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FeedBack: Touring family-owned crop, poultry and dairy farms

Two students pet cows in their pens

On a sunny day during the last week of September, we, the inaugural Arrell Food Institute and Food from Thought scholars at the University of Guelph, along with our facilitators visited three farms in Ontario to study different aspects of agricultural farming systems such as grain production and processing, poultry and dairy farming. These farms are family owned and their management is transferred from one generation to next.

This exciting learning experience began when we got onto the bus alongside a group of students with diverse academic backgrounds in plant, animal, food and environmental sciences along with geography, engineering and natural resource management. It was a great opportunity to share our knowledge and experiences among our colleagues under the theme of producing food while maintaining productivity and protecting our ecosystems with the ultimate goal of ensuring food security – “Food from Soil to Saliva for Everyone.”

It took only ten minutes for our bus to arrive at Woodrill Limited, Guelph from the university.  This farm business supplies farm inputs and grains to central and southern Ontario farmers to ensure their sustainable agriculture.  We all were very happy to see alumnus, owner and manager of the company, Greg Hannam who gave us an in-depth explanation about the postharvest operations such as cleaning, sorting and packaging of wheat, soybeans, corns and spring cereals.  The prominent features of the farm, the two tower grain elevators, fascinated all of us.  Farm machineries and the protective tree patches also amazed us.

After the fruitful visit to the grain processing unit, our journey continued towards Stratford, ON to study about poultry at Graholm Farms with the same excitement.  Family farms are unique and have their own style of management from one generation to next.  Exclusive hatchery design, safety and animal welfare management at the inside of the layer barn provides the room to hold more than 30,000 birds and to produce about as many eggs every day. This gave us the opportunity to learn about efficient production and sustainable management of poultry.

Finally, we arrived at Joe Loewiths and Sons Limited which is a dairy farm located in Lynden, ON.  The farm consists of more than 800 acres of farmland and 700 cows where 350 are milked three times a day.  Traditional management system integrated with new technologies is the key driving force to hold and maintain high-quality milk and zero calving mortality in the farm.  The barn structures, ventilation systems, feeding trails, watering and protein supplement pumps and automatic scrapers are some of the technologies ensuring the animal welfare and sustainable farming management.

Current documentaries, such as Food Inc., have created negative consumer perceptions of the food industry by publicizing abusive animal practices, unsanitary animal conditions, and use of “dangerous” pesticides on crops. Educational visits to family owned farms like these help to debunk these negative views and understand the complexities of feeding a growing population while also inspiring us towards sustainable agriculture, and teaching us the real field experiences that we cannot grasp from the texts. A day well spent!