Family, farming, flax and food

Meet Nancy Johns, who, with her husband Jason, own and operate Zelma Acres in central Saskatchewan. This fifth-generation family farm of about 5,600 acres is a Century Family Farm. Retired father-in-law Lloyd is their right-hand man during the busy seasons. The Johns family grows flax, barley, wheat, peas, lentils and canola on their farm.

Nancy Johns in the cab of her combine.

Nancy is the owner, operator of her own business called Hope Floats Agronomy Services. “I’m an independent agronomist, working with local farmers and also with the Saskatchewan Alfalfa Seed Producers association. I travel across the province 3 to 4 times per year and help troubleshoot alfalfa grass production for farmers,” Nancy explains.

 

Nancy describes a typical day during harvest:

“This morning I left the farm at 5:30 AM and drove to Parkside, 215 km from home, to look at an alfalfa field. Then I drove straight home because we hope to start harvesting today,” says Nancy. “Right now, my combine is idling and my husband is testing the seed to see if it is ready to harvest. I am responsible for pretty close to half the combining on our farm.”

Ben Johns

Nancy and Jason have a 10-year-old son, two grown boys and two grandkids. “My ten-year-old son Ben is my combine buddy and has been since he was in a car seat,” she reflects. “I love being able to farm with my family.”

Not only is Nancy a busy working mom, farmer and entrepreneur, but she is also the treasurer of the local KidSport organization, and a member of the Parent Council at Ben’s school.

In addition, Nancy is on the Board of Directors for the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, and dedicates her time and talents to leading the flax industry.

Flax has many different uses.

“Flax is referred to as the ocean of the prairies because the flowers are blue. When you drive up to a field, it kind of looks like you’re arriving at the ocean,” Nancy says.

Flax has many different uses. The seed is ground for its oil which is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids and it is used in nutritional supplements, body and makeup products.

“There is considerable research being done on using flax for cancer treatments and to lower both high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” she explains. “Flax is very nutritious for us to eat. You need very little of it and it can really change your health.”

It’s something Nancy knows from personal experience. “Our family eats flax all the time. We take it from our bin and grind it in a coffee grinder. We use our home-grown flax in pancakes, stir it into orange juice, pizza crusts, buns and muffins—just about anything you can put flour or butter in. It can also be an egg substitute for those who have egg allergies.”

Nancy is clearly passionate about the food her family grows and the reason the Johns family has farmed for over a century. “We care so much about what we produce, and about having safe, nutritious food for us and for our consumers. We care about the health of our land. We care about leaving a legacy for our own kids, and for future generations.”

Meet ‘Agriculture Today’ blogger and farmer Angela Jones

Angela Jones and her husband Michael operate their farm in North East Saskatchewan. They grow cereal, oilseed, pulse crops and raise bison with the help of Michael’s cousin.

They currently have one other employee and their boys who are 11 and 14, put in shifts when they can. Michael oversees all parts of the operation and handles the marketing, while Angela handles the finances. During seeding and at harvest time though, everyone pitches in! Whether it’s operating equipment, washing windows, fuelling up machinery, running for parts or any other job that needs to be done, everyone participates. Truly, a family business.

Angela began blogging in 2014 after trying to explain farming practices to a young university student. “It was at that moment when I realized farmers were fighting an uphill battle to help consumers understand the challenges facing food production. When blogging it is sometimes difficult to find a narrative that appeals to both consumers and people involved in food production. My goal is to connect with consumers and to be transparent about the parts of agriculture that I have experience with, while hopefully learning from and supporting people in other areas of agriculture.”

RealDirt: How has farming changed since you started farming?

Angela: The changes in farming are too numerous to list! Technology in every area of agriculture adapts and adjusts so rapidly that it is a full time job to keep on top if it all. I think this is why I love farming so much, it never lets you get bored and there is no monotony (well, unless you are picking stones – that’s pretty monotonous). My kids constantly bug me and Michael about the amount of time we spend ‘playing games’ on our phones when in reality I am reading up on the newest studies and advances in crop breeding or pesticides and he is keeping up on the latest marketing news or equipment technology.

RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?

Angela: My husband and I do a lot of volunteering. He sits on the local minor sports board and works with a local group of farmers on an annual crop fundraising project called Farmers and Friends, I help out with the local 4H Grain Club, and we both recently sat on a Cameco Hockey Day Committee that raised over $100,000 for our local recreation centre. We keep busy in the winter with our youngest son’s hockey team. Our oldest son enjoys outdoor activities, so we try to find time to camp or fish when we can.

RealDirt: What has been the most challenging part of farming?

Angela: I have been asked this question before and my answer was the financial uncertainty that comes with farming. There is no doubt that it is tough to put your heart & soul and all your time into something without a guaranteed pay cheque – we cannot set the prices of the product we sell and Mother Nature or government regulation can make things tough. BUT recently I have reflected on this answer and decided that the increase in misinformation about agriculture through social media is by far the hardest part. Time after time I see blog posts & web pages promoting false information about food production in order to sell consumers something, film producers exaggerating claims about agriculture in order to make a documentary more dramatic, or activists sharing untrue messages in order to push an agenda. The question on how to get the truth to consumers often keeps me up at night.  

RealDirt: What is one message you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do? 

Angela: I think the most important message to convey to people not involved in agriculture is just how much we care about what we do. The profession of farming is one based on pride and a deep sense of responsibility and we do not take management decisions lightly, whether that is using hormones, antibiotics, fertilizer or pesticides. So I guess the message I really want to get across is that farmers care. We care about our animals, we care about the soil, we care about the product we sell, we care about our customers, and we care about the environment. We care about those things a lot.  

 

You can connect with Angela on her blog, Instagram, Twitter (@AGtodayblog) or Facebook.

Cold snap leaves marshmallow growers feeling frosty

By: Farm & Food Care staff

MarshnewCanadians planning on camping with family and friends may feel a little less jovial this summer as late-spring cold has devastated much of the country’s marshmallow crop.

For the first time on record, it looks like frost and freezing rain will cause everyone’s favorite fluffy confectionary to jump significantly in price, and drop in availability.

“2012 was a devastating year for fruit growers, and this year we have that level of damage on our crop,” says Robyn Smore, a marshmallow farmer near Erieau Ontario who specializes in producing large white marshmallows for the retail market.

“We have almost two-hundred acres planted with marshmallows […] there’s damage to well over three-quarters of that.”

The marshmallow plant – formally known as the perennial Althaea Unofficinalis – has been used as both a medicine and foodstuff for thousands of years, and varieties of the plant exist in many areas across the globe. In Ontario, most marshmallow varieties originate from Scipio Africanus, or varieties native to Northern Africa, largely due to its sweet taste and high plant productivity. While these varieties can handle cold weather if temperatures transition slowly, they are not suited to sudden climactic changes. Buds and flowers are particularly vulnerable, and will not produce harvestable marshmallows if damaged.

This year, a spurt of warm weather early in March saw many Canadian marshmallow growers reporting earlier-than-expected budding; some farms even reported seeing plants in full bloom. Last week’s hail storms, freezing rain and heavy morning frost caused significant damage to farms across Canada with the impact of harsh March conditions was felt as far east as Prince Edward Island.

“We’re going to have to change our plans and basically cancel our early harvest altogether,” says Smore. “It just looks bad all around.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the marshmallow plant’s plight either. The unseasonably warm winter experienced by growers south of the border has also led to resurgence in Mallow Beetle populations – a pest which burrows into and consumes the sugar-laden buds of miniature-marshmallow plants – meaning an even wider shortage in the coming year.

Smore believes the loss of prime production areas in Canada and the United States will raise the retail price of marshmallows across North America, perhaps as much as 30 or 40 per cent.
Still, Smore says she is hopeful that they will be able to recover their losses next year.

“There’s always a sticky year between a few good ones. We just hope not to get burned the next time,” she says.

As for the rest of us, now may be an appropriate time to replenish summer stocks. Not having any on hand during the annual family camp-out would certainly be playing the fool. Read more

Updated: Cold snap leaves marshmallow growers feeling frosty

Marsh jkHappy April Fool’s Day!

Farmers definitely don’t grow marshmallows on bushes. Today’s sugary treats are made from a mixture of sugars, egg whites and gelatin beaten together. Although they used to be made of ingredients from marshmallow plant roots and there are accounts of ancient Egyptians making candies from marshmallow root and honey.

Now you know.

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out www.realdirtonfarming.ca

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

Genetically Modified “Lite” – the case of the Arctic apple

By: Matt McIntosh 

Neal Carter picking an Arctic apple.

Arctic apples, the (relatively) new varieties of apples that resists browning when cut, are considered genetically modified organisms, or GMOs for short.

According to one of its main creators, there’s a lot to be excited about in the new type of fruit.

Neal Carter is president and founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., the British-Columbia based company behind the Arctic apple. Why Carter and his team – including his wife Louisa – created the Arctic apple has to do primarily with taste and longevity, or food waste more specifically. Food waste is a big issue, he says, and creating a product that stays crisper and tastes better for longer would be beneficial to the consumer. That goes for apples on the grocery shelf as well as those sliced and packed for more on-the-go type consumption.

The apple was developed by switching off genes already present in the fruit rather than introducing new genes altogether to introduce a novel trait, which is the case in many GMO crops. “Essentially we are using apple genes to change other apple genes,” says Carter. 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

Fact or Fiction: You can save 1,300 gallons of water by skipping your lunch burger

FactFictonThere’s an infographic floating around on social media. Perhaps you’ve seen it.

It claims you can save 1,300 gallons of water if you:
– don’t flush your toilet for six months, OR
– don’t take a shower for three months, OR
– for lunch today, don’t eat one burger.

Turns out, this is FICTION.

Let’s look at how the cow (behind that burger) really measures up.

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