A little while ago, I created a contact email address for this blog and it’s been surprising and encouraging to see that emails are actually coming in – and mostly from people we don’t know! Strangers who have somehow found our blog are following along with us as we document our adventure and are writing to us to let us know what they think. To those of you who are doing this – thank you! We love hearing from you.
We’ve received emails from young people (including two from the Czech Republic) wanting to know if they can come and live and work on our farm with us (something that we’re not set up to do now, but hope to be able to accomodate one day) and from individuals in the Maple Ridge community who want to come and volunteer their time helping out on the farm because farming is something they dream of doing too. And just the other day we received an email from someone who lives right around the corner and who wants to donate her family of five’s weekly compost scraps – yes please!
I’m reposting an email we received a little while ago from the brother of our good friend Dave. Mark Veenstra and his wife Tania have undertaken their own sustainable farming project in Ontario and emailed us about their project, including words of encouragement and advice for what we’re doing. So much of what they’re doing (and how they’re doing it) is aligned with our own way of thinking so I thought our readers might appreciate their story as well. Thank you Mark and Tania – it was so nice to hear from you! We look forward to seeing your own website once you’ve got it set up!
Photos of Mark and Tania’s farm (above) were taken by the lovely Kailey-Michelle Plain (soon to be sister-in-law to Mark and Tania).
Greetings from snowy, cold and yet hauntingly beautiful southern Ontario! I can’t help but be enthusiastic for what you are doing and what you are committed to do over the next year. My wife Tania and I have been involved in similar projects, although on a slightly bigger scale, here for the last 2 years. We have teamed up with some friends (Ron & Adele Service of Black Walnut Lane) who have been raising heritage sheep and heritage cattle for the last 10 years. Together we are trying to fulfil a dream of having and maintaining local, sustainable, profitable mixed family farms. The adventure has not been without its struggles and hardships but in the end we wouldn’t want to have it any other way. After all, The Old Order Mennonites that live in this part of Ontario have been successfully doing this for many, many years! In short, we believe that there are better ways to raise animals destined for the dinner plate. To that end, we have gotten glowing and gushing reviews from farmer’s market customers and restaurant owners/chefs about what we are doing and that is part of what motivates us to continue!
We have learned that farming takes team work, co-operation, blood, sweat & tears, faith and friends! We have learned to never turn someone down who says, “Hey, can I help you with that?” The four of us have found our unique places on the farm, at the farmer’s markets and in the process have discovered a little more about who we are and what our roles are on this planet. We have decided that we are stewards of the land, that it is our responsibility to work with the earth and the animals and to leave our little patch of it in better shape for the next generation. We have learned to smile and appreciate new life in the spring. To admire a young animals drive to stand up and drink after being born in a late winter storm and to soak in the smell of hay cut in mid July. We have cared for the sick and said our respectful good-byes to those animals that have been unloaded at the butcher’s back door. I guess the long and short of it is that we believe in and are passionate about what we are doing and we will continue in those endeavours.
On the other side of it, we recognize that this is also a business. Feed needs to be purchased, equipment needs to be repaired, barns, water lines and fences need to be upgraded and maintained and to that end we are learning to never undervalue what we are doing or what we are selling. Tania and I raise heritage pigs (Berkshires) in a market that in Ontario is having a tough time. Currently Ontario’s conventional pig farmers are averaging $1.20/lb at market for their animals. To put that in perspective, the average hog producer is losing $18.00 for every animal they raise, if you multiply that by the average herd size of 1,800 hogs, it becomes easy to see that they are in a bad way. We, however, manage to market and sell our own animals for much more than the average Ontario hog producer. We have learned that marketing what you raise also means marketing yourself, and finding your niche. We have learned the value of honesty in business, transparency in our relationships and that we should be confident in the prices we charge.
We are also learning the importance of down time. Time on the deck with a cold beer and good friends, a quiet walk around the farm, a ride on our horses, an afternoon at the beach, a quiet and still morning in a tree stand or an hour to sit on the couch and catch up on some reading or to watch a movie! Farming can consume all of your time and attention and we are learning that it is OK to step away from it and recharge. Let me conclude by saying we wish you all the very best in what you are doing. If you are interested you can find us and our partners on twitter or online at:
Tania and I have recently bought our own farm and have just registered as ‘The Boar & Chick: Pork and Poultry Products’. We are in the process of getting ‘branded’ and we look forward to what we can do with a website and other social media outlets.
Take care, good luck and I look forward to your updates!
All Best Regards;
Mark & Tania Veenstra – The Boar & Chick Veenstra Family Farm
Ron & Adele Service – Black Walnut Lane