’s a typical Canadian farmer?

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

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

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

How to find out what a typical Canadian farm looks like

It is surprising to me that there is still such a massive divide between what society thinks and what actually happens on the farm. I recently spent some time trying to pin down a definition of “factory farms” with various individuals. I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion about agriculture or livestock farming I just wanted to understand what their definition was.  It turns out many think a typical Canadian farm would be considered a “factory”.

Female pigs in group housing on straw bedding.  Not what many people to be typical.

Female pigs in group housing. Not what many people to be typical.

I was surprised to learn that many have a perception that the majority of beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, and poultry birds in Canada live in dark dirty cages, without adequate food and water, individual attention, and are treated more like machines than animals.

Even though I didn’t set out to change anyone’s opinion I ended up sharing some StatsCan numbers about the average farm size (average beef herd size is 61 and an average dairy herd size is 70) and the fact that 97% of farms  are family owned and operated and shared pictures of actual living conditions as an alternative pictures commonly depicted by those not in favour of livestock use.  Other farmers also shared pictures of their farms and animals as well as personal philosophy and practices. I was again surprised to hear the response: “well sure, YOU guys aren’t a factory farm and obviously care about your animals but you are not typical”.   To this I mentally sputtered… but this IS what a typical livestock farm in Canada is like!  Is this belief system in place because we are programmed to believe the worst about agriculture (as perpetuated by nasty memes of suffering animals or pictures taken out of context like a cute little calf with a numbered ear tag) or is it simply that society has an image of farming based on idealic pictures of yesteryear?

To clarify, I do not think animal farming has it all right. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that not every practice is perfect or defensible and that some do need to change. There are also individuals that own animals that should not (even one of these people involved with livestock is too many) and they are the ones highlighted in sensational news stories. But does this mean that every farm in Canada is a factory farm? No. That any farm over a certain size is inherently inhumane?  No!

Do you want to know what a typical Canadian farms really look like? Head over to virtualfarmtours.ca to see what really happens.  Think this is just too biased to be true? Contact producer groups to get some real information and maybe even the chance for a farm tour to see for yourself.  If you don’t trust that those organizations are giving you the real answer, contact an elected government official. They can put you in contact with other government employees who work in the ag community and with producers as agriculture specialists (they give management advice and assistance to farmers).  Still don’t believe the source?  Go to the University of Saskatchewan and talk to researchers, scientists and veterinarians who study animal welfare (there are also researchers in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and the maritimes).  They can give you answers to your questions about farming and animal welfare and animal care.  Or feel free to contact me at Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and I will try and answer any questions you might have.

Thanks for taking the time.

 

Email me at jean@farmfoodcare.org

Farming in Perth County for seven generations and planning for more

Bob McMillan, Julie Moore and their family appear as the faces of January, 2014 in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar

Bob McMillan, Julie Moore and their sons Reid and Nolan appear as the faces of January, 2014 in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar

by Patricia Grotenhuis

Bob McMillan and Julie Moore may have struck people as an unlikely pair when they first started dating. He was a farmer passionate about the land and his livestock. She was a self described city girl from Toronto who knew little about farming when they met.

McMillan’s family’s history is entrenched in the rural community near Stratford.  His ancestors bought the Perth County farm in 1850 when they came from Scotland, and it’s been in the family  ever since.  The farm has changed a lot over the years, but according to McMillan, that just adds to the history for future generations.

“The roots are something I take for granted.  There are interesting stories and the history is nice to have.  There have been lots of changes, but everyone gets to add something to the farm,” says McMillan.

Moore added, “We continue to call the original stone house our home. Under our roof, seven generations have been born, married, celebrated and inspired. Our home farm is truly a place where a family story begins.”

The two are appreciative of farm life and their community, something that Julie has especially appreciated coming from the city.  “I love the sense of community here.  It’s so different from larger, urban centres – everyone knows the history and has a sense of connection and belonging,” she said.

In 2013, the couple and their two young children Nolan and Reid appeared in the eighth edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. The couple’s winning application was chosen from a field of 31 exceptional entries in a new contest launched to select one farm family to appear in the calendar.  In their application, Julie described her family as a “progressive, passionate and proud farm family”. She also said that she felt they “typify today’s farm family – active, educated, engaged, caring and committed to our families, our farms and our community.”

McMillan and Moore have expanded their business by purchasing a neighbouring farm. They’ve also built a new barn and added new corn storage/dryer facilities.
They’re doing their best to make sure they leave the farm in a better condition for the next person who works the land by implementing numerous environmental improvements. McMillan has switched to new tillage systems to help conserve soil.  He uses crop rotation to make sure nutrients are not being depleted from the soil, and to improve soil health by having crops with different root systems each year.  Crop rotations also lessen the insect and disease pressure on the plants.

To explore changes that could be made on the farm to improve the environment around them, McMillan completed an Environmental Farm Plan and implemented many of the changes the program suggested.  As part of a conservation project, the couple has planted 1,000 trees on their property.

“We plant for another day and another generation, so we can grow our rewards down the road,” says McMillan.  “It’s impressive to see the benefits now from past projects.”
McMillan is also devoted to caring for his livestock – pigs – and follows stringent guidelines on what the animals are fed and how they’re cared for.

They’ve also got a strong commitment to their community.  McMillan is currently Deputy Mayor of Perth East, sits on Perth County Council and is involved in other community boards and associations.

“I want to be a younger voice in politics, and I want to continue making people aware of farming through my politics,” says McMillan, who was first elected as a councillor in 2003 and is serving his second term as deputy mayor.

Moore is also involved in the community, serving as a school board Trustee with the Avon Maitland District School Board, volunteering with many projects at her sons’ schools and as a consultant to the South West LHIN.  She enjoys running, and has completed several half marathons.  Their two sons, Nolan (7) and Reid (3) enjoy everything there is to see and do on the farm.

Julie is using her newfound knowledge of farming to help educate friends and family from the city about where their food comes from, and the dedication of the people who grow it.

“I didn’t have an appreciation for my food, where it comes from and the work and skill that goes into producing it.  Farmers are highly skilled. They need to be to produce quality food. Food that is safe and healthy food for us to enjoy” says Moore.

Cleanliness and consistency keys to chicken comfort, farmer says

(St. Anns) – When newly-hatched chicks arrive at Topp Farms, they are placed into barns that have been freshly cleaned and warmed for their arrival. New bedding lines the floors, and energy efficient lights reflect off the natural wood paneling to create a cozy and safe place for them to explore.

“When chicks are placed into my barns, they’ve usually just hatched a few hours before,” says Kevin Topp, owner of Niagara-area Topp Farms. “It’s important to make chicks feel comfortable and that they find the water and food as quickly as possible.”

Kevin Topp is shown in his family's chicken barn.

Kevin Topp is shown in his family’s chicken barn.

Topp is a third-generation chicken farmer with a university degree in economics. He worked in the barns with his father growing up, but he considered a career in banking before returning home with his wife, Renee, who landed a teaching job in the area. He says his return to the farm was driven largely by new technology that was taking some of the labour out of chicken farming, such as automated feeding equipment, and improved temperature control systems. The industry was becoming more organized too, with a vertical supply chain that guarantees consistency and quality to end-users. Today his chickens are sold to a company that supplies restaurant chains such as KFC and Swiss Chalet. Continue reading

David and Goliath – Guest blog

In this post, we’re pleased to feature a blog written by Ontario farmer Sandi Brock. You can follow Sandi’s posts at http://staffachickfarmer.blogspot.ca/

Guest blog by Sandi Brock (Reprinted with permission)

Hard to put into writing what we sometimes feel. Farming lately has felt like a David vs. Goliath type of battle. I’m growing weary of this fight. We (farmers) are being targeted by media. Media likes a story, the worse it is, the better for them. Unfortunately, it leaves our consumers confused, scared and ultimately turned off. Gone are the days when we were all reliant on our land, our animals and our hands to feed our families. Let’s face it, the majority of our friends, neighbors and families do not farm. In fact, they may have a hard time remembering even being to a farm that was maybe a grand-parent’s or great grand-parent’s.

This then becomes our lop-sided battle.

There are just not enough of us to overpower the damage the media is doing. Farming to them is a story. To us, it is our life. It is our blood, sweat and tears. It is our income, our pride, and our contribution to a huge sector of our community and country. We don’t do this to become millionaires. We are happy to get one good year in five. We live at the mercy of the weather, the consumer, and the lenders. If any one of these are not in sync, we don’t meet our goals.

We do this because it’s in our bones. We do this because we love it. We do this because, ultimately, we all like to eat.

So that’s my side. But, it’s not enough. We need to educate. Not the other farmers, which we often find ourselves doing. It’s comfortable to talk to others that do what you do. But, that’s easy. The harder conversations need to be had with your friends in town, your neighbors, your kid’s teachers. We need to be honest and open about what we do, how we do it and most importantly, why we farm. This is the message that needs to be spread like wildfire. The problem is, we don’t take the time. I know while struggling through this fall, the last thing I feel like doing is justifying my farming practices. We are tired, stressed and feeling a bit discouraged. Day after day is another damaging story about our industry. Are they true? Likely not, but does it matter? No. It has made people hesitate. Even me, seeing stories that are edited to create fear, have made me just a little more on edge. Continue reading

"Shocking" undercover dairy video hits home

There’s a growing community of agricultural advocates in North America – farmers and farm enthusiasts who are passionate about what they do and who, more importantly, are focused on finding ways to stand up and tell their stories to the world.

One of these enthusiasts is Dairy Carrie, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin. You can read her blogs at www.dairycarrie.com.

In particular, we’d like to call attention to her latest blog entitled “Shocking undercover dairy video hits home” which features footage filmed on her farm. If the title has piqued your curiousity, chcek it out for yourself at http://dairycarrie.com/2013/02/14/shockingvideo/

Read the comments below the post too. They’re sure to make you smile!