Family Egg farmers featured in 2016 farm calendar

By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

2010 calendar(Warkworth) – Ian and Sara Laver are not only proud parents and business owners; they’re also models – calendar models that is. With sponsorship from Burnbrae Farms Ltd., Ian, Sara and two of their children (four-year old Jacob and two year-old Amelia) appear on the month of April in the 2016 Faces of Farming calendar.

“My family has been farming for four generations, and producing eggs for three of those,” says Ian. “Right now I work together with my dad, but the businesses themselves are separate.”

Ian says he took an interest in farming fairly early in life, and after working on the farm all through high school, attended the University of Guelph. While working towards a degree with the Ontario Agricultural College, Ian met Sara – a self-proclaimed “city-kid” from Markham – who was pursuing a degree in Environmental Science. The two married after Sara completed a Master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Toronto.

Ian purchased his first farm eight years ago, and started growing corn soybeans and wheat. He then purchased a second farm. Continue reading

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Canadian Women in Ag

International Womens DayWe’re celebrating International Women’s Day 2016 with a nod to all the awesome women in Canadian agriculture.

Did You Know: The latest census from Statistics Canada reported more than 27 per cent of farmers are female. Women can be found in agriculture at every step from farm to fork!

Here are the stories of seven women in Canadian agriculture: Continue reading

Sustainably raising crops and cattle

By: Matt McIntosh

2010 calendar(Ripley) – Wanda Snobelen has had a stake in agriculture and the beef business ever since she bought her first Charolais cow at 12 years old. Since then she has significantly expanded her beef herd, and delved further into a diverse farm life.

The third-generation to be raised on her family’s Ripley-area beef farm, Wanda took her first foray into raising beef cattle as part of a 4-H beef club project. Now she helps harvest nearly 5,000 acres of farmland — and raises 120 Charolais cattle of her own – on her husband’s family farm in Ripley. She is also the new face for March in Farm & Food Care Ontario’s 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by DeKalb Canada.

“We moved to Ripley in 2000. My in-laws had a business in Tiverton that I worked at for a few years, but [my husband] Sam and I have farmed full-time ever since,” says Wanda. “When I moved, the beef cattle came with me.” Continue reading

Cattle-farming sisters featured in 2016 farm calendar

By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

2010 calendar

Sisters Patricia Taber, Jennifer Smith and Sylvia Megens

(Uxbridge) – Sisters Patricia Taber (30), Jennifer Smith (28) and Sylvia Megens (22) got involved with their local 4-H beef club when they were each 10 years old, and have been around big bovines ever since. Cattle are, indeed, a central part of their lives, and part of a common interest that keeps them together personally as well as professionally.

Together, the three sisters are the owners and operators of Megens’ Cattle Company; it’s a small farm business consisting of approximately 15 purebred Angus and Simmental cattle raised as replacement females, and for competition in livestock shows. With sponsorship from The Regional Municipality of Durham, the three sisters and one of their prize-winning Angus show steers grace the cover of the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. The sisters are also featured in the month of January.

“We started with just two animals and focused on commercial as well as show cattle,” says Jennifer. “We’ve had a lot of luck over the years.”

The three sisters compete in over 20 spring and autumn fairs across Ontario annually. They use the time competing in smaller events, though, to hone both their handling skills and the look of their animals for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, which is the largest agricultural event of the year. While many of their animals have performed very well at different times, Jennifer says the first Simmental cow ever purchased by her and her sisters has been particularly successful, winning many awards over the last four years. The steer on the front page of the calendar went on to win the prestigious Queen’s Guineas competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November of 2015, and was shown by Sylvia in the competition.

The 2016 Faces of Farming calendar's cover image also featured the sisters.

The 2016 Faces of Farming calendar’s cover image also featured the sisters.

Right now, Jennifer describes Megens’ Cattle Company as more of a “hobby farm” than a full-time business venture, though that is not to say they don’t plan on developing the business further. The business originated as a small livestock farm run by their parents John and Debbie. John had emigrated from the Netherlands as a young boy and eventually became a livestock drover – a profession he shared with Debbie. After settling down on a small farm and introducing the three sisters to 4-H, Patricia says their herd evolved from a handful of market animals to a mix of purebred Simmental and Angus replacement heifers – young female cattle that have not reproduced.

“Our herd is currently a mix of bought and bred cattle,” says Patricia. “We would like to develop our own breeding program so we can have control over everything in the herd.”

Small though it may be, Megens’ Cattle Company does take up quite a bit of the sisters’ time. However, that doesn’t stop them from working full time too. Sylvia is a recent graduate from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College, and currently works as a research associate for a company specializing in the research and production of turf grass and forage crops.

Patricia lives and works alongside her husband and his family on their beef feedlot farm, where they raise about 2,500 cattle at a time, and have 1,600 acres of cropland. She also works for Grober Nutrition – a livestock nutrition company – but is currently on maternity leave with Brooke, her infant daughter. Jennifer works as a large animal veterinarian with a mobile practice, and helps her husband on their strawberry farm in between visits.

According to Patricia, Jennifer’s veterinarian background – and her experience working on a number of other livestock farms – is a big asset to their entire family.

“She’s our resident health management professional,” says Patricia.

With cattle weaving such a strong theme through their lives, it’s perhaps no surprise that the three sisters’ hobbies also sport a bit of beef flavour. Sylvia, for instance, is part of Durham West Junior Farmer association, and is a volunteer club leader with her local 4-H group. She also sits on the provincial board for the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario, and, more generally, says showing beef cattle is the “passion” which takes up most of her year. Patricia and Jennifer, too, say showing and working with beef cattle is their favorite way to spend spare time.

There’s yet more to it for Jennifer, however. More specifically, she and her husband keep a small flock of sheep, and have been planning on converting about 30 acres into pasture for the animals. On top of that, Jennifer works with Patricia as a leader in the York-region 4-H beef club, and is part of her regional Ploughman’s Association where she helps run the annual “Queen of the Furrow” competition.

When asked why they farm, the sisters are also of one mind. Agriculture, they say, has allowed them to stay close despite busy lives, and enjoy many opportunities in the process.

“We’ve been fortunate that, even as we start our families we are still close; we still get to work together and it’s a great way to raise a family,” says Patricia.

The eleventh annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, 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. Copies can be ordered online at www.farmfoodcare.org.

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.

The Top 6 Roundup

We thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on The Real Dirt on Farming Blog in 2015. Here’s how they stacked up in popularity with you, our readers.

#6: Day in the Life – ‘Kidding-around’ with a goat farmer

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Anna, Mark and their children at their farm and butcher shop

Hi! My name is Anna Haupt and together with my husband and three young children, we run Teal’s Meats – a provincially licensed butcher shop on our farm in Haldimand County, on the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. I also raise a small herd of registered Boer goats on our farm, Springvalley Boer Goats. I enjoy showing, sell breeding stock to other producers and process our market animals for sale through our butcher shop. Our summers are extremely busy serving our butcher shop customers, so I like to kid out (giving birth) my does (female goats) in the winter months when I have a little more time to spend in the barn. Today on our farm…READ MORE Continue reading

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

Crop farmers showcase December in Faces of Farming calendar

By Resi Walt

Annette MacKellar Faces of Farming calendar page

Annette MacKellar Faces of Farming calendar page

(Alvinston) – When chatting to Annette MacKellar about her family and their farm, you can see her eyes shine with pride and happiness.

In 2015, Annette appears in the tenth anniversary edition of the Faces of Farming calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Her page is sponsored by SeCan and she is featured for the month of December.

Annette grew up on a crop farm and remembers, “I was always with my dad, working right by his side.” She then met her husband Dave in high school. Dave was raised on a century farm dating back to 1875 that his parents still call home today. Annette, Dave and their children all live within a few kilometres of this farm today.

After high school, Annette went to nursing school in Chatham, while Dave studied agriculture at Ridgetown College. Dave was already farming with his father when he and Annette were married in 1982. When asked if they ever considered pursuing different careers, Annette replied emphatically,

“We’ve just always wanted to farm and raise our family on the farm. There’s never been anything else.”

Today, Annette and her family have a crop farm and own a registered seed processing plant in Alvinston, Ontario. Annette and Dave farm with two of their three boys – Adam, the oldest, and Jacob, the youngest. Their third son Paul works off the farm. The crops grown on the MacKellar farm include soybeans, corn, wheat – and more recently – edamame beans. 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.

Bringing better beef to local buyers

By Matt McIntosh 

Brian Hyland (2)With the welfare of his animals and customer demands in mind, Brian Hyland, a beef farmer from Essex Ontario, has built a business around selling quality, home-grown beef directly to the consumer.

Brian owns and operates Father Wants Beef, a farm and marketing business where he raises 40 beef cattle and red veal (slightly younger beef cattle that go to market at 700 to 800 pounds, or about 300 pounds below regular market weight). Though not a large farm, Brian has found that there is a demand for meat straight from the farm, and he prides himself on filing that demand from his on-site shop and cold storage facility.

“The majority of our meat is sold by pre-order and custom cut, but we do have some people that stop in for individual steaks,” says Brian. “Most are appointment sales; I can get phone calls at all times of the day.” Continue reading