The greatest thing about farming is working with family

Lorna Callbeck

Jeff Mathieson is a fourth-generation farmer who runs the day to day operations of their grain farm near Watson, SK. During the busy times, like seeding and harvest, Jeff’s dad comes out of retirement to run the sprayer and drive the combine but they also hire some part-time employees to make sure everything gets done on time. They grow crops like barley, oats, canola, flax and pulse crops like peas and lentils.

Farming is much different than when Jeff’s parents and grandparents started out.

Jeff’s grandfather was considered a pretty large farmer back in the 1950s when he was farming 800 acres, which is just over 3 square kilometers of land. Today, many consider a large farm in Saskatchewan to be over 10,000 acres, which is just over 40 square kilometers. Jeff says at 2,600 acres, their farm is not massive, but it’s still a big change. “I try to imagine what my grandfather would think of the size of our equipment and the technology we’re using today and how we do things,” Jeff says. “I bet it would be amazing for him.”

Jeff goes onto explain that farms don’t get bigger just because farmers want to get bigger. It’s a matter of economies of scale and efficiency in order to maintain a family farm. “In Western Canada, based on the price the consumer is willing to pay for food and what my family is growing, farming isn’t economically sustainable on only 800 acres. We can’t purchase equipment, pay the mortgage on our land, or manage the costs of a grain farm that small these days; it is just not financially viable.”

He’s at that age where he’s having a lot of fun playing farmer” says Jeff of son Andrew

“To me there are two really great things about being a farmer.” Jeff says. “The first thing is that we grow food for people. Basically, we take all kinds of energy, add support from the equipment we purchase and the methods we use to grow the crop, and we turn that into a saleable product. To me, that’s pretty cool. There aren’t very many opportunities in the world to take the energy from the sun and the gifts of Mother Nature and help feed people. And we create a sustainable and renewable resource that we sell into the economy.”

“Our house and yard is in the middle of one of our fields and we grow a crop about 100 yards away from where we live. Everything that we do to produce the food that we sell to consumers is done outside our home. Where we live is the biggest testimony to the safety of the food that we produce because we are living right where the food is grown.”

The other great thing about being a farmer is the daily connection to family. “In central Saskatchewan, we have one planting season, one growing season and one harvest season,” Jeff explains. “While we put in many 15 to 18 hour days during those busy times of the year, I can spend more time with my family in the off-season and take part in activities like taking my 3-year-old son Andrew to the science centre or spending time at the lake with him and my wife Shawna.”

“Farming is my choice. I have a university degree and experience in other professions. I could be doing anything anywhere else and maybe earning a higher salary. In my mind, working for someone else wouldn’t give me or my family the same opportunities.” Jeff goes on to explain that the significance of having family on the farm is the ability to build something that can live on beyond oneself and be transferred to the next generation.

To keep their farm sustainable for future generations, one of Jeff and Shawna’s main goals is to leave the land better each year than it was the previous year. “Everything we do, every crop we plant or the fertilizer or pesticides we apply, we ask ourselves, is this going to make it better? If the answer is yes, it’s absolutely something we’re going to do. If it will hurt the quality of the soil or the environment around us, then we find a different way. As farmers, our job is to take care of the land so it will be there for the next generation.”

“Our house and yard is in the middle of one of our fields and we grow a crop about 100 yards away from where we live. Everything that we do to produce the food that we sell to consumers is done outside our home. Where we live is the biggest testimony to the safety of the food that we produce because we are living right where the food is grown. The Mathieson family farm follows and supports the rules set out for safe food production by commodity organizations and regulatory bodies to make sure that food produced is a safe product right from field to table.”

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

Day in the Life – of a Saskatchewan Grain Farmer

By Jean Clavelle Farm & Food Care SaskatchewanDayintheLife

I spoke to Trevor Scherman today from the tractor on his farm near Battleford in northwest Saskatchewan where he’s in the middle of seeding. See what he has to say about their family farm and being a grain farmer in Canada. Continue reading

Innovative school programs bring food and farming to Toronto students

By Lilian Schaer

Toronto’s South Riverdale neighbourhood – also known as Leslieville/Riverside – isn’t one usually associated with farming and food production.

School Grown tent at the farmer’s market

School Grown tent at the farmer’s market

However, Eastdale Collegiate, a small, inner city high school near Broadview and Gerrard, is changing that. An innovative approach combining a culinary program with a rooftop garden is teaching students where their food comes from, building life skills, and instilling healthy eating habits.

Students in the school’s culinary program prepare the food for the cafeteria, feeding between 30 and 60 people daily. Culinary instructor Jan Main says the students make from scratch a daily soup, quiche or pasta, salad and four types of sandwiches, as well as baking all the bread, biscuits, squares and sweets they use.

“The veggie wrap is now our most popular sandwich, which is great because many students didn’t know what this was when we first started serving it,” she says. “For many students, fast food and frozen food was all they knew, and now they’re eating salads and asking for things like pesto, which we make for pizza, pastas and appetizers.”

Not only does this emphasize healthy eating, she adds, but the program also gives students the opportunity to learn job skills, building their confidence. In addition to the school cafeteria, meals are also prepared for catered and community events, such as the Recipe for Change fundraiser in support of FoodShare Toronto’s Field to Table Schools program.

A perfect complement to the culinary program is Eastdale’s new School Grown Rooftop, a garden on the school’s roof established last year in a partnership between the Field to Table Schools program and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Continue reading

Celebrating soils

By Patrick Beaujot

Did you know:
• 95 per cent of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils
• A shortage of any one of the 15 nutrients required for plant growth can limit crop yields
• By 2050, food production must increase by 60 per cent globally and almost 100 per cent in developing countries
• 33 per cent of soil is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, and compaction
• It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of soil
• Sustainable soil management could produce up to 58 per cent more food
• Experts estimate that we only have 60 years of topsoil left

Source: United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization
The United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of the Soil. This is also National Soil Conversation Week so it’s fitting to consider what the soil and the earth provide.

Since 95% of our food comes from the soil, we should treat the soil with great respect.

To make sure our top soil is kept healthy and preserved for future generations, farmers have been changing their practices from using intensive tillage to conservation or no-till. Continue reading

Farmers: the original environmentalists

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day Love Copy

Soil or dirt? What’s the difference?

soil

Soil is a living environment and is ideal for growing crops.

Soil is a living environment and is ideal for growing crops.

Soil is alive; it contains small particles of sand and clay, decaying organic matter, earthworms, bacteria, insects and microorganisms.

Soil is a living environment and is ideal for growing crops. Dirt is basically dead soil, which can be revitalized by adding organic matter.

The texture and colour of the soil, how it looks, feels and even smells, depends on the amount of each component in the soil blend.

Sand – what you find on the beach
Clay – what you find at the bottom of a valley
Organic matter – decaying plants and earthworms, bacteria and other microorganisms
Loam – the perfect mixture of sand, clay, organic matter – ideal for growing crops.

Different types of soil? Really?

Farmers work with different soil types, depending on where they live. The type of soil found across Canada is directly dependent on glacier movement thousands of years ago. About 12,000 years ago, during ice age events, advancing glaciers slowly ground rocks into finer particles as they moved south. Then, centuries later, retreating glaciers deposited sand and gravel in a mixture with the soil they were travelling over. That, combined with the annual cycles of plant and animal growth and decay over millions of years, has built the soil in your region into what it is today.

(Farmer Profile:) Doug Chorney is a third-generation Manitoba fruit and vegetable farmer. His ancestors made a commitment to farming sustainably when they immigrated to Canada 100 years ago – and he plans on his descendants continuing that practice for at least another century. What’s his favourite part about farming? The smell of the soil! He explains, “For me it’s about living the great life that you can on a farm with fresh dirt and hard work….It’s the smell, the sound, the feeling you get when you’re out there. It’s very fulfilling.” Photo: Manitoba Canola Growers

Doug Chorney is a third-generation Manitoba fruit and vegetable farmer. His favourite part of farming is – the smell of the soil! 
Photo: Manitoba Canola Growers

What’s his favourite part about farming? The smell of the soil!

Soil by depth is broken into three groups: Topsoil (on the top) is rich in organic matter but lower in minerals. Subsoil, found below the topsoil layer has a higher clay and mineral content. Parent Material is made up of deeper rock, sand or clay with no organic content.

Scientists have created soil maps of Canada. On those, you’ll see local soil types like Brookstone Sand Loam or Staten peaty muck referencing types of soil found just in that area. The type of soil found on a farm will certainly influence a farmer’s crop choices and management systems.

Although you cannot change your basic soil type, there are many management techniques that can help maintain or improve soil structure.

Doug Chorney is a third-generation Manitoba fruit and vegetable farmer. His ancestors made a commitment to farming sustainably when they immigrated to Canada 100 years ago – and he plans on his descendants continuing that practice for at least another century.

What’s his favourite part about farming? The smell of the soil!

He explains, “For me it’s about living the great life that you can on a farm with fresh dirt and hard work….It’s the smell, the sound, the feeling you get when you’re out there. It’s very fulfilling.”

 

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

 

What does sustainable farming mean to you?

Jean L Clavelle

Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Free run barn

Free run barn

I was at a conference this week discussing agriculture and food production in Canada.  I must say it was a pretty exciting and motivational two days.  The first reason being that we had some progressive innovative farmers and industry people in the room.  They were excited to be there, they are passionate about farming, they want to keep improving, and they want to show Canadians what they do.  Not only that but they were asking what do consumers want from us?  The second reason is that there was some interesting, scratch that, fascinating discussion about how food is grown.

Historically debate about growing food has been a bit one dimensional.  By only looking at food safety perhaps we are neglecting to look at animal welfare.  By prioritizing environmental factors perhaps we are overlooking the affordability of food.  There was a theme running through the last few days where a more holistic approach to growing food seems to have taken root, that there is a social commitment on the part of all of us involved in agriculture and growing food to balance the five principles of sustainable food growth and farming.  These five principles include: Food Safety; Animal Health & Welfare; Environment; Economics and Food Affordability; and Health and Safety.

Continue reading

Greater and More-Visible Leadership on Sustainable Agriculture Needed from Farm Organizations

By Terry Daynard
November 2014

Two years ago I wrote a column describing how quickly major global food processors and retailers are moving to create global standards for purchases of ‘sustainably produced’ food ingredients. This change is occurring in direct response to demands from consumers and activist organizations. My column stated that farmers/farm groups need to seize more leadership in this process if they want these standards to reflect/include their own concepts, understanding and experiences for sustainable development – and not just those coming from corporate executives and pressure groups. Continue reading