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.

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.

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.

Teach Me How to Agriculture

By Toni Anne Sarlo, Farm & Food Care

I never had a doubt in my mind that farming was hard work, but that was about the extent of my agricultural knowledge before joining the team at Farm & Food Care.

Toni Anne SarloI don’t want to say that I was ignorant —  let’s go with uninformed. I have lived my entire life in Toronto, or the Greater Toronto Area, and the closest I came to a farm was our annual family visit to Chudleigh’s Apple Farm. Granted, I do love fresh, crisp apples when they are in season, but it didn’t exactly show me what farming entails.

I think I speak on behalf of most city folk when I say that we are not educated about farming truths, enlightened about its multi-layered issues/workings, taught about the challenges or exposed to the lifestyle. Living in the city, we are not aware of the path our food has travelled to get to us. 

We follow what’s trending, not always what’s right. Is it hormone free? Is it organic? Does it have GMOs? These are questions with preferred responses suggested by the media or marketing professionals. Our decisions are influenced by advertisers far too often, it’s true.

I recently started working in agriculture, and it has changed my life.  My former perspective of the agricultural industry and its complexity could not have been more wrong. I used to be skeptical about farming practises and was deterred by negative publicity often associated with farming, but I no longer have that impression. I am conscious about the intricacies of farming and am able to make decisions based on my own experience. 

I have been given the opportunity to visit varying farm types.  Subsequently, I have toured, observed and spoken to farmers and family members while in their element. These are the people with real knowledge who live and breathe farming in all capacities. They know firsthand what the daily challenges are and what techniques are best utilized to improve sustainability. Agriculture is forever changing and progressing, and embracing innovation.

Conversations with farmers and those who represent the farming community have opened my eyes to a culture that I was only vaguely aware of previously.  The passion and heart that drives this industry is overwhelming and exciting.  I have learned that it’s so important to dig for the facts, and one of the best ways is to go directly to the source. 

What I’ve learned, is that there is no black and white, rather a large grey canvas for us to draw our own conclusions. The difference for me, now, is that I feel more informed as a consumer and can avoid blindly following trends.  I have developed a new found enthusiasm and appreciation for farming, and look forward to learning more.

Different areas, same challenges

By Matt McIntosh

In September, I had a chance to visit Alberta for the first time since I was a child, and while there, I visited a few farms in conjunction with the annual conference of the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation.

I come from farm country in Southwestern Ontario, and the diversity between farms in my own province is staggering; the level of diversity between farms at home and out west is even more intriguing. The funny thing is, farmers all seem to encounter similar problems and find similar solutions despite what they produce, where they produce it and on what scale. Continue reading

Enjoying local food in Eastern Ontario

By Resi Walt, Farm & Food Care Ontario

A taste of local food in eastern OntarioLike most people, I enjoy day trips and exploring new places – especially when those places specialize in food! Over the course of Ontario’s Local Food Week from June 1-7, I had many opportunities to celebrate the food that is grown and produce in Ontario. One highlight from the week was the trip I took to Eastern Ontario.

Farm & Food Care Ontario partnered with Foodland Ontario to offer a local food experience for food enthusiasts from the Ottawa-area. Farm & Food Care Ontario has been organizing these farm tours since 2006, and each year they grow in popularity. The goal is to showcase different commodities and types of farming every year, and the tour participants include chefs, recipe developers, food writers, culinary instructors, and professional home economists. The tour is always such a great learning experience and good fun too. Continue reading

Breakfast on the Farm Roundup

It’s been almost one week since our Breakfast on the Farm event at the Werts’ dairy farm in Avonmore, Ontario. Here’s a fun roundup of the day’s numbers.

Many, many thanks and shoutouts to those that make our Breakfast on the Farm event possible!

Presenting Sponsors: Egg Farmers of Ontario, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Gray Ridge Egg Farms, Dairy Farmers of Ontario

Additional sponsorship: EastGen, Farm Credit Canada, Grenville Mutual Insurance, National Bank, Ontario Plowmen’s Association, Ontario Veal Association, South Nation Conservation Area, Stormont Federation of Agriculture, and Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

Food is provided by: Avonmore Berry Farm, Conestoga Meat Packers, Morris & Donna Dusomos, Eastern Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association, Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd., Gray Ridge Egg Farms, Warren & Trudy McIntosh, Ontario Apple Growers, P & H Milling Group, Rubicon Farms and Willowgrove Hill Farms.

(click image to enlarge)

BOTF Infographic_Final

Let’s Talk Farm Animals – indeed!

They came. They ate. They met cows and calves, pigs, hens and chicks. They checked out tractors and milk trucks, met farmers, veterinarians and nutritionists and, throughout the day, learned a little bit more about farming in Canada.

Last Saturday, 2,000 visitors dropped by Heritage Hill Farms, near New Dundee, in Waterloo Region, Ontario for Ontario’s first Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF). It’s an initiative copied from colleagues at Michigan State University Extension who hosted the first BOTF event in 2009. Since then, more than 40,500 children and adults have attended Breakfast on the Farm events throughout Michigan to learn about where their food comes from.

The host farm family is shown with Ministers John Milloy, Elizabeth Sandals and Premier Kathleen Wynne. The farmers include, from left, James Johnston; Mary Anne, Nadine and Joe Doré; Claire, Frances, Amanda and Graham Johnston.

The host farm family is shown with Ministers John Milloy, Elizabeth Sandals and Premier Kathleen Wynne. The farmers include, from left, James Johnston; Mary Anne, Nadine and Joe Doré; Claire, Frances, Amanda and Graham Johnston.

Ontario’s first event, organized by Farm & Food Care Ontario, and presented in partnership with Egg Farmers of Ontario and Foodland Ontario, was an overwhelming success. Also attended by the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, and several of her Queen’s Park colleagues, the day offered visitors the chance to see what happens on a working dairy farm.  The Johnston and Doré family, whose ancestors have been farming in Ontario for seven generations, provided complete access to their farm with visitors wandering through their barns, milking parlour, milk house and more. Continue reading

Breakfast on the Farm this Saturday, June 22

This coming weekend, on Saturday June 22, Farm & Food Care will host Ontario’s inaugural Breakfast on the Farm program. An estimated 1,700 complimentary tickets have already been reserved for the Taste-of-Ontario breakfast and dairy farm tour that will be held on the dairy farm of the Johnston and Doré families near New Dundee, in Waterloo Region.

Ontario’s event is based on the successful initiative of Michigan State University Extension which has hosted 25 such events since its first in 2009. Each event, held in a different part of the state, attracts thousands of urban visitors. We’re very appreciative of the advice and assistance we’ve received from the Michigan committee.BOTF colour

We’re also grateful to the program’s founding partners: Foodland Ontario and Egg Farmers of Ontario, and the more than 25 other commodity groups and agri businesses that are providing support.

The day will include the chance to eat a wonderful Ontario breakfast, meet cows and calves, chickens and pigs as well as check out farm equipment like tractors, feed and milk trucks and more. There’ll be lots of special exhibits and a few surprise guests.

Want a sneak peek of the farm on the tour? Watch this YouTube video to meet Graham Johnston, one of the farmers on this fifth generation family farm. In this video, he’ll explain how cows are milked on this farm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAWVXG-e2pI

There are still a few free tickets available for this event. You can reserve one by visiting http://www.farmfoodcare.org/about-us/breakfast-on-the-farm

Get with the plan – Canadian Agricultural Safety Week

by Kim Waalderbos

This week farmers are being reminded to ‘Get with the plan!’ – the farm safety plan, that is. It’s all part of Canadian Agricultural Safety Week, held this year from March 10-16th. The week kicks off with events held at farms across Canada.

The farm and food care industry is a key primary industry in Canada, and also one of the most dangerous. Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting (CAIR) shows that 1,975 farm-related deaths occurred between 1990 and 2008. Of those deaths, 47 per cent were farmer/owner operator, and 14 per cent were their children. CAIR also found 14,830 individuals were admitted to hospital because of agricultural injuries between 1990 and 2000 (the last years injury data was readily collected).

In a recent survey, the majority of Canadian farmers (85 per cent) say safety is a priority on their farm, but less than one in ten have a written agricultural safety plan on their farm or ranch. This week, the spotlight is on and farmers are being encouraged to use free resources like www.planfarmsafety.cato make their own customized, written, farm safety plan. With a plan, farmers can identify hazards on the farm, control them, outline emergency actions, conduct training and monitor incidents.

According to the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, machinery is involved in 70 per cent of farming fatalities in Canada, with rollovers (mainly tractors) being the top ranked cause of fatality. (Source of photo is unknown)

Continue reading