The New Face of Farming In Waterloo Region.

Barries farm

At Barries asparagus farm with Mr. Barrie and some of his products

A few posts ago, I discussed my reading of the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” Not wanting to be one of those “city folks with a garden” who get all their agriculture info from books, I jumped at the chance this year to take the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture’s farm tour.

First of all, don’t mention “Factory Farms” in a bus full of farmers! Intensive farming is also a sensitive phrase. They also rolled their eyes (I saw you guys) when the owners of Oakridge said people used to come in looking for meat from happy cows. Pesticides are a hot topic. One said to me that the world could not be fed if pesticides were discontinued. Another noted that in the case of animals and anti-biotics, he would rather eat from a healthy animal.

Onto the trip.

Farms are experiencing land pressure from commercial/industrial/residential development/hobby farms/gravel/environmentally protected areas.

It is hard to make a living on a farm, especially with one crop like asparagus. A lot of farmers and/or their spouses are working off the farm as well as trying to run the farm. We visited three farms where the owners are making a go of full time farming.

First we visited Barries asparagus farm. Their famous asparagus is only available for approximately 6 weeks in the spring. They are thriving on asparagus only by partnering with local canning and manufacturing enterprises to put asparagus in all kinds of products such as salsa, pickles, crackers. The Barries run a store on their property to sell their goods and the food goods of other local or nearly local farmers. These small enterprises need the help of municipalities willing to permit it! They barter with the other farm stores, trading corn and even coffee for asparagus products. I found Barrie asparagus in my local farm store, Herrles, famous for their corn (and the golden beets are great too). Barries is so successful that they renovated the old homestead into the store.

The farm next door, Herman Poultry Barns, run a conventional farm, raising and selling broiler chickens to KFC,Maple Lodge and Swiss chalet. Their chickens are sent to a distributor in Toronto. So when you go to KFC and Swiss Chalet, there is a good chance you are eating local! Who knew?

 The chickens are grown for 34 days in an open barn (not caged), before sold. They have to have low dose antibiotics as any chickens in numbers are prone to disease. I know my daughters’ three chickens had to have feed with antibiotics in it when they were chicks. That’s why she calls her eggs “free range” not “organic”.  The Herman chickens are fed from corn grown on the farm. The land is fertilized with leaf litter from the Region of Waterloo leaf collection program and chicken manure.  At the end of the 34 days when the chickens are gone, the two barns are cleaned and sterilized before a new batch comes in.  Herman’s uses solar walls for energy efficiency and have worked on environment improvements for manure management. The farmer is able to make a living from his conventional farm.

Our final stop was Oakridge Farms. Mark and Cindy Gerber run an enterprisse that champions “fair trade” for local farmers. Chicken, pork, game, and the Gerber’s beef is sold by asking the farmers to look at their costs and a reasonable return and that is what the meat will be sold for. The meat I bought seemed the same price as Sobeys regular prices. Each freezer has the name of the farmer and a picture of the family raising the meat.  This method stops the ups and downs that farmers experience selling on the open market.

The Gerbers raise Angus beef that is drug free and fed on oats, barley and grass. All the meat is frozen right after butchering to cut down on disease or you can go out on the kill day for fresh.

Our final stop was at FS Partners, Ayr branch, a farm service supplier. They are a coop who buy cash crops like corn and wheat from farmers. They sell soybeans all over the world but they cannot be genetically modified as they sell to Europe and China who do not accept GMO soybeans for human consumption. For the farmers they work with flexible financing and sell their product. they also sell seeds, marketing and chemicals  to conventional farmers. They are a division of Growmarket Agriculture Cooperative in the States and compete with the world. Today it is a global market and the farm service sector must be nimble. Farmers are competing with the cost of fertilizer in China, for instance.

Emerging trends in farming are larger farms, part time farmers, an aging population, and lack of succession planning. Also new technology the up and down of commodity prices, environmental concerns, consumer buying habits and traceability.

Here are two good websites about Canadian farming. for Waterloo Region local farming and farm products. Includes a pdf of a great booklet on Canadian farming under resources. For instance, Did you know?

1 98 % of Canadian farms are family owned.

2. More traditional farms will not feed the world

3. Hormones are not used in dairy cows, poultry and pigs in Canada

4. Farmers have reduced pesticide use by 52% since 1983.

5. Organic farms are the fastest growing segment of Canadian agriculture.


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