By Kelly Daynard
The connection between turkey farming and riding motorcycles isn’t an obvious one for most people. But for the Vanderzanden family of St. Ann’s, Ontario, both are important parts of their lives.
The multi generation family of Harry, Paul, Steven and Evan are featured in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario and they’re the first fourth generation family to ever appear in the calendar’s pages in its eight year history.
The Vanderzandens got their start in Canada after Harry immigrated to Canada with his parents and siblings from Holland in 1951. His parents had lived through the German occupation of WW11 and the family was searching for a better life than the one they had in their homeland. “They figured we had a better opportunity to farm in Canada,” Harry recalled.
Starting first on his uncle’s farm, Harry, now 78, began raising chickens in 1958 and added turkeys ten years later.
Racing became part of Harry’s life almost by accident. Working part time in the evenings as a tow truck driver at the local race track, he helped tow a competitor one night that was having car problems. That driver mentioned to Harry in frustration that he’d be willing to sell the car – and the $35 transaction, soon after, made Harry a driver.
Caring for his birds by day, #74 (as he became known) raced late model, mini stock and modified stock cars by night, achieving enough successes that he was recently named to the Merrittville Speedway’s Wall of Fame. And he used one to promote the other, painting a turkey on the side of his race car and convincing the race track to raffle off turkeys as door prizes.
In 1980, Harry’s son Paul, a recent graduate of the University of Guelph’s Diploma program in Agriculture, came home to join his dad on the farm. Paul said that he was fairly certain, from the time that he was a young child that he was going to farm with his dad. Recalls Paul, “I was always the animal lover in our family. I was always the one bringing home the stray dog or cat.” That passion for animals has translated well into raising livestock. He really enjoys working with the turkeys and says that’s his favourite part of farming.
As a young child, Paul would often accompany his dad and brother to the race track but it wasn’t until 1983 that he got his first street bike. That, in addition to his hobbies of hunting and fishing, are how he spends his leisure time. Like his father before him, Paul also serves on the Board of Directors for Turkey Farmers of Ontario, the organization representing Ontario’s turkey farmers.
They say that history has a way of repeating itself and that’s certainly the case in the Vanderzanden family. The third generation of the family, Paul and Doreen’s son Steven, graduated from Kemptville Agricultural College in 2006. He worked off the farm for a couple of years before returning home to work alongside his father and grandfather. Married four years ago to his wife Krystle, the two are now proud parents to fourth generation Evan who, at the age of two, already enjoys trips to the barn with his dad.
Steven has had his motorcycle license since he was a teenager and now had followed in his grandfather’s footsteps racing mini-stock cars on the same track that his grandpa once raced on.
Harry’s proud to look back on his life since he came to Canada. He and his wife Nancy enjoy time spent with his five children and 16 grandchildren, all who live nearby. “It’s been nice to raise my family in farming too,” Harry says, “This is a great lifestyle.”