Our lives forever changed the day we found out that Dana Thatcher of Thatcher Farms nominated us for Outstanding Young Farmer Award in Ontario. We found this out through email in January of 2018. None of the four family members knew what this meant. A few of us had heard of the group because of colleagues being part of it. But that’s really all. We read that anyone can be nominated as long as they meet the following criteria:
- Nominees must have an ownership stake in the farm may be an individual, couple or managing partner/shareholder of a farm group. Nominees may be two partners in a farming operation (i.e. brothers) who meet all the criteria requirements and must be a permanent resident of Canada.
- Nominee must be responsible for the majority of management decisions in operating the farm. The nominee must derive a minimum of two-thirds of gross personal revenue from farming and not have reached the age of 40 as of January 1 in the year of competition.
- Over 50% of the farm’s income, averaged over the past 3 years, must be derived from the farm’s primary production.
- A letter of support (on formal letterhead) from a third party must accompany the application form at the regional level.
We received the application and requirements via email. It was quite in depth, with topics ranging from: progress in Agriculture career, environmental stewardship, production history, farm management and financial practices, and our contribution to our community, province and nation. It took us many months of complete the application and wrote over 15 pages with the contributions of all the family members. Our bookkeeper was also instrumental in helping us gather all the required financial documents, records and numbers. Then, we created a slideshow presentation that contained 30 slides with only pictures to detail our story. All the while we are undergoing this process, we didn’t realize what we got ourselves into. We didn’t realize how super cool OYF community was. We were just completing our end of the bargain and going through the motions.
Now, Ontario’s Outstanding Young Farmers award weekend is upon us – it’s September and the farm is still in full swing and the McKay family is wondering why we signed up for this when there is so much work to be done at home. We should be home and working. But we made this commitment, so let’s do this thing. We get to Ingersoll, Ontario and step into the first night of meet and greet and presentations. Wow! We were blown away. These farmers are awesome! And inspiring! There were 3 nominee groups – we met the judges and ran through our Powerpoint presentations. The other 2 nominees were doing really cool things within their farming practices. We realized quickly we were surrounded by leaders. Over the course of 3 days, Jordan and Alex had two presentations and three interviews with the judges. We met a lot of people and had a wonderful time. Then, the announcement that Willowtree Farm was the winner of the Ontario OYF award! What!? Tears streaming of happiness and a sense of fulfillment that all our dedication and hard work meant something. That others see what we are doing and see it as amazing as we do! Also, a sadness and happiness combined that the founders of the farm and our parents, Rod and Marlene, couldn’t be here to share this joy. But a happiness knowing how proud they are and feeling their presence with us. The group says ‘Congratulations! But now you need to work harder. You’ve got the National OYF competition coming up in two months’. Yikes!
More applications, revisions to our Powerpoint presentation and now knowing how amazing the OYF family is – a greater sense of fear, excitement and stress. We arrive in Winnipeg. It’s -20. I think: “It’s cold. It’s ugly and wintery and what are we doing here?” We are greeted by Melvin, a really humble man that has a few farms in Manitoba. We find out later Melvin actually owns multiple farms making up over 40,000 acres (or more because who really keeps track after 40,000?). He’s a BIG time farmer who’s progressive and a leader in his industry. Over the course of 5 days in Winnipeg, we met so, so many inspirational leaders in their respective farming industries. We met grain crop farmers, potato farmers, bison farmers, pork farmers, dairy farmers and the list goes on. The farmers came from every inch of Canada – from the wild, wild west near Peace River to the rural hills of New Brunswick. People who strive to be the best at what they do. People that care about their communities and bettering the world. Farmers that farm with all their heart and soul, and do a darn good job at it.
As part of the event, we went sightseeing and visited a Hutterite colony, a Human Rights museum and so much more. Jordan and Alex had to give two Powerpoint presentations (one in front of about 300 people) and 4 interview sessions with the judges, asking some really difficult questions. The nominees all had very progressive and successful farm operations. Their level of professionalism and expertise in their fields is unmatched. We were awestruck. Not only were these individuals so inspiring, they are unbelievably friendly and outgoing and open about their lives and businesses. And around the same ages as us! I didn’t think we would win.
Then, came the announcement. Willowtree Farm wins the National OYF award, along with Double F Farms. Jordan and Alex come up to the stage. Excitement, disbelief, happiness, sadness – all the emotions that come with a long journey that started with lots of hard work and ended with a new “Farmily”, and a delight in what the future holds.
On our last night of our Winnipeg adventure – we are on the bus full of people laughing, singing, chatting and having a great time. The sun has set. The prairies are straight as an arrow, travelling on for many miles. The snow is glistening in the remaining blue hue of the sky with the moon settling in. I look out and think: “It’s so beautiful. I know why we came here. And I’m so excited to see all of Canada with this group”.
Now, we get to enjoy this group for many, many years to come. December 2019 will bring us to Fredericton, New Brunswick. We can’t wait. It’s going to be so beautiful 🙂Leave a Comment
Oh, January. How unique you are. Not four weeks ago we were in the midst of a busy Christmas season, using the opportunity to catch up with family and friends after an even busier season on the farm and at the markets. A flurry of farming must-do’s before the snow inevitably blanketed the land was hurriedly being accomplished. A wonderful whirlwind of activity, exchanging seasonal greetings with our customers, celebrating with our cherished staff, finding the time to travel the frosted roads to loved ones, completing the chores, counting down the days, then hours, then literal seconds with a New Year celebration, and THEN … the pause.
The January pause.
Most of you will likely have your own form or interpretation of this. The proverbial calm after the storm. Of course, we still have a hustle and bustle in the store, as we exchange smiles and conversations with our wonderful customers. And indeed, chores will be done each day in the barn and the goat pen, but there is one undeniable difference on the farm itself and that difference is the quietness. Even as we cut firewood with spinning chainsaws standing beside the drone of the tractor’s diesel engine, it seems almost noiseless. How is this possible? Sure, the insulating quality of the snow itself accounts for some of this, but only so much. There must be something else to it, right?
As we enter each new year, we are told to make our resolutions, to drop old bad habits and to form new good ones, to plan for a better version of ourselves for our own sake, but also for those around us. And sure, there is nothing off-putting about such advice to plan for a strong year ahead. We certainly do our best to strive forward with each spin around the sun. But it is the reflection back that allows us to appreciate where and who we are in the first place, and reflecting takes time. It would seem that January offers this needed time in spades, and with it a serene peacefulness. As we look back, we can appreciate our accomplishments, our failures, our lessons learned and perhaps those we’ve taught. We consider those who have joined us, and remember those we have lost. The efforts made for the consequences rendered. The milestones and the setbacks. The relationships, the faces, the smiles and the tears. It all adds up and has gotten us exactly nowhere else but here. Right here. Right now. And that is perfectly OK with us as we’re here with you. Pausing to contemplate surely is a form of meditation. Or perhaps it simply is meditation. Either way, it offers up the mystical other piece of the noiseless puzzle. In an environment where rarely anyone is standing still, we’ll take this opportunity to appreciate the bounty that these blanketed fields have brought and will bring again. However, as the old adage goes “nothing lasts forever” and the January pause is fleeting at best which, admittedly, is probably for the best.
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When visiting our on-site butcher here at Willowtree Farm, you might find yourself questioning the price tag of some of our pork products. Why are they more expensive than conventional pork products? We can answer that! These pricier products are sourced from Berkshire pastured pork located at Cooper’s CSA Farm in Mt. Albert, ON.
The Berkshire pig is a rare, heritage breed which has been around for hundreds of years, originating in England.
These pigs are…
- ethically raised
- hormone/antibiotic free
- pasture fed
Their diet consists leftover cull vegetables, eggs and a small amount of grain for marbling. Being fed a small amount of high quality feed improves the flavour of the meat, giving it just enough fat for premium cuts. These piggies are not piggin’ out!
Not only do the pigs eat well, but they also stay in shape with sufficient exercise! They have ample space to roam in a combination of open field and forest, where they enjoy rolling in mud holes, running in the pasture and relaxing in the shade. This humane practice of raising pork allows for happier pigs and a healthier you.
If you are looking to purchase high quality meat, supporting a practice which is beneficial to both you AND the pigs, come to Willowtree Farm and try some of the incredible Berskshire pastured pork cuts which we offer!4 Comments
At Willowtree Farm, we take pride in our ability to provide people with fresh, delicious and local food. As a consumer, there are many great reasons to purchase local food- here are the top four!
Buying local… Supports Farmers
By purchasing food from your local farmers, you are supporting their business and contributing to the local economy. It is important for consumers to eat locally so that farms can have a future and continue feeding people for years to come! In addition to supporting your local farmers, you can build relationships with them, creating a sense of community. Having this close relationship allows you to learn more about the food you eat- it’s history, where it comes from, and how its grown! Farmers feed cities!
Buying local… Promotes Environmental Sustainability
When you purchase food locally, you are promoting environmental wellness. Simply put, less energy is necessary for transportation when food is bought locally, meaning less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Farming also promotes biodiversity and preserves air and water quality. Eating locally is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint!
Buying local… Tastes Better!
Now, you’re not just doing the farmers and Mother Earth a favour by buying locally, but you’re doing your body a favour too! Local produce is generally quite fresh- meaning it tastes a whole lot better! Knowing the food that you’re eating comes right from the farm to your plate (rather than through a long travel process with plentiful packaging) creates ease of the mind- and stomach! Fresh food is jam-packed with flavour- and the fresher the produce, the higher the nutritional value- meaning its healthier for you too!
4. Buying local… Saves YOU Money!
Generally speaking, produce is a lot less costly when it is in-season rather than when purchased out of season. When you are purchasing locally, you are sure to be buying food which is in-season, making it more affordable. Furthermore, because there are less transportation costs when buying food locally, saving a trip to the grocery store can save you some cash as well!
Make a positive impact in your community and continue to buy local food from local farmers. If you’re in the Port Perry area, be sure to stop by Willowtree Farm, where we provide only the best, local Ontario products for our customers. Interested in having a box full of our locally-produced goods delivered straight to your door? Feel free to ask about our CSA Shares program! Remember- “Good things grow, in Ontario!”
Maple syrup is a novelty that has been around since before the Europeans settled on Canadian soil. Discovered by Indigenous peoples, the practice of collecting maple sap from sugar maples is a tradition that has lived, and will continue to do so, for very many years. How exactly was this delicious treat discovered? An Iroquois tale tells that the sap was discovered when a hunter sliced his axe into a tree, and the sap trickled into a bowl underneath. His wife noticed the bowl and, thinking it was water, used to it cook a venison stew. It was a sweet and tasty surprise for this family- and so began the age old, culinary tradition of maple-cured meats (Historica, 2016).
Named by the Ojibwa, the “sugaring period” or “maple moon” takes place in early spring when the temperature warms and the sap begins to flow through the tree. The early process of collecting maple sap by aboriginals involved notching the trees and using a small, homemade wooden trough and wooden bowl laced to the ground to collect the sap that drips through the trough. This was the task of the Indigenous women, whom would each have their own sugar hut surrounding a bush of sugar maples. After collecting the sap, they would begin the slow and laborious process of evaporating the water from the sap to create the syrup. Why so long? Well, it takes about 35-40L of maple sap to make just 1L of maple syrup! That’s a lot of evaporated water! (Werner, 2016).
Upon arriving to North America, the French settlers observed the native practices and were able to improve upon them by using spouts and buckets to collect the sap, and iron pots over open fires to evaporate the water. Today, the collection process is generally the same, however new advances in technology now allows a less labour-intense process with the use of a vacuum tubing system. (Werner, 2016).
Sugar Maple trees are found in the Maple Belt, which is a hardwood forest that stretches through the Mid Western US through Ontario, Quebec, New England and the Maritimes. This being said, Canada produces approximately 80% of the world’s maple syrup, and 90% of that is produced in Quebec. During the height of the sugaring season, a maple tree only gives about 7% of its sap. Are you a tree lover? You need not worry- there is no long term damage done on the tree during this process- many tapped trees are over 100 years old! (Werner, 2016).
Maple syrup is a pure and natural sweetener filled with traces of various minerals which are essential to good nutrition. Just ¼ cup of maple syrup contains 100% of the daily value of manganese- a mineral which aids effective brain and nerve functions and plays a role in energy production and antioxidant defences! With such superior nutritional value, maple syrup is one of the Earth’s best natural sweeteners. Better yet, this sweet treat contains just 50 calories per tablespoon, which is fewer calories than both corn syrup and honey! Not to rain on the bees’ parade, but maple syrup also contains 15x the amount of calcium and 1/3 the amount of sodium than honey. (Sorry honey, I promise you’ve got many other redeeming qualities). (Pure Canada, 2016).
Whether served over pancakes and waffles, enjoyed in maple-leaf shaped candy, or used for baking purposes and in other fine cuisines, maple syrup is the sweetest way to get your sugar fix. Lucky for you, Willowtree Farm is able to serve all of your maple needs with our variety of maple syrups and treats. What makes our syrup extra sweet? Willowtree’s 100% pure maple syrup is produced here locally by the McKay family and friends- a family tradition which has been living for many years! So swing on by and indulge in one of Canada’s tastiest traditions- your tastebuds will thank you!
Maple Syrup Industry. Werner, Leo. H. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Retrieved from www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca
Maple Syrup Nutrition. Retrieved from www.purecanadamaple.com
Syrup. Historica Canada. Retrieved from www.historicacanada.comLeave a Comment
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… strawberry season! The months of June and July gift Ontario with fields full of fresh, sweet, mouth-watering strawberries- perfect for making jam, baking pies, topping cereal or just eating by the hand. It is safe to say that strawberries are loved among many, but there is more to know about these succulent berries than meets the taste buds.
It is clear that us humans love to eat strawberries; however, it appears that Dinosaurs might have enjoyed them too because seeds found in Europe show that strawberries may have existed in prehistoric times! (Foodland, 2016). Although it may seem (and taste) like Ontario grows the best strawberries on Earth, the first field strawberries (known to man) were cultivated in France in the 1300’s to be used as a medicinal herb. The berry’s leaves were used to both to aid digestion and to externally treat skin blemishes and sunburns, while the fruit was used to treat discoloured teeth. (Ontario Berries, 2016) So I guess trips to the dentist weren’t always so bad, huh?
It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that the first American species, a strand called Hoveg, was introduced and cultivated in Massachusetts. By the early 1900’s, cultivated strawberries became widely popular amongst North America- and lucky for us, made their way to Ontario. Today, strawberries are both cultivated and grown in the wild in every Canadian province! (Ontario Berries, 2016)
Consisting primarily of water, the strawberry is a healthy treat which contains only 50 calories per cup. Eating strawberries is a great way to reach your daily serving of fruits and vegetables as they are filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Not only that, but a single cup of this amazing fruit can provide you with over 100% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C! Strawberry? More like Superberry! (WH Foods, 2016)
Strawberries aren’t just fun to eat- they’re interesting too! What we call a berry is not truly a berry at all, but a member of the rose family. Originally named a “strewberry,” because it is strewn amongst the leaves, this fruit is the only kind to have its seeds grow on the outside. The redder the berry, the riper it is- however they taste just as sweet whether large or small! (PickYourOwn, 2016)
U-Pick Strawberries @ Willowtree Farm- NOW OPEN!
Now that you are well informed on the goodness of strawberries, it is time to get eating- or better yet- picking! Willowtree Farm’s U-Pick Strawberry Patch is now open for business! Come stop by with your family and friends and fill a basket with your favourite, fresh and local Willowtree strawberries!