Fighting for ag

A high school in Sussex, New Brunswick is fighting to keep its agricultural class.

According to a story at CBC news, a teacher at the school was told the Agriculture 12-0 class would be cancelled. A campaign to keep the class extended its life by another year, but the long-term future of the program hasn’t been decided yet by the Department of Education. The department did, according to the story, suggest turning the Agriculture 12-0 class into an environmental science class, with a two-week unit on agriculture. In an effort to maintain the class, students and teachers have planted a garden on the school property and they’re hoping that move will help sway the province into keeping the Agriculture 12-0 class as is.


At almost the same time the students in Sussex were unveiling their new garden, Farm Credit Canada released its twice-a-year Farmland Values Report. The report started in 1990, and twice a year, 245 benchmark farm properties are appraised for their value. The selected properties represent the most prevalent  classes of agricultural soil in each part of the country, says FCC, and changes in value are weighted based on cultivated farmland per acre.

FCC found that New Brunswick farmland values were unchanged during the first half of 2012, following a 1.3 per cent increase in the second half of 2011, and no change in the first half of that year. Farmland values have increased or remained static in New Brunswick since reaching a peak increase of 6.3 per cent in the last half of 2008.

Sussex has long been known as one of New Brunswick’s strongest agricultural areas and as the milk producing hub of the province. But according to FCC’s report, “the area continues to see an ongoing trend of large acreages and former farmland purchased for rural residential use and hobby farming. Agriculture transactions were limited by this type of activity, along with the expansion of potash mining in the area. Moreover, dairy farm expansions in this area were limited as a result of the lack of available production quota.”

Nationally, we’re seeing a shift away from agriculture too. My colleague Owen Roberts, The Urban Cowboy, writes about a major change at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.

So if some of the statistics show a decline in traditional farming in Sussex, is it reasonable to teach students about agriculture? Or is it time to move agriculture to the history class instead?


Agriculture needs the support of community, and that means including it as a high school course in agriculturally rich areas and keeping its name in traditional agricultural-related events.

The agriculture landscape of Canada is changing but the change should be considered an opportunity.  If there are an increasing number of hobby farms in the Sussex area, purchased by the parents and grandparents of the students who attend Sussex High School, then an agriculture course is key to helping the younger generation learn a bit about farming. By nurturing the family’s existing desire for rural life as they start their new home in the country, agriculture in the high school could turn the love for gardening or a backyard chicken flock into a career choice for the students.

Open Farm Day took root in NB

My daughter Olivia, who was three when this photo was taken, loved getting up close and personal with this lamb during Open Farm Day in 2003.

Over the last 12 years, an event celebrating local agriculture has spread across the country.

Open Farm Day is Sunday, Sept. 16. Several other provinces also hold Open Farm Day on the same weekend.

The first Open Farm Day in Canada was held in New Brunswick in 2000. Karen Davidge, a farmer near Fredericton, N.B., says one of her neighbour’s was on a fall trip to Maine when she heard about that state’s Open Farm Day. She collected promotional material — which described the one-day event as a time when farmers of all sectors open their gates and invite the general public to visit — and brought it home to New Brunswick, handing it over to Davidge.

Davidge was a member of the provincial farm organization’s education committee and the group took the idea and ran with it.

“We said, ‘let’s go for it’ and we did,” Davidge recalls. That year, 61 farms throughout the province opened their gates and 6,000 members of the public flocked in. The event expanded throughout Atlantic Canada, drawing in thousands of visitors. Looking back through some old stories, around 12,000 people visited farms during the Open Farm Days of the early 2000s.

Throwing open the farm gate and inviting the general public in can be a bit of a scary proposition for farmers. There’s a high threat of disease — who knows where all of those boots have walked and now they’re mingling among crops and livestock — a farmer’s income.

Open Farm Day was cancelled in New Brunswick in 2001 because of the outbreak of the highly contagious foot and mouth disease (which can infect cows, sheep, goats and hogs) in the United Kingdom. By implementing biosecurity measures like having visitors wash the bottom of their shoes in disinfectant or viewing poultry or hogs through windows, farmers still have the chance to showcase their work, keep their product safe and further educate the public about the importance of keeping their animals and plants secure.

The day as evolved into a family event, with many taking their young children to provide insight into where their food comes from. The exposure, say the farmers, is priceless. There is no better way for the general public to find out that it’s families just like themselves operating farms.

My son Mark, two at the time, fell in love with feeding the calves at this dairy farm near Moncton during Open Farm Day in the early 2000s.

Atlantic Canada Farm Writers Annual Tour & AGM

ACFWA is approaching its second birthday! And indeed, where has the time gone?

Fredericton-area member Kim Waalderbos has put together an awesome day and a half tour for the Fredericton area. Apples, dairy, potatoes, local food, ice cream — we’re covered for a great tour and great learning.

ACFWA members are journalists, communicators, broadcasters and government relations professionals associated with the agricultural sector in Atlantic Canada. We’re the folks who write about farming, communicate about farming and have the best interests of the farming community at heart when we go to work each day. ACFWA is associated with the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation and the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, so membership at the local level includes membership at the national and international levels.

The tour is next week, Thursday, June 14 and Friday, June 15. Registration, costs and other details are below. If you need a hotel room, email me at and I’ll send you our conference details.

Hope to see you in Fredericton, N.B. next week!


Thursday, June 14

9:30 a.m. Everetts Apples – The farm is a 200+ apple farm. A cool succession story as the younger generation is now exploring new technologies and growing ideas. They family operates a popular U-pick. They also have the most amazing views of the river and valley area.
10:30 a.m. Travel to next stop
11:00 a.m. Scotch Lake Dairy  – Richard and Carol Boonstoppel: this couple branched away from his brothers   and the family dairy farm 15 years ago to strike out on their own. They bought a vacant dairy farm, set it up and have built the herd to milk around 70 cows today. What makes them special is they installed a Lely robotic   milking machine to milk their cows a year ago. Now they can run the herd with   just the two of them (well, and their five younger kids). Richard is also the chair of the Fredericton Dairy Management Group.
12:00 p.m. Travel and lunch (make sure to bring along a bit of money. Our lunch stop will be at a dairy bar and candy store. We’ll provide the sandwich, you provide dessert!)
1:30 p.m. Coburn’s – These folks are in Keswick Ridge. They have really cool story of how they made a   complete loop by integrating the different aspects of their farm. They have   computerized feed mill to make the feed for their 25,000 laying hens which provide bedding material for an in-vessel composting system — that also sources waste material from the farm’s on-site cider press, which is fed by their 10-acre apple orchard. Oh, and the family has put together a neat ag museum of sorts in the upstairs of the cider facility.
3:00 p.m. Travel
3:30 p.m. Real Food Connections – Real Food Connections believes that food should be seen as a   whole, not just the sum of its parts. It’s about food being enjoyable and not merely for fueling ourselves with the right combination of nutrients for peak performance. It’s about knowing what we eat, and not turning a blind eye to   the list of ingredients we can’t pronounce. It’s about learning where our   food comes from and how it’s grown. At Real Food Connections, they work to   make local quality food accessible to the general public. They’re also a resource for local food education.
4:30 p.m. Return to hotel
5:00 p.m. Depart for supper
5:30 p.m. Supper

Friday, June 15

7:30 a.m. ACFWA Annual Meeting – General business and election of officers
8:30 a.m. Potato Research Station – We’ll explore some of the latest potato research and see what technologies will be available just around the corner.
10:00 a.m. Travel to next stop
10:30 a.m. Scott’s Nursery has the largest selection of plant material east of Montreal. The nursery is a huge stopping point for plant buffs from all over. A very family-oriented operation. Mr. Scott himself just won the ‘hospitality’ award at this year’s Agricultural Alliance of NB annual meeting for all the great things he does to promote agriculture to visitors.
12:00 p.m. Homeward bound

Cost: Register for the tour + one year ACFWA membership: $50. Details on membership benefits and a member registration form are here:

Register for the tour only: $20

Travel during the tour: In an effort to keep costs down, we’re going to be car pooling during our visits. Our starting point each day will be the AGM hotel: Lakeview Inn and Suites located at 665 Prospect Street in Fredericton.

Pre-registration is required for catering purposes

To register for the ACFWA Car Tour on June 14 and 15, please send the following information to, Trudy Kelly Forsythe at

  • Name:
  • Cell phone number (to be used only if we need to reach you during the tour):
  • Are you able to be one of our drivers?
  • How many people can you transport in your vehicle?
  • The registration fee is payable at the time of the event.


Food Freedom Day

Today is Food Freedom Day in Canada.

That means the average Canadian has now earned enough disposable income to pay for his or her individual grocery bill — food and alcohol only — for the entire year.

And yes, it’s only February 12.

This is the third year in a row that Food Freedom Day has fallen on this date, and only slightly later than in previous years. The recession and an increase in the price of food have helped push the date back. The calculation is made by comparing Canadians’ disposable income and the amount we spend on food.

According to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, in 2010 the average Canadian spent approximately 11.9 per cent of personal disposable income on food.

Beth Densmore, president of Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture points out that even though we enjoy reasonably priced food in Nova Scotia and the rest of the country, Canadian farmers “continue to be challenged with gaining a fair return of the food dollar.”
Consumers want cheap food that is reliably safe. Farmers want to get paid fairly for the food they produce. Should Canadians spend more than 11.9 per cent of disposable income on food? What’s the value of a safe food supply? Is enough money getting back to farmers?
Food Freedom Day may be a good time to take pause to reflect on these types of questions.
More on Food Freedom Day.

Maple Syrup Dreams

When I met recently with colleagues from the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists in Berlin, there was much talk about maple syrup. It may have been because we discovered the wonderful drink, firewater, or… well, no, the discussion about maple syrup definitely came from the firewater conversation.

It’s easy to take what we have for granted and I forgot how novel the notion is of harvesting sap from a tree and turning it into sweet syrup. Eastern Canadians share the annual spring tradition of pulling on our rubber boots, usually one of the first times we wear them after shedding the winter boots, and heading into the barren woods for a walk to the sugar shack.

Timing is everything with maple syrup production. The night temperatures must drop below freezing and temperatures during the day must be above freezing. The see-saw on the thermometre is what makes the sap in the tree begin to flow after its winter’s rest. Depending on the weather, the sap could run for many weeks.

Maple syrup facts and history

My most memorable spring maple syrup memory is from when I was about 12-years-old. I had a mouth full of braces — the big, heavy braces that felt and looked like railroad tracks. They came with the firm instructions: no gum and nothing sticky to eat.

I was at a sugar camp and when it was time for some maple candy, the owner of the camp passed the first, sticky, gooey piece to me. Of course I took it. Of course it hauled the cemented-braces right off my teeth. Of course my parents were upset and of course, I was at the orthodontist the very next day to have the cement reapplied. But of course, for maple candy, I would do it all over again in an instant.

These are photos from a couple of years ago when my son’s Cub group went the the maple sugar woods.

 Heading into the muddy woods

 The sap lines snaking through the bare tress

 A gentle tap into the tree

 Before producers used tap lines, they put buckets directly on to the trees. Some small producers still do, while others only do a few trees to demonstrate past practices.

 The evaporator. It’s not operating in this shot or it would be a room full of steam

Maple candy in the snow

Oh Canada!

The Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation hosted Canada Night at International Green Week in Berlin for our colleagues of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. Owen Roberts, IFAJ Secretary General, from Guelph, Ont. and I were happy to have Stefanie Nagelschmitz from Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show join us and help host the evening.

We gathered in a charming Italian restaurant about a block from our hotel. Red and white checkered tablecloths (Canadian maybe?), candles, good conversation. It was a wonderful evening.

We were especially proud to bring a gift for our international colleagues — red mittens with a white maple leaf. The mittens, sold by HBC, are in support of Canada’s Olympic team. They seemed to be a big hit with our friends.

We look forward to hosting our colleagues in September at IFAJ 2011 in Canada. A schedule, registration details and information on sponsorship is available at

Special thanks to Steve Werblow for being our photographer.

Celebrating Canadian Farm Families

I’m writing a book, Celebrating Canadian Farm Families (working title), and I need your assistance.

This book will profile farms of all sizes, from all sectors, from all parts of Canada and I’m looking for farmers to write about.

Who am I looking for?

Male or female, it doesn’t matter. Size of the farm doesn’t matter either — I want to profile corporate family farms that are thousands of acres in size and the family farms that are the size of a postage stamp. As long as someone is earning an income from the farming they do, I’m interested. Organic or non-organic (and everything in between) — that doesn’t matter either.

Since the book is a celebration of family operated farms, that’s a key element to who I’m looking for. But just like families come in all shapes and sizes these days, so do the farms. Maybe you know of a multi-generational farm, siblings working together or spouses. In all of these cases, I want to interview several members of the family farm operation, so an openness to sitting around the kitchen table or taking me out to show me around the farm is important.

Also key is passion and enthusiasm for agriculture — loving what they do and loving the life they’re living. I recognize there are problems facing Canadian farmers and I’m open to talking about those matters with the families, but I will focus on those who approach issues as problem-solvers, rather than problem-moaners, with the overall celebration of family farming as the main theme.

If someone comes to mind , I would appreciate it if you could forward their contact information to me and maybe tell me a bit about them. If you’ve written about them, just send me a link to the story, or direct me to the family farm website.

Alternatively, you can send my contact information to them and ask them to contact me. I will be travelling this fall and winter and visit many of the farmers to profile in this book.

A million thank yous for your help with this — and please contact me at if you have questions or comments. Also, please feel free to circulate this.

I am thankful for… turkducken

This weekend, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada — a traditional time to pause and take stock of what’s around us and what fills our lives with happiness and peace. It’s also a traditional family gathering time.

My father’s brothers, their wives, two of my four cousins, their girlfriends, my parents and brother arrived at my house on Saturday afternoon. We had the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, squash and gravy simmering away, but I had decided a few weeks ago that we would also cook a turducken — a cranberry dressing stuffed-chicken, stuffed in a duck, stuffed in a turkey. I had ordered it from the Old Fashion Meat Market a couple of weeks ago and was quite looking forward to five kilograms cooking adventure.

Except for the legs and wings of the turkey, the birds are deboned, which I’m sure eases the construction process. It was well sewn together, but when my mother asked me what it looked like, the only description I could think of was “kind of limp.”

I was assured when I ordered the turduckin they would give me instructions on how to cook the beast, so I wasn’t too concerned until I had the prize in my hands and asked for details. The response? “Just like a turkey.” Fine, I said, “but tell me more,” figuring solid meat must require something extra, right? Cook at 275 F for 5.5 to 6 hours, I was told. OK. Sounds simple, right?

After about two hours, I figured I would be smelling the wonderful scent of roasting turducken, but there was nothing — I even checked to make sure the oven was on. It was, but I cranked up the heat and stuck the birds back in the oven, knowing the hungry dinner guests would soon arrive.

As the clock approached 3 p.m., we could indeed smell turducken (smells like chicken) wafting through the house. Tummies started to rumble. “What time are we eating?” became a popular question. My answer: “It’s all on the turducken at this point.” I think they were beginning to eye the dog food…

Sometime in the hustle of the afternoon, I turned the heat up to 400 F and the turducken was done on time. It was a bit dry, but I believe that was because I had to cook it at the higher temperature. I think the meat market made a mistake when they told me to cook it at 275 F and should have instead told me to cook it at 375 F.

Regardless, we certainly didn’t go hungry. In fact, we had so much food left over that we had another full meal again on Sunday with other relatives. There were even enough unopened rolls to take to a drop-in centre downtown. I am thankful that I have the means to fill tummies and invite people into my home.

Now, next year… I’m thinking I’ll serve tofurkey.

Farm Writers in Atlantic Canada

Have you ever had the experience of working with people who are so excited and enthused about a project that it rubs off on you? I love that feeling.

I had that experience earlier this week when I had a conference call meeting with three people from Atlantic Canada. Together, we’re working to start a regional branch of our national farm writers’ guild, the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation (CFWF).

Up front, I have to say that the desire to start our own group is in no way a reflection of the branch we currently belong to, the Eastern Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation (ECFWA). The simple vastness of Canada and the geographic divide between the majority of our current ECFWA members means farm writers in Atlantic Canada feel disconnected.

Personally, the desire to gather together with some of our own is inspired by ECFWA, as well as CFWF and our international group, the International Federation of Agriculture Journalists (IFAJ). Once I experienced gatherings with like-minded individuals, I felt the aspiration to do it more often with those closer to me.

Not all farm writers in Atlantic Canada are onboard with the formation of a regional group. Some have said they want to maintain connections with former colleagues within ECFWA, while others may not be interested in the work involved in setting up a new organization (not that anyone has said that to me, I’m just speculating). I hope they’ll reconsider.

The folks I met with earlier this week are keen and ready to get a local group formed. We’re pooling our talents to host a day of farm and research centre tours on June 4.

Early in my career when I wrote for daily newspapers from rural New Brunswick, I kept hearing the untold stories of farmers and opted to help be one of their voices. From that, I found out about CFWF and that connection eventually led me to focus my career on agriculture writing.

Through CFWF, I’ve toured farms across the country, met agriculture experts and associates, gained writing and editing jobs and met hundreds of Canadian farmers. I’ve also met a lot of great people and developed some very good friendships.

Cumulatively, what the organizations have given me inspire me to help create like opportunities for farm writers in Atlantic Canada. I hope we’ll create a network, come to count on each other and grow opportunities for ourselves.

Then together, we can help farmers tell their stories about the food they grow for us.