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.

Guest Blog: What a Dietetic Intern Learned at a Farm Conference

By Anna Van Osch, Dietetic Intern, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Last week, I had the privilege of attending Farm & Food Care Ontario’s Annual Conference and Speaker series. Like everyone else in the room, I was there to learn more about the state of our food system, how to sustain it and what can be done to ensure consumer trust in it. Unlike most people in the audience though, I am not a farmer and have no direct link to the agriculture sector. I am a dietetic intern, working to gain experience so I can write my exam to become a registered dietitian (RD). I usually spend my days in hospitals, with family health teams or other healthcare facilities, so being surrounded by food producers was a change of scenery.

Michael Von MassowDr. Michael von Massow (pictured), with the University of Guelph, quickly made me realize why I was there.

Whether a producer, consumer or somewhere in-between, we all make choices every day that impact our food system. As consumers we have started paying more attention to our food system and asking tougher questions about how the food on our plates is produced.

Interacting with patients (a.k.a. food consumers) on a daily basis I get asked questions like: What’s the difference between conventional, organic and grass fed dairy; what effect will GMO foods or steroids have on my kids; and, why should I buy local?

There is a knowledge gap that exists regarding how we think food is produced and how food is actually produced. Sitting in a room full of farmers whose livelihood depends on having the most up to date knowledge and intimate understanding of farming practises, it may be hard to fathom that millions of Canadians don’t truly understand how their dinner makes it from the field to their fork.

Neither party is at fault for the miscommunication, rather it is a misunderstanding borne of different experiences. Farmers are experts in their field and therefore while they are trying to detail the benefits of antibiotic use in their livestock, some consumers don’t even know what that chicken’s life on the farm actually looks like.  As von Massow said “we’re trying to have a nuanced discussion… we have to start with the basics.”

Be it social media, activist groups, or friends, being aware of where consumers are getting their information can help producers to effectively share their knowledge. Von Massow encouraged producers to look for opportunities to engage with consumers and build a positive relationship so consumers feel comfortable coming to the experts (farmers!) when they have questions. Rather than an “us” and “them” mentality, we have to look for opportunities to engage with the other and listen to their concerns. At this point, I wanted to tell everyone in the room to “talk with me!”

The food production questions RDs are asked every day show that consumers are looking for information about their food system. The danger of the knowledge gap is that even without all the information, consumers can still form opinions. RDs are already providing evidence-based information about the health effects of food. So why not make all our jobs easier by providing RDs with the correct information about farming practises, so we can confidently answer questions about how food production methods impact our health? As von Massow said “a conversation can’t be two monologues,” so let’s close that knowledge gap by opening up the conversation between consumers, producers, and RDs, too.

Buying local, seasonal will help extend shopping dollar

By Kelly Daynard

Throughout the winter, Canadian shoppers have discovered unusually high grocery store prices for fruits, vegetables and other products.

The prices come from a combination of a lower Canadian dollar and unusual weather patterns in the United States – the source of an estimated 80 per cent of produce imports into Canada. With the currency getting lower, the buying power of importers is affected and the prices are passed along to consumers. The effect is felt even more strongly at this time of the year because there aren’t many fresh foods available in Canada during winter months. According to University of Guelph’s annual Food Price Report, the cost of food rose 4.1 per cent in 2015 and will likely rise higher this coming year.

The price increases were reflected in 2016’s Food Freedom Day – which moved to February 9 this year from February 6 in 2015. Food Freedom Day, calculated by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), is the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay his/her grocery bill for the year.

There are things that can be done to further your dollar’s reach at Canadian grocery stores. Here are some tips: Continue reading

Day in the life of a dietitian: Common-sense consumption

By Matt McIntosh

MorethanFarmingWant to lose weight, ward off diseases, or avoid growing a third and rather grotesque limb? You’re in luck, because there are plenty of experts out there who would love to help you determine what specific food item is killing you.

The paleo-diet, extreme low-calorie diets, gluten-free choices, carbohydrate cycling, and many other ingestion regiments target specific food groups in an effort to – supposedly – improve your physical and mental longevity. For those not grappling with specific intolerances or food allergies though, such diets don’t necessarily work, and finding credible answers about food and its relation to your health can be a tough slog.

Fortunately, Canada’s 8000 registered dietitians are here to help cut the hogwash. It’s an important role to be sure, and one that Canada is celebrating today with National Dietitians Day.

Continue reading

Touring Ontario’s Hills of the Headwaters region

collage one Landman farmGuest blog by Carol Harrison, Registered Dietitian

Pigs. They are as cute as a button then smack, that Eau De Pig Cologne hits you. It’s a linger on your nostril hair smell that should do anything but conjure up fond childhood memories.

Here I was on a sunny day in May at Landman Gardens and Bakery in Grand Valley just one hour north of Toronto with a media tour in the Hills of the Headwaters region and I had completely forgotten until this stinky pig poop moment that an older cousin of mine once had a pig farm in this very region, Orangeville to be exact.

While others marched on towards the chicken coop tweeting away, I stood still, my mind miles and years away smelling the hay we played in, remembering how cool it was to see vegetables still on the plants, gorging from a table crowded blue and white Corningware casserole dishes while listening to the Irish brogue of my aunts and uncles tell stories.

chicken coop shot - headwatersOne smell and it all came back. And as corny as this sounds, the tourism campaign slogan, The Headwaters, where Ontario gets real, rang true. This was for me where I got real rural experiences as a kid and I had completely forgotten I had any connection to this part of the province.

If you have an on-farm market or agri-tourism business you likely offer people similar unexpected joyful experiences. It’s offering experiences that connect people to where and how their food is produced that drove 25 year old Rebecca Landman to start Landman Gardens and Bakery. She also wanted to be close to home to support her mom during cancer treatments. Continue reading

It’s Food Freedom Day

Food Freedom DayDid you know… that in Canada, we mark Food Freedom Day in early February?  This is the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay his or her individual grocery bill for the whole year.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has calculated that Food Freedom Day for this year falls on February 9, 2016.

Canadians enjoy one of the lowest-cost “food baskets” in the world, spending only about $0.10 of every dollar on food – compared to almost $0.25 in Mexico and approximately $0.31 in Russia [source].

Food choices abound Continue reading

Greenhouse technology could see Ontario strawberry farmers plug in for year-round production

By Lisa McLean for Farm & Food Care

strawberries(Thamesville) – Ontario strawberry farmers have a new way to grow strawberries, thanks to an innovative production method from a Southwestern Ontario nursery. The good news? If the system takes root, it could help lead to a year-round growing season for local Ontario strawberries.

Sandra Carther, owner of Thamesville-based Carther Plants began developing a new nursery system for strawberry plants in 2009. The system produces “plug plants” or plants that are grown in cell packs that are ready for transplant into the ground or a greenhouse.

Traditional strawberry nurseries produce “bare root” plants, which are grown outside. These plants are grown in the field and harvested in the fall, and then stored through the winter. Strawberry farmers in Ontario have traditionally planted dormant, frozen bare root plants each spring. Continue reading

Aylmer-area fruit and vegetable farmers as calendar models

By Resi Walt

2010 calendar(Aylmer) – The Howes are a multi-generational farming family who enjoy the time they get to spend together on the farm, growing fruits and vegetables for their farm market business.

Glenn and Monica, along with sons Ryan, Rick and Kevin, Ryan’s wife Jill and their children Emma and Cohen grow a large acreage of strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelons, squash, pumpkins and beans. They also grow vegetables.

The majority of the Howes’ produce is sold to a larger grocery store chain, which then supplies the broader Canadian market. About ten per cent of their crop is sold to the local market through the Howe Family Farm Market, which is open from June to November of each year.

In 2015, the Howe family appears in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their family’s entry was the winner in a contest launched to select one farm family to appear in the calendar. Their submission was chosen from almost 30 entries by a panel of judges and they participated in a photo shoot in August.

Ryan, Rick and Kevin are fifth generation farmers. Their great-great grandparents William and Esther arrived from England and settled in Elgin County, south of Alymer, Ontario. The Howe family continues to farm in the same area, and is growing many of the same crops as their ancestors.

Monica is proud of the food being grown on their farm, “I love promoting what we produce, because I believe in the wholesomeness of it. We’re lucky to live in southwestern Ontario and be able to produce such a bounty.”

The Howes all agree that farming together as a family is their favourite aspect of life on the farm. They run their business as a team, with each person utilizing their skills to contribute to the overall success of the farm.

Ryan manages the farm’s sales and incoming orders, and can also often be found repairing machinery. Kevin handles the greenhouse, and does research and development work to keep the farm innovative and moving forward. Rick works as an agriculture consultant off farm and helps in the family business when he can. His expertise is in providing information about fertilizer, crop protection and soil inputs.

Glenn, the patriarch of the family, is the voice of experience and reason, his kids say. He guides the farm in the right direction and helps to keep things in perspective for the family. Monica, a natural organizer, is in charge of the farm market. Jill works off the farm as a physiotherapist but helps when needed too. While the family’s sixth generation, Emma and Cohen, are too young to help yet, they love spending time with their parents, uncles and grandparents on the farm.

The family is very involved in the community. Kevin is a director on the Ontario Berry Growers’ Association, replacing Ryan who had previously served on the association. Rick and Kevin both serve on the board for the Elgin Federation of Agriculture. Monica, a retired teacher, volunteers at a local school and involves the students in growing and harvesting a school garden. The Howe family’s commitment to their community also shows through donations of produce to churches, school, sport groups, service clubs, food banks and nursing homes.

The family’s received several awards in recognition of their sustainable and environmentally responsible farming practices. In 2005, they were presented with a Conservation Award from the Catfish Creek Conservation Authority for being the first farmers in the area to use drip-tape irrigation to conserve water.

A few years ago, Ryan tried a no-till approach to growing pumpkins. This innovation resulted in reduced labour costs for weeding, less herbicide use, and better soil health due to decreased erosion. For his efforts, he was presented with the prestigious Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovations Excellence in 2013.

The farm has also become known for hosting nature tours. Nature walks include a tour of Glenn’s bird sanctuary. Glenn, a passionate aviculturist (or birder), has raised many species of birds from all over the world. Sometimes birds are brought to him for special care because they are endangered in their native countries.

The Howes have a lot to be proud of – their farm’s history, their team work, their community involvement and environmental stewardship – and the fact that they’re doing it all as a family.

The tenth annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, featuring the theme of Home Grown and Hand Made, 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. A list of retailers selling the calendar is also located on that website.

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

Broccoli grower and race car driver is face of “November” in 2015 Faces of Farming Calendar

By Resi Walt

Kenny Forth’s Faces of Farming calendar page

Kenny Forth’s Faces of Farming calendar page

What does a broccoli farmer do in his spare time? He races cars of course!

Kenny Forth is a fourth-generation vegetable farmer near Lynden, Ontario. Kenny takes pride in knowing that all of his produce is staying in Ontario and feeding people locally.

And, when he’s not working on his farm, he is recognizable as #86 when he is driving his race car at Flamboro Speedway near Hamilton.

In 2015, he appears in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. His page is sponsored by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association and he is featured for the month of November. An insert photo in the calendar features a four generation image of Kenny, his dad Ken, grandpa Elgin, son Riley and step brother Matthew. With the exception of Riley who is yet too young to help, the rest are all active in the family farm.

Kenny’s ancestors have a long history in the area. The family farm was once located in Waterdown with them making a move to Lynden in the mid 1970’s due to changing industry conditions. Kenny’s grandfather Elgin recalls that time in the farm’s history. “It was a big decision,” Elgin recollects.

Elgin describes the family farm as being “evolutionary”. While the family has been growing vegetables for decades, the types of vegetables have changed over the years. The family grew field tomatoes and cucumbers for 90 years. At one point, they’ve grown cabbage, cauliflower, strawberries and raised livestock.

About ten years ago, the family decided to focus their business on broccoli and now farm 200 acres of the crop as well as a crop of lettuce in the spring. Broccoli harvest starts in late June and continues until mid November each year. The broccoli plant allows for one cutting, per plant.

On average, Forthdale Farms produces and ships 1,000 cases of broccoli every day during harvest, selling the broccoli to a wholesale company in both bunches and crowns. The fresh broccoli is then sold to grocery stores throughout Ontario.

Summer’s a busy season on the farm and a good team of employees is crucial to getting the crop harvested in time. Helping Kenny and Ken on the farm are 16 seasonal workers who come to the farm from Jamaica each year. Many of them have been coming to the Forth farm annually for decades, returning home to their families in the fall.

Kenny has a need for speed. He loves that aspect of racing – getting up to 140 km/h in close door-to-door racing. Kenny loves the racing community, spending every weekend of the summer at the Flamboro race track.

Kenny started racing when he was twelve years old – first with go karts in Hamilton at a local club. In 1996 he began racing formula 1600 cars. In 1998, he went to full-body stock cars, racing on oval tracks all over Canada in the CASCAR league. Since 2000, Kenny has been racing cars of the late model series, and twice he has won the Flamboro Memorial Cup. Kenny is also proud to have once won the Grisdale Triple Crown Series. The race track is also where he met his wife Marsha. The two are now proud parents to their year-old son Riley.

Racing is truly a family affair. Kenny’s father Ken acts as a spotter while he’s racing, letting Kenny know what is going on with the other drivers around him.

Kenny’s life is made busier through his volunteer work as an OPP Brant County Auxiliary Office, a role he’s served in since 2012. As an auxiliary officer, Kenny volunteers his time to help with community policing initiatives and projects. That can include working at large community events to help with crowd and traffic control, offering assistance at crime or disaster scenes or traffic accidents, or accompanying regular officers on patrol.

Although his schedule is a busy one, Kenny enjoys the lifestyle that being a broccoli farmer allows for.

He has the freedom to set his own schedule, and time to spend on activities outside the farm, such as racing and enjoying time with his young family.

To see an interview with Ken and his family, check out this YouTube video.

The tenth annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, featuring the theme of Home Grown and Hand Made, 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. A list of retailers selling the calendar is also located on that website.