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.

More than a hobby

By Resi Walt

More than just a hobbyI first joined a 4-H club when I was 10 years old. My brothers had encouraged me to try it and even though I was nervous at first, it was the best decision I could have made.

The 4-H program started in the United States in 1901, when one gentleman offered a group of local boys a bag of corn seed and challenged them to grow it and show it at their State Fair. And so the concept of a youth-focused program in agriculture began. The concept spread north, with the first Canadian 4-H club beginning in Manitoba in 1913.

Today, 4-H Canada is one of the most highly respected youth organizations in Canada, with 25,000 members and over 7,000 volunteers.

When you sign up for 4-H, you can join any of the clubs offered by your local organization. There all kinds of different clubs revolving around agriculture, food or the environment, as well as clubs with non-agriculture topics. For example, you could join a club to learn about beef cows, goats, woodworking, outdoor living or plowing.

Fundamental to the 4-H organization is the motto, “Learn To Do By Doing”. Every club you join will be based upon hands-on learning. That’s the beauty of 4-H. Continue reading

Now and Then – Beef ranching in Saskatchewan

By Tara Davidson

My family and I run a beef cow-calf ranch in southwestern Saskatchewan, raising cows with their calves. The things that I love about ranching are too numerous of course to list! I love working alongside my husband, our three children, and other family members. I like the challenges that come with raising cattle, and I enjoy working in nature daily.

An interesting thing about our ranch is that we try to implement new technologies in several capacities. Yet in many ways, we still run our cow herd the way ranchers did decades ago.

Figure 1 The author’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

Tara’s husband on horseback, gathering their cattle in the fall with the help of one of their trusty cattle dogs.

One “old school” method that still applies to our ranch today is the use of horses to check our cattle, to move cattle from one pasture to another, and to treat sick animals. Our cattle graze in large, remote fields with rugged topography that isn’t always accessible by vehicle. Using horses allows us to get cattle where we need them to go in a quiet, albeit old-fashioned, way.

Cattle respond to our movements on horseback a bit differently than when we approach them on foot or with a vehicle. As they say, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and moving cattle is no different. We try to use our presence on horseback in relation to a cow’s “flight zone,” causing them to move in the direction we need them to go simply by moving ourselves (or our dog). It’s a subtle, yet effective way to achieve results. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to work as a team and have a horse’s additional set of eyes and another brain than solely relying on your own! Continue reading

Farming’s the second career for Six Nations innovator

By Lilian Schaer for Farm & Food Care

(Ohsweken) – Barry Hill calls farming his second life. After all, it was only meant to be a stress reliever from his work as an engineer.

Barry Hill stands in front of one of his corn fields in the fall of 2014

Barry Hill stands in front of one of his corn fields in the fall of 2014

What started with a small garden beside a cabin on the Six Nations Reserve near Ohsweken, Ontario and the region’s first soybean crop in the late 1970s eventually evolved into a 2,600 acre farming business growing corn, wheat and soybeans.

“I was told never to be a farmer, so I went off to be an engineer, but you can’t get farming out of the boy,” he chuckles. “I bought the cabin here instead of a cottage in Muskoka and started gardening. I won a vegetable prize that year, but also realized I can grow 40 acres of wheat in the time it takes me to garden.”

And so began, on the home farm where his dad farmed after World War II, Barry Hill’s second career as a farmer and innovator, farm leader and community champion, and advocate for Ontario’s native farmers.

In addition to his three main crops, Hill is always keen to try something new – he successfully no-tilled alfalfa into bean stubble and sold hay for a few years, planted organic soybeans and spelt. Continue reading

World Food Day

Today is a day to celebrate food, and to remind ourselves of the struggles some people have to find adequate food.  World Food Day was first established in 1945, and has been celebrated annually since 1981 on October 16.

With 2014 being the International Year of Family Farming, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has chosen “Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth” as the theme for World Food Day 2014.

In Canada, 98 per cent of farms are family-owned and operated.

Thank you to the FAO for putting together this infographic for World Food Day. You can find the original post here, as well as more information about World Food Day and the International Year of Family Farming.



The magic of the county fair

By Resi Walt

The sights, sounds and smells of the county fair are unlike anything else. The silhouette of the Ferris wheel can be seen a mile away. The intoxicating smell of cotton candy, taffy, and French fries are a weakness for most. And of course, there are the calls from the carneys taunting you to play their game and possibly win a prize.

Going to the county fair brings out everyone’s inner child. It’s the fun of going on rides that make your stomach drop, eating too many sugary sweets, and running into friends that you don’t get to see very often. Continue reading

Family business started with apples, pies and a little red wagon

Grandma (Grace) Lambe is shown with son Dave, daughter Darlene Smith, grandson Blake and great granddaughter Heather Smith - along with one of the apple pies that she's known for.

By Kelly Daynard, Farm & Food Care Ontario

(Meaford) According to the Lambe family of Meaford, their story begins with an apple orchard, a well-used pie recipe and a little red wagon.

In the 1940’s, dairy farmers Mabel and Hartley Lambe were among the first farmers in Grey County to plant apple trees on their property just east of town.  Once their trees began to produce, they started selling apples out of a garage at the front of their house.

In 1947, Gord brought his young bride, Grace, home to a second house on the family farm – a home she continues to live in today. Grace and Gord continued to build up the family’s fledgling apple business, adding other types of fruit trees, like pear and cherry, to the orchard.

As Gord and Grace’s three children grew up, Barbara, David and Darlene were expected to help with the family business. Dave recalls that as a kid, their garage was always full of bushel baskets of apples. He also remembers harvest season as being a real community event, where farm neighbours would often drop by to help pick after they finished their own chores. Continue reading

Caring for the environment and their fish in Northern Ontario

By Patricia Grotenhuis

The outdoors play a key role in the lives of members of the Glofcheskie family of Northern Ontario.  Both their career and their hobbies  depend on a healthy natural environment.

The family owns a rainbow trout fish farm on Great Lacloche Island, on the North Channel of Lake Huron. Dan and Arlene, both originally from Waterloo Region, moved to the North in 1986 and are happy to be raising their daughters, Adriana and Marissa, there.

The Glofcheskie family of Northern Ontario at their fish farm

 In 2013, they’re featured in the Faces of Farming Calendar published by Farm & Food Care Ontario.  This is the first time that a fish farmer has ever been profiled in the calendar’s eight year history. Their page is sponsored by their company North Wind Fisheries Ltd. and the Northern Ontario Aquaculture Association.

Continue reading

Keeping on their toes

by Kim Waalderbos

The winter season may keep farmers from tending their land – but it doesn’t keep them from learning and planning. For farmers, winter is prime season for catching up on reading, going over machinery, and attending meetings and shows. By the time the snow starts flying most farmers will have piled high a stack of farm newspapers and magazines to catch up on.

Farm magazines waiting for winter reading time

While it’s not the latest home decorating colours or unveiling the five pieces of clothing every wardrobe should have, these magazines are filled cover-to-cover with the latest information on new seed types, machinery, cropping techniques and technologies. It’s the farmer equivalent for what the tips and trends will be for the coming year. Continue reading

Canadians reach Food Freedom Day on February 14

Guest Blog by Debra Pretty-Straathof, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

When Canadians celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14 this year, farmers will mark a second national milestone: Food Freedom Day. By February 14, 2013, the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay their grocery bill for the entire year.

The date – calculated by Statistics Canada – is estimated using 2012 data that suggests during 2012 Canadians spent 12.3% of their disposable income on food, beverages and tobacco. In 2012, disposable income per capita is expected to be approximately $29,609. Expenditures of food, beverages and tobacco were approximately $3,662. Continue reading