BY JESS CAMPBELL
While there are many farms across Canada that are multi-generational, there are less that have a farm lineage creeping up to double digits. Justin Williams of Wilhome Farms in Bloomfield, ON, happens to be of the latter description.
“Our farm has been in the family since 1814 and I’m the 8th generation farming this land. My parents, Don and Anne, own the farm that I work on with my younger sister, Brittany. Wilhome Farms milks 70 cows in a tie stall, with around 400 acres both owned and rented. Crops include hay, corn, wheat and Identity Preserved (IP) soybeans.”
While Justin’s ancestors may have farmed the land to provide for themselves and their community, farmers today must have a head for business in order to succeed. In the 21st century, farming is truly an entrepreneurial pursuit, something that Justin has taken to heart, having started his own maple syrup business alongside being part of the family farm. “I own and operate Justin’s Maple Syrup which produces high quality maple syrup and maple products. In a forest located on the family farm, I tap around 500 trees using modern equipment.”
While his days are certainly busy, Justin is thoroughly content in his chosen profession, happy that it provides an opportunity to do some good in the world. “Things I love most about farming are the ability to work outside and with animals. It’s important to protect the environment we live in and I’m honoured to play a part in that, and in producing food for people.”
For Justin, the future of farming is exciting – and the current reality is pretty cool, too. “We have a robotic feed pusher that goes around the barn every hour, pushing in the feed to the cows, ensuring they always have feed in front of them which makes them happy. Modern technology is a great way to reduce stress and the physical demand on farmers so they can be more productive and work smarter. I believe in the next five to ten years, there will be huge advancements in the agriculture industry both in cropping and animal agriculture. I’m excited to see what’s to come.”
Farming and agriculture aren’t without challenges, something Justin – and all farmers – constantly need to manage. From Justin’s perspective, managing consumer expectations is an important job to be taken seriously. “People (can) have different ideologies than those in agriculture, and other consumers; those people can sometimes overshadow all the positives of agriculture. Some believe we are trying to poison them with the products we use on our crops and animals when, in reality, we use them to help preserve the environment and provide the best, most comfortable life for the animals. (As farmers) it’s important to keep sharing the positive message of agriculture and continue to debunk myths while talking to the consumers who are genuinely interested in knowing more. Using resources from associations such as Farm and Food Care and The Centre for Food Integrity are great places to start.”
As for consumers, Justin recommends that questions and curiosities be fulfilled from the horse’s mouth. “It’s important for consumers to trust farmers because we are also consumers. If you’re sick, you go to the doctor. If you need money, you go to a lending institution. If you have questions about farming, you should talk to a farmer.”
“I believe in the next five to ten years, there will be huge advancements in the agriculture industry both in cropping and animal agriculture. I’m excited to see what’s to come.”
BY JESS CAMPBELL
There are hardly any places left in Canada where you’ll find a farmer clear-cutting trees to build an agricultural landbase.
But Chris Oram of Wooddale, Newfoundland, happens to be one of those farmers. “We got probably another 100 acres we can clear,” says Chris. “We try to get five acres into production every year. You pick away at it and it’ll come.”
Along with his wife, Kayla, and his parents, Richard and Arlene, Chris operates Mark’s Market, a 56-acre fruit and vegetable farm. The thing about being a fruit and vegetable farmer in Newfoundland – or The Rock as many call it – is that soil suited to growing fruits and vegetables isn’t very easy to find. So on top of clear-cutting new acreage each year, Chris also needs to tend to the soil and prepare it for growing fruits and vegetables, which takes a lot of time, patience – and money. (No pressure, by the way.)
“In Newfoundland, we do rough clearing enhancement. The government gives us a subsidy, $1500 per acre rough clear. Then the following year when you have gotten the soil pH up a bit, they’ll give you another $1500 per acre. So, they’re giving you $3000 per acre to get it into production. It’ll cost you more than that, likely five or six thousand dollars an acre. But, it helps. We’ve managed to buy an excavator and keep it running to clear the big trees off of the land; every spare minute we have, we run it. It’s a work in progress.”
A big part of preparing newly cleared land is the most back-breaking work one could imagine yet it vital to improving the soil. “There’s a hill right close to our market and I literally spent seven days picking rocks on it to get it ready for potatoes this year. The more rocks you can get out, the better, obviously!”
Planting crops on newly cleared land isn’t as easy as one might think. “There are only some crops that’ll do well in new ground,” says Chris. “The first year that you clear it, you can get away with planting turnips – everywhere in Newfoundland, we call them turnips, not rutabagas! (laughs) You could maybe (plant) some table beets for pickling. But you’ve really gotta be on top of your fertilizers to get a decent crop out of it.”
Mark’s Market happens to be the only fresh market within an hour radius of Chris’s farm. Some customers come from two hours away to purchase fresh, in-season produce that isn’t always available elsewhere. For Chris and his family, having the flexibility to grow what’s in demand is part of what makes their farm business worth the hard work. “We’ve gotten into strawberries now, as a u-pick. It’s got our season extended on the front end for probably four weeks earlier than usual. So, we can push out lettuce and peas and green leafy stuff and sell all that with the strawberries.”
The farm grows what Chris calls Newfoundland’s “traditional vegetables” of potatoes, carrots, cabbage and turnip plus several other crops like apples and plums. Although selling to wholesalers may have once been a goal, Chris says they’d much rather make their living selling directly to their customers. “We grow everything from A to Z. Everything we can physically grow, we are! We’ve got secondary processing with jam, pickled beets, carrots and all these other add-ons like peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower – a customer will spend a bit more. It all draws people down to the farm. We set our own prices and offer a fresh, quality product.”
Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisoram11
“We grow everything from A to Z. Everything we can physically grow, we are!”
Ann & Cody Legge
Blomidon, Nova Scotia
BY JESS CAMPBELL
What do flower farming, raising cow-calf pairs, milking cows, running a feedlot, working as a veterinary technician and growing grain crops have in common?
If you’re not sure, you’d better ask Ann Legge of Blomidon, Nova Scotia. Between she and her husband, Cody, that list of work is how they make their living.
“I work full time at Patterson Farms Limited, a local dairy farm milking 50 cows,” says Ann. “I also run my own farm, Petal & Bay Flower Farm, growing cut flowers for wholesale or to order. Cody works full time at K.B. Kinsman & Sons Limited, a local feedlot, raising 400-500 feeders and also runs his own farm, Cody Legge Farms, growing hay and grain crops. And together, we help on Cody’s family farm, Legge Farms, raising 40 cow-calf pairs. And on Saturday mornings, I work as a Veterinary Technician at Glooscap Veterinary Clinic.”
If you think that sounds like a ton of work, you’re correct. But these newlyweds – married in October 2018 – wouldn’t have it any other way. “We both love keeping busy and especially the variety that comes with farming. Every day is the same but different. We work in acres, not hours!”
Cody is a third-generation beef farmer so farming is not only their livelihood but their lifestyle. Ann admits that farming isn’t always easy – but it isn’t something they’d ever give up on. “There can be really long days. But (we’re) thankful for rainy days when we can catch up on house chores or get in the shop, fixing things. At the end of the day, as we wipe the sweat – or tears – from our faces and watch a sick cow get better, a tiny seed grow into a quality product after so much work… to fail some days but be able to get back up the next morning and try again with determination makes it all worth it and we wouldn’t change it for anything!”
Ann and Cody’s farm is right on the Minas Basin of Nova Scotia. The Basin “plays an integral part in agriculture in the area” adding a unique soil mixture, temperature and weather fluctuations. Plus, the tides rise between 46 and 52 feet every day! Their opportunity to farm within such an extraordinary location isn’t lost on Ann or Cody yet their community and the many partnerships they have which help them do what they do is equally important to them. “We are grateful for all our fellow farmers, nutritionists, veterinarians, supporters and consumers for helping us along the way, and encouraging us to grow with experience and knowledge to be the best we can! In fact, we don’t really consider this a ‘job’ – it’s simply how we have chosen to spend our lives.”
Being members of the Canadian Young Farmers Forum is another meaningful opportunity for Ann and Cody. “It has allowed us to meet so many farmers and members of the agriculture industry with so much knowledge and experience to share, allowing us to grow and innovate. It’s so helpful to have a whole support group alongside us!”
Having so many things to accomplish in a day may seem overwhelming to some. But to Ann and Cody Legge, it’s about building a beautiful legacy.