The greatest thing about farming is working with family

Lorna Callbeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Farming is Big Business with a Big Heart

By Serra McSymytz, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Throughout October, we have been celebrating Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan, a province whose primary goods-producing sector is agriculture. The theme “Our Food Has a Story” has encouraged many farmers, ranchers, and industry employees to speak up and tell their farm stories. I grew up in the farming world and have worked in the industry and even I must admit I’ve been blown away by the caring and compassion laced through every tweet, post, and picture.

The people in this industry rely on the earth, plants, and animals to support their families, futures, and freedoms. Yes, agriculture has evolved over the last fifty years. Yes, fewer farmers are managing more land. Yes, when size dictates, it makes economic sense to incorporate your operation, but that doesn’t mean the family farm has been lost to history. 97% of all Canadian farms are still family owned and operated.1

big-business-image-2-farmingfood4uHere’s an alarming statistic: there are 60% fewer farmers in Canada today than in 1901 and 548% more people to feed.2 That’s just within our borders, not to mention the hundreds of millions of tonnes of product we export to developing countries each year to help feed their people too. Talk about pressure to perform!

“…there are 60% fewer farmers in Canada today than in 1901 and 548% more people to feed.”

Thankfully, we are fortunate enough to live in a country where science and innovation are encouraged and explored. Where farmers and ranchers have the knowledge, tools and technology to grow and raise safe, healthy and affordable food in an environmentally responsible manner. Today’s farming is big business, not the simple lifestyle our grandparents grew up with. Yet, Ben Parker had it right, with great power comes great responsibility.

big-business-image-1-a-iveyWe live in the age of science and technology, where information travels far and wide and everyone has access to the latest diet craze or scientific study. Unfortunately, despite agriculture’s enormous technological advancements in the last quarter century, we haven’t put much time or energy into promoting our impressive new tools and now we need to defend them.

To the 98% of our population that has no direct connection to the farm and no way of understanding what a Flexi-Coil 5000-57FT Air Drill is, why we use ivermectin on our livestock, or spray our crops with unpronounceable chemicals like difenoconazole or saflufenacil, farming sounds scary. But, to the remaining 2%, it means no top soil loss, healthy animals, higher yields and a cleaner environment!

You’d be hard pressed to find a cattle rancher who doesn’t feed their family with meat from their herd, or a farmer who doesn’t bring his children along to check crops for disease and pests. That’s because farmers believe in the technology and production practices they use to grow our food and they want consumers to have confidence in them too.

When asked what they would like to say to non-farmers, the consensus was, “We care about our livestock, land and about producing safe food for you and your family. Wherever you’re from and whatever you do, everyone is dependent on food, so take the time to learn about how your food is really produced, from many different sources. Appreciate the efforts of farmers everywhere.”

Despite the new state of agriculture and the ever-evolving landscape of farming, our food still comes from families who care about their animals, land and growing safe, healthy, and affordable food.

1, 2 The Real Dirt on Farming, (Toronto: Farm & Food Care Foundation, 2014), 2-3.

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.”

Our Food Has a Story

By Serra McSymytz and Jean Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

kids-and-vegetable-patchAs agribusiness professionals we’ve had the opportunity to talk to farmers about why and how they farm.

Just twenty five years ago, this wasn’t even a conversation. Farmers just got on with the business of working the land or tending to their animals.

Today it’s different. Consumers also want to know why and how farmers carry out their duties, growing and raising the food we sometimes take for granted. But how do you explain what farming is?

Well, there are a lot of things it isn’t.

It isn’t a 40 hour work week, sleeping in on the weekends or even through the night, at times. It isn’t a guaranteed paycheque. It isn’t easy or cheap, low risk, or low stress.

So why? Why would someone gladly raise their hand and say “I want to be a farmer”? Generation after generation?

farmers-by-the-tractorFor many, farming is a place to raise their children where they’ll learn the value of hard work, build strong principles, strengthen their character and intellect, and earn a sense of responsibility.

Farming is rewarding and challenging. It is the opportunity to give back, to do more and be better. Farming is often part of a family’s history and their children’s future. It is satisfaction, seeing something you have sewn and tended grow and thrive. It is reaping the reward of a nutritious meal prepared using ingredients you yourself have nurtured.

Farming is technical and constantly evolving; an industry always on the verge of the next advancement. It is the chance to earn a living from a passion rather than an employer. Farming is the fulfillment of feeding your family, your neighbours, and our world. Farming is a measure of who the farmer is.

The thing about farming though, is that its product is so much bigger than just one person, one family one cow, one field, one farm.

It is our food. It is our story.

farmer-in-the-tractorThere is a narrative woven through our long history. Each chapter is unique and told by the stewards who contribute to it. The rancher, beekeeper, miller, baker, berry picker, processor, butcher, grocer and, in the end, the consumer.

It is the food choices you make for yourself and your family. Farming touches each and every one of our lives because it provides one of the most basic necessities. Whether you buy local, conventional, organic, free range, with or without added hormones, we are all a part of the same story.

Join us in October during Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan and share your food story. #OurFoodHasAStory #AgMonth16

For more on events in Saskatchewan for Agriculture Month, click here.

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.”

Listening and Learning Across the Table

matt in GlencoeBy Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

I had a mutually-educational supper with a friend recently.

It was a pre-planned date where I, being rewarded with barbecue and malted barley, gave a 101 on Canadian food and farming — a subject of great passion for me and great interest to my friend, though one she admitted to knowing very little about.

We hit on several common topics over the course of the evening: pesticides, GMOs, and the odd anecdote from my farm-kid childhood, just to name a few. But it was our discussions around “corporate agriculture” and what the ideal farm should be that stuck out the most. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised to discover that my view of the “ideal” farm was actually quite similar to hers.

I was however astounded to learn that my friend, whether she realized it or not, saw modern Canadian farms not as independent family-run businesses, but mere corporate franchises. In her mind, the modern farm was under the thumb of — and even directly controlled by — large agro-chemical corporations.

These ideas manifested themselves shortly after I described my family and our farm. After mentioning that we grow some GMO crops, my friend asked if we actually owned the land where we plant our crops. I said that we absolutely did, though we also rent land from neighbouring farmers. She then asked if we owned our own equipment, to which I explained that we did, though some farmers find it economical to hire others to plant, spray, or harvest.

Those questions were not asked just so she could learn about business structures, however. They were asked because she didn’t know how deep into my family’s livelihood the proverbial corporate tentacle reached. Without necessarily being conscious of the fact, she was questioning our sovereignty over our own business.

The fact that farms are independent businesses is a given to me, but it wasn’t to my friend.

Untrue as it is, the idea that farmers are under the thumb of large corporations is certainly not new. Many times I’ve responded to people asking if we are forced to use specific products, if we lived in fear of lawsuits, and other similar questions, but never had I encountered the idea that our land could be literally taken from us with such ease.

In this case, I realized that in order to connect with my friend starting with shared values was not enough. I had to one more step back and describe that the vast majority of Canadian farms (97%, in fact) actually are family businesses run by independent entrepreneurs who make decisions based on personal values, business goals, and what works best on their land.

With this in mind, I asked my friend what Canadian farming should be, and for comparison, followed her answer with my own conception of the ideal.

To paraphrase, my friend suggested Canadian agriculture should be comprised of more and smaller farms that are environmentally conscious and operate independently of large corporations. This was excellent to hear because I whole-heartedly agree with all her points, and better yet, I can say with certainty that much of what she idealized already exists.

DSC_0009I told her about Ontario’s long-running Environmental Farm Plan program, the seemingly-infinite number of crop varieties available to growers, some neat innovations I come across as a farm writer, and how an independent lifestyle is one of the most attractive characteristics of a farming career. 

Considering my friend has never been to a farm like my family’s — and the fact that, like the rest of us, she is continually bombarded by anti-modernity propaganda — it’s only logical that knowledge gaps exist. That was, after all, the entire point of our dinner date. Regardless of how close to the ideal we think modern agriculture is, though, we both discovered our idea of what was “right” was more similar than originally anticipated.

It was a good conversation, and to her credit, my friend was already quite knowledgeable on some subjects, and shared that knowledge with me. Where she knew little, though, the only real thing lacking was context, and that reminded me not to take the independent business aspect of farming for granted.

A Day in the Life of…Crooked Lake Farm

My name is Jill Burkhardt and I am a mixed farmer (small grains, such as wheat, and beef cattle) from Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Today on the farm, we are moving yearling heifers out to summer pasture. What’s a heifer? A heifer refers to female cattle that have never had a calf.

IMG_4954 (1)
Our farm is a 5th generation family farm. My husband’s family homesteaded just a half-mile up the road from our house in 1901 and have lived in the area ever since. Our land was purchased by his great-grandfather in 1915, and the original homestead is still in the yard. Although the house is uninhabitable, the artifacts remain.

We had our third baby in April. I do most of the calving work on the farm, while my husband, Kelly, is busy preparing for and seeding the crop. Well, this year, I had added challenge of taking care of a newborn human, in addition to newborn calves. It seems like everything is delayed on the farm because I’m busy with our new little guy and not able to help as much as I’m used to.

This year we are a little late moving cattle out to summer pasture. This is due to a few factors…

Last year, 2015, was a drought year for us in north central Alberta, and we had a drier than usual winter and early spring. Rain for us didn’t come until the May Long weekend and fortunately it hasn’t stopped since! We have delayed turn-out to allow the grass to grow up with some good moisture. This allows the grass to “de-stress,” put down good roots for the year, and grow. If we were to turn the cows out on the grass earlier, the grass may have still been in survival mode and stressed and would have decreased grass growth, preventing us to keep our cattle out on pasture later in the fall.

Thankfully, we had feed to use up. Last year, although it was a drought, the rains came later. These later rains landed right during haying season. To bale good hay, we need dry conditions to allow the hay to cure (be dry enough to store properly). Since it was raining, we made the decision to bag our hay turning it into haylage (fermented grass & alfalfa—similar to making pickles!). The haylage doesn’t keep well, so to keep from wasting it, we had to feed it all, and we just ran out in late June. 

IMG_0622 (1)Before we take the heifers out to pasture, we have to sort them in to two groups. One group will go out to pasture, breed with a bull, become pregnant (hopefully!), have a calf next spring and join our cow herd. The other group will be sold as open (not pregnant) heifers.

After we sorted and got our two groups, we loaded the group going out to pasture into a trailer and drove them to their summer pasture. We always trailer the cows out to summer pasture, rather than “push” them out on horseback because our area has a lot of crop fields, a few houses, and not many fences. It’s safe and efficient. 

When the cows were unloaded on their summer pasture they are always happy. Kicking and bucking usually happens—and then they go off to graze for the summer!

Want to learn more? Have questions for Jill? You can follow Crooked Lake Farm on social media: on Facebook and Instagram as @CrookedLakeFarm, and on Twitter as @crookedlakecows, and through their website and blog: www.crookedlakefarm.com

July Faces of Farming Features Modern Homesteaders

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

The farming lifestyle might not be for everyone, but for AmyBeth and Colin Brubacher, there’s nothing better. The Elmira, Ont., couple are turkey producers, and they see farming and family as their greatest passions.

“We absolutely love our lifestyle,” says AmyBeth. “It’s modern homesteading, living close to the land. There’s a lot of great things to learn.”

IMG_0236aBox2AmyBeth and Colin own and operate B & B Farms, where they raise turkeys for both large processors as well as for direct sale. They are an average sized turkey farm in Ontario, and also have 100 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat which they share crop with their cousin who has the neighbouring farm.

With three children –   Zoe (age 11), Stella (age 7) and Mercedes (age 2) – AmyBeth and Colin are the third-generation of Brubachers to run the farm. AmyBeth is also the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar.

As part of their direct turkey sales, the Brubachers supply both whole fresh birds for holiday seasons – around Thanksgiving , Christmas and Easter – as well as value-added products like ground meat and sausages. The family markets their turkeys and value-added products under the brand “Scotch Line Turkey Co.”

“We love working with animals and the satisfaction you get from raising healthy turkeys,” says Colin. “It’s very rewarding being able to produce healthy, great tasting food and just being a part of the agricultural community.”

Colin and AmyBeth took over the farm management from Colin’s parents nine years ago, but actually started building a succession plan over 16 years ago. To help things run smoothly, the couple work alongside Colin’s dad, Landis, and employ local part-time students to help them on evenings and weekends. The extra help is particularly valuable since Colin also works off the farm as an insurance broker.

B & B Farms is also a green energy producer. On one of the farm’s smaller outbuildings, the main turkey barn and their house they have three 10-kilowatt  micro-fit solar systems. The family also has a contract to build a larger, 100 kilowatt solar project on a new turkey barn, which they plan on constructing in the near future.

“We are all about green energy,” says Colin.

AmyBeth is the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

AmyBeth is the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

Previously to raising turkeys, Colin worked as an auto mechanic, however, he insists that he always wanted and planned to be a farmer. AmyBeth, on the other hand, did not initially plan on having a farm-centred life. She went to Wilfrid Laurier University for a degree in music, and York University for a degree in education. She then worked as a teacher for seven years before deciding to stay home in favour of having more time with her family.

“We started home schooling the kids a few years ago. We have a good opportunity to educate our children right here at home” says AmyBeth.

Outside of the farm business, both AmyBeth and Colin are involved in their local church through various committees and programs. The family also likes to travel when time permits, visiting relatives who live as far away as Newfoundland, British Columbia, and many places in between. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the love of food also features prominently in their leisure activities – both AmyBeth and Colin enjoy canning and preserving together, as well as sharing their backyard and turkey products with friends and family.

“It’s the family aspect of this business that makes it special to us,” Colin says.

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The eleventh annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, 2016, 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. See more at facesoffarming.ca.