Category Archives: Daily Chores

Five Fabulous Maplicious Facts

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 by Erin M

Spring in Ontario means a few things: Snow is beginning to melt while the mud appears, farm animals are prancing around enjoying warmer temperatures and all across the north eastern parts of North America…maple syrup producers are out in full force tapping trees, collecting sap and boiling it down to make it into the sweet delicacy that is fresh maple syrup!

On our farm we mix the goodness technology affords us with the knowledge from our past and this is definitely present in our sugarbush. On our farm we’re a little more old fashioned than some when it comes to making maple syrup. Our sugarbush has no pipeline, it is entirely buckets (around 1000 this year!). We collect everything by hand and bring it back to our evaporator – which is wood burning and sits down just outside of our sugarbush. This is the way we’ve always made maple syrup, and it works for us, so it’s the way that we continue to make it, enjoying the sweet smell of spring each year as the sap boils down into a golden liquid nectar.

tapping 2014

Our Sugarbush & Sugarshack in Buckhorn, Ontario.

 

 

Making maple syrup is actually a pretty fascinating and complex process…here are five of my favourite things you (probably) didn’t know about maple syrup!

5) There are different grades of maple syrup…most commonly light, medium and amber. Light has the most delicate maple flavour, is very light brown. Medium is a little stronger in maple flavour, and is slightly darker. Amber has the strongest maple flavour and is the darkest, with a deep brown colour. All grades actually all have the same sugar content and sweetness, it’s just the actual MAPLE flavour that changes. Here’s the kicker though: Maple syrup producers don’t get the choose what grade of syrup they get to make! Whatever the trees give them, is what they get! In the beginning of the season the sugar content of the sap is higher, so we don’t have to boil it as long and we make light maple syrup. As we continue throughthe season, the sugar content in the sap drops and we have to boil it longer to reach the same sugar content of syrup, which makes a different grade of syrup. All are equally delicious and great for eating, baking and enjoying in any way you can, though if you’re baking or cooking, I’d recommend using Amber syrup as the maple flavour comes through the best with it. Like a lot of things, that grades are actually on a spectrum, and not cut and dry…so you can have a very light light, a light that’s almost medium, or an medium that’s almost amber, an amber that’s lighter or an amber that’s very dark – it all just depends on the sap you started out with.

4) You can make a TON of things from pure maple syrup without adding anything to it! You can make hard candy, soft sugar, stirred sugar, toffee on snow, maple butter and so much more from maple syrup! You don’t have to add any fancy ingredients and all you need is a pot, a spoon, a candy thermometre, a willing taste tester and some pure maple syrup! By adding heat, removing more of the water from the syrup and adding movement and friction, we can create a TON of awesome maple products without using anything else! (Science is AWESOME!)

toffee on snow

By heating syrup and then cooling quickly on snow we can make soft gooey lollipops called toffee on snow!

maple candy floss

We made stirred sugar (similar to the consistency and look of a brown sugar..but MAPLE!) and then made maple candy floss…YUM!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) Tapping a tree and taking sap from it doesn’t hurt it! Like all things in farming, maple syrup producers take great care in making sure that their sugar bushes are healthy and well looked after. No matter what method they’re using…whether they have pipelines or buckets, a wood evaporator or an electric one, whether they choose to use reverse osmosis to remove some of the water before boiling or not – they take great care to ensure their sugar bush health. This means that each year special consideration is taken when tapping the tree to tap in a new location that hasn’t been tapped before, so that the tree can continue to heal any taps from previous years. Taps are put in a tree based on it’s size, to make sure that we’re not taking away too many of the nutrients that it needs in order to survive, and we take the taps out after each syrup season is over so that the tree can easily heal the hole where the spile once was. It’s actually a lot like donating blood – we don’t take away enough of the sap to hurt the tree, but can take a little bit and do something good with it! Like on every aspect of the farm, best management practices are used so that we can continue to farm and produce syrup for years to come!

buckets on trees

Buckets hanging on different sides of the tree and at different heights means that we are rotating tap locations to ensure our sugarbush health.

 

2) Sap flows UP. It goes against basically everything we’re taught about gravity in public school but it’s true! During the summer, the trees leaves use photosynthesis to turn sunlight into food and energy. It starts collecting these and storing them in it’s roots, where they are stored all winter long. In the spring, the stored nutrients begin to thaw, and the tree beings to come out of its dormancy and absorb water and take the nutrients it has up to the different branches and parts of the tree. When we have a warm spring day, the sap begins to make it’s way up the tree. (The ideal temperature for sap to flow is about -6C at night and +6C during the day.) As the temperature drops, the sap retreats. It is during this process of the sap going up and down the trunk of the tree all spring (attempting to get sap to the different parts of the tree so that it can take nutrients to different branches and start the process of making buds and leaves) that we can collect a small amount of sap from the maple tree. Once the sap has made it’s way all the way up and buds start to come out, you can’t collect sap anymore because the sap will be bitter.

sap dripping

On warm sunny days, the sap (which is almost entirely water) drips from the spile in the tree.

1) Sap is almost ENTIRELY water when it comes from the maple tree. It’s usually about 97-99% water, with only around 1-3% sugar content. That’s why it’s clear and looks and tastes a lot like water…and that means we have to boil it A LOT to evaporate the water and concentrate the sugar. You need approximately 40 litres of sap to make only 1 litre of syrup!

sap bucket

Sap bucket partially filled with what looks like water, but is actually sap that will be boiled down into maple syrup!

Winter, spring, summer or fall – its always the season to farm

Posted on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 by Sarah

Sheep in Barn DoorLike every other person in Canada right now, I am so unbelievably ready for summer, its almost painful. I’m ready to take a vacation, to sit back and relax, and to not need to wear 16 layers just to go outside and still freeze.

The thing about summer though is when you’re a farmer, it’s actually the busiest time of year. Starting in about April, farmers are getting antsy to get out in the fields to start planting their crops. But planting isn’t the only job, once the crops are in the ground you have to fertilize, spray for weeds, monitor for disease, maybe even spread manure on the field, and if you’re on my farm, drive by the field everyday just to make sure it didn’t disappear.

When we aren’t focused on the crops we could be cutting grass, fixing machinery, putting the sheep out to pasture, fixing electric fences, cutting more grass, cleaning manure out of the barns, cutting, raking or baling hay, picking stones or maybe cutting some MORE grass!

 

My dad out checking on the girls, just because it was hot out.

My dad out checking on the girls, just because it was hot out.

The point of all this is that farmers work every day and they don’t get vacation days. 365 days a year a farmer is on their feet. On the sunny, hot, hazy days when you want nothing more than to be laying on the beach, a farmer is out working. On those minus 40 degree nights that we saw last winter where you didn’t want to uncurl from under a blanket in front of a fire, we went to the barn to make sure our sheep were okay. And we are okay with that.

We don’t get sick days either. We can’t wake up and play hooky from work, or stay in bed when we have the flu. We feed our sheep twice a day, once in the morning, once at night. There’s no back up plan. Lucky for my parents they had two kids, I got suckered into doing some chores around the farm when I was younger if my parents were sick. But you know that saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself”? It is extremely relevant to farmers, especially the older ones! Even when you help them, they supervise, then double check your work to make sure its done right.

I think this commitment and responsibility gets forgotten a lot of the time.

Think about it.

On those cold February days, when you were inside eating your dinner, did you think about how lucky you were that you were inside and out of the cold? Probably. Did you think about the farmers, who are braving the cold to feed their livestock? The farmers who didn’t get to stay inside where it was warm? Probably not.

I hate the cold, but its never too cold to stop me from getting a selfie with these cuties.

I hate the cold, but its never too cold to stop me from getting a selfie with these cuties.

What about on those hot, humid summer days, when you can come home from work, crack a cold drink and take a dip in the pool? Did you think about the farmers who are riding the back of a wagon, stacking hay bales so that their sheep or cows or whatever it may be, can have their own dinner when winter comes around and they can’t get to the grass in the pasture?

Being a farmer can be relentless. It can seem like the work never ends, and your to-do list just keeps growing and growing. But its worth it. Providing food for families across the country, giving a safe home to our sheep, that feeling of accomplishment that is felt at the end of every single day makes it worth it.

There is no greater thing than being a farmer. I challenge you to find a happier or more grateful person than a farmer.

Stats Canada says there are over 200,000 farms in Canada, 97% of those are family owned. Over 195,000 farming families in Canada working everyday. 365 days a year.

Of course I love the saying “If you ate today, thank a farmer”, but what I think everyone needs to remember is not only to thank them, but also to appreciate them, because they appreciate you.

Decking the Halls….on the farm!

Posted on Monday, December 30, 2013 by Andrew

Written by Kim Waalderbos of Farm & Food Care

b2ap3_thumbnail_MilkingParlour.jpgFor farm kids, there’s one thing that stands between them and their Christmas celebrations – farm chores. That’s right, farm animals take no holidays. However, Christmas day is far from an ordinary day for these Dinner Starts Here bloggers.

For Ontario dairy farmers Justin Williams and Andrew Campbell, Christmas morning starts long before the sun rises while so many others are still snuggled in bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. 

 

“Christmas morning starts at 4:30 a.m. when we wake up and head to the barn for milking,” says Justin, adding that despite the early hour the barn has a festive spirit. “Christmas morning always seems to be more cheerful in the barn.”

Across the province, at Andrew’s family farm, it’s all hands on deck too. “Christmas around here is pretty wild!” says Andrew. With everyone in the barn, chores go by very quickly with some milking cows, some feeding them, and others laying down a fresh bedding of straw. “It’s the chores we do every morning, but because the whole family is out, we get done much faster.” Then it’s in for coffee, breakfast snacks and of course – opening presents. 

On Christmas morning you’ll also find sheep farmer Sarah Brien in the barn. “Christmas morning is a busy time,” she says. “I think it is for every family, but especially when you have 150 animals in the barn that you have to feed before you eat, open presents and visit family.”

It’s divide and conquer for Stephanie Campbell’s farm family. “First dad goes out and does his early barn chores in the hen barn while mom and I start to get things ready in the house.” Stephanie squeezes in a trip to town to pick up her Grandma just in time for the family to gather and open presents. Then it’s back to the barn to gather eggs and finish up chores before the extended family arrives for Christmas dinner. 

“Our chickens still need to be taken care of on Christmas morning, and so they are part of our routine,” Stephanie says. “I have great memories of doing chores around Christmas time because everyone pitches in and helps.”  

The wait on Christmas morning for the food and presents is almost unbearable most farm kids will tell you. “My sisters and I would be vibrating with the excitement of Christmas morning being so close,” says beef farmer Scott Snyder. “Overall though, Christmas morning is likely my favorite morning because it is relaxed, filled with family and the atmosphere it creates is just plain peaceful”. 

For many farm families, Christmas dinner takes place mid-day. “Because we have to head back to the barn late in the afternoon for another round of milking and feeding cows, we’ll have our Christmas dinner at noon,” says Andrew.

“You don’t really get to take a day off and relax when you farm, but I think everyone would agree that we don’t mind it,” Sarah says.

This blog first appeared at Let’s Talk Farm Animals, and was re-printed with permission. You can click here to view it there.

The Silo is Full of Feed – Now How Do We Get it Out?

Posted on Saturday, September 28, 2013 by Andrew

This week we finished one of the most important jobs of the year, harvesting corn that will be used as feed for the cows. (There is a video on YouTube on how we fill the silo)

b2ap3_thumbnail_Silo.jpgNow that the silo is full, how are we going to get all of it out? When my grandfather put his first silo up, he had to climb up each day with a pitchfork and pitch it out. Talk about labour intensive! Then, along came a helpful workhorse – the Silo Unloader.

 

 

 

 

This machine makes emptying the silo a fast and easy job.

Hanging from the top of the silo, the unloader is gradually lowered as it eats away at the corn silage. An auger slowly spins around, bringing the feed from the outside of the silo, into the centre of it. From the centre, three strong paddles spin so quickly, that it blows the feed up into the air, hitting the hood that directs the feed an opening in the side of the silo.

 

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From that opening, the feed runs down a clear plastic chute – and into the motorized feed cart waiting to take the feed to the cows. (A blog on that isn’t far away)

 

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Summer Family

Posted on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 by Erin M

Every spring, our summer family begins to arrive. It’s slow at first…a couple of guys now more like old friends. They arrive and there are welcomes, a mix of chatting through broken Spanish and English, grocery shopping…trips to the bank and most importantly – the purchase of long distance phone cards to call home. 
 
We get down to work quickly as there is lots to do. Sometimes we work side by side cleaning up after a busy spring, sometimes they’re out in the fields doing weeding, picking rocks or moving irrigation and sometimes we’re sitting on the back of a bumpy tractor planting acre after acre of strawberries. 
 
 
As the season moves on, another couple of guys join us in the daily tasks of farm life and then after that, usually a couple of more. 
 
By the time the middle of June arrives…our entire summer family is here catching up with each other as they speak in rapid Spanish, filling the farm with infectious laughter and song. 
 
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I’ve been asked a few times why we hire migrant workers – and my answer is fairly simple: 
 
We need reliable staff who show up every day and we need staff who will work when we ask them to and provide the quality and quantity we expect to be picked. Contrary to why a lot of people believe farms hire migrant workers – it’s not cheaper or easier….it’s actually is a lot more expensive and a lot more work for us to hire them than it would be to hire local staff. First – we’re required (as we are required to pay all of our staff) to pay them minimum wage. Some of our guys who have been returning year after year have earned increased wages like all of our staff does when they return year after year. Then – we have to pay for housing, a portion of their utilities, and a portion of their airfare to and from Mexico. We also spend countless hours taking them shopping for anything they need – from groceries to new clothes to take home for their kids…which is a tremendous amount of work, time and effort. But in the end…for us..it’s worth it. 
 
We hired local pickers for years…years and years and years – in fact – we still do to supplement our ‘summer family’ with them …but we could never find enough people who wanted to do the work. Or people who would stick it out the entire season. Or people who would show up when it was over 30 degrees, or raining, or whatever the day may bring. Regardless of the circumstance – we still needed to be able to harvest the crops we were planting…and before we started hiring migrant workers, we were never able to do this. Entire fields would go to waste because we simply couldn’t get them picked. 
 
We couldn’t get things harvested, keep things picked clean and the harvest suffered, the crops suffered, our customers suffered and we as farmers suffered. 
 
We hired four guys from Mexico originally, and have now expanded now to twelve great guys. Guys with wives, kids and lots of family back home. We have guys with toddlers, twins, teenagers, grandkids and everything in between. Guys who when they’re back in Mexico work on farms, as taxi drivers and even one as a DJ.  Guys who want to come to Canada to work temporarily, because they want to provide a better life for their families in whatever way they can. Guys who jump in to help whenever it is needed and are ready and willing to work with whatever has to be done. 
 
When we first had four guys it meant that we were able to start producing more and harvesting more of what we had produced. It meant we were able to hire more people to sell the things that we had grown, and expand our business – eventually buying a second farm and hiring even more guys who live on that farm for the summer. Since we started using the migrant workers program we’ve been able to create a vast amount of new jobs in the community that would have never been available if it weren’t for them. We’ve been able to expand from one full time employee (who as a business owner was rarely, if ever, actually paid) to four full time year round employees. We have also been able to expand from 3-4 seasonal employees, to almost 25 seasonal employees, not including migrant workers – which is an enormous increase. 
 
Our guys are one of the major backbones of the business. They are vital to our operations successes – we quite literally could not exist without them. From planting, to crop maintenance, to keeping the farm and fields in good working condition to harvesting and beyond – they do an immense amount of hard work. We have good friends, brothers and even a father and son who spend their summers side by side working with us – and we know how important they are and try to make sure they know how important they are whenever we can. Whether it’s taking them out for a nice Mexican meal they’ve been craving once we make it through our busiest season, grabbing some Chinese takeout after an unusually long and/or hot day so that no one has to cook, taking them to the lake to go swimming, having BBQ’s or Mexican feasts on the farm, having them at weddings, or just an evening soccer game in the backyard…going to Canada’s Wonderland or simply bringing them an ice cream, ice cold bottle of water or can of their drink of choice “coca” (coke!) to the field on a hot day – we want to make sure they know how big of a part of the business they are, and how much we value them. 
 
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Yes – they work long, hard days for us to put fresh local produce on your table. Yes, they may not be Canadian…. but to us…they’re “the guys” – and they’re our summer family. They’re salt of the earth people who we look forward to welcoming to work on the farm each summer. They’re the kind of people who smile encouragingly as you stumble over your Spanish and grab a heavy box to help you carry it, who laugh and joke and tell you about their “bambinos” and ‘bambinas’  as they show you a better way to harvest a certain crop. They are incredibly grateful for the job and we’re incredibly grateful for them, their work ethic and their determination to do the best job possible in everything that they do. 
 
No – It’s not the easiest job, but they work hard and come back year after year…happy to be working along side us helping to make our farm the best it can be… always welcomed with open arms to be part of our “summer family”.

Pick on Someone Your Own Size!

Posted on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 by Kendra

When sows farrow (give birth), they have a litter of piglets – sometimes up to 20+! Out of those piglets, most will be about the same size; but that’s not always the case.

Most sows have 14 teats, which means they can nurse up to 14 piglets comfortably. So what do we do with the rest of the piglets? We cross-foster!

 

Cross-fostering (which I will, from here on out, refer to as just fostering) means that we will take piglets off of a sow if she has more than 14, or give a sow a couple piglets if her own litter was less than 14 piglets. We also ensure that all piglets in a litter are the same size, giving each piglet a fair chance at nursing (drinking the sow’s milk)! If there is a tiny little piglet in a litter of larger piglets, we will swap the small one with a larger piglet. This way we will have litters of 14 small piglets, and 14 large piglets – this way, they pick on someone their own size!

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Getting piglets fostered is a very essential task, and needs to be done soon after the piglets have been born and have begun nursing. Pigs are smart animals, within 72 hours of being born each piglet will have chosen a teat to nurse on and it will only nurse on that teat! For this reason, it’s very important to foster piglets as soon as possible. Stay tuned to learn more about farrowing sows and their piglets, & of course all the cute piglet pictures! 

A Clean Room Makes a Happy Mom….In All Species

Posted on Friday, April 26, 2013 by Sarah

Remember all those times when you were younger (and probably even some of you who are older) When your mom would walk into your messy room and ask “Were you raised in a barn?” when referring to the mess? In my case, most of my childhood I probably WAS found in the barn,  though I think most people are ill-informed.

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As farmers its our job to make sure our animals stay healthy. This job entails making sure they have the proper diet, aka no junk food! It also means they need clean water, the rule of thumb on my farm is if you wouldn’t drink the water available to the sheep, why should they? Lastly, it means making sure they have a clean ‘room’! This doesn’t mean you pick up their toys and clothes, it means giving them fresh straw so they aren’t eating and sleeping in dirty conditions.

It only takes a few hours a few times a month to “bed the barn” (which means putting down the straw in all of their pens), but you can tell everyone enjoys having a clean ‘room’.

Here is a frequent reaction we get:

 

 

Winter Harvest

Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 by Erin M

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If you’ve visited a grocery store lately, you’re probably well aware that there aren’t a lot of things for sale in the produce section that are ‘Product of Ontario’ this time of year. If you’re lucky you’ll find a few Ontario apples from last fall, though after last year’s spring frost that badly damaged a large percent of Ontario’s apple crop they’ve been harder to find this winter. Otherwise you might be able to scoop some of last year’s garlic harvest or some greenhouse tomatoes or cucumbers. On the whole this time of year though most of the produce that we as Canadians have access to during the winter months is from far and wide across the globe. 

Just because your local fruit and vegetable farmer isn’t necessarily milking cows, collecting eggs or feeding animals day and night doesn’t mean we get to slack off in the winter though – there’s still lots to do on the farm even when we’re not growing delicious fruits and vegetables!

Here are just few of the things we’ve gotten done in our “down time” this winter while we weren’t growing on our farm:

*Cleaning – Winter is a time when we’re able to give things a big thorough going over. From cleaning and organizing workshops, scrubbing ovens in the markets and washing walls and much more – we have time in our off season to be able to check all sorts of cleaning and organizing jobs off our to-do list. Making improvements around the farm to buildings, roads and cleaning up inside and outside all need to be done to keep the farm in tip top shape! 

*Fixing machinery – The guys took apart (and luckily put back together!) tractors and anything else that wasn’t running *just* right. They needed to repair, replace and make sure they’re running smoothly for when we need them the rest of the year.

*Accounting – Definitely not a favourite job on the farm..but to help us farm better we keep full records of what we grew and what we sold so we have a better idea of what we need to grow the next year – plus – we have to submit our taxes (we have to do those too!) sooner rather than later so we can get it out of the way and move on to what we’re really interested in – farming!

*Paperwork – Another low key task that takes up more time than you would believe. From updating staff manuals and training tools to creating new brochures, ensuring we’re up to date with necessary government postings and everything in between – we could probably fill up an entire winter just with catching up on paperwork!

*Planning ahead – We do lots of planning during the winter…from debriefing and talking about our festivals and events, talking about changes we want to make and new ideas we have for the farm – we’re always making lists and plans of things we want to do for the day, the week, the year and beyond.

*More planning – After looking at our records, our field rotations, and figuring out where we’re going to plant what next in future years (yep – we always have to be looking at LEAST a few years ahead!) we can finally order our seeds, containers and any other farming equipment or supplies we might need for the spring, summer and fall. 

*Building things – I’m finally getting new display cupboards in our farm market!!! After ten years of asking for this to be a winter project…I’m so excited that it finally made its way up the winter list and got accomplished! 

*Making syrup – We make lots of maple syrup every spring so this takes up a large portion of our time…from tapping the bush, to boiling the sap and bottling the syrup…and of course our MapleFest – there’s lots for everyone to do!

*Growing as farmers – Every year we attend various conferences throughout Ontario to talk and network with other farmers, learn from experts in the field and learn about everything from new technologies, nematodes or new ways to use marketing – all things we can learn to help make our farm the best it can be! We also attend lots of different meetings, AGM’s, community groups and workshops to learn how our farm can contribute back to the community, events and organizations around us.

Even though it may not seem like it…there’s lots to do on a fruit and vegetable farm when it’s too cold outside to actually grow anything. There is ALWAYS lots to do – and this is only a small portion of the things we’ve been able to get done this winter – our own version of a winter harvest! As always we’ve been super busy getting ready for another summer season…so busy in fact that I think I need a nap just thinking about it. Except that it’s spring – which means that the farm is ACTUALLY getting busy and there is even MORE work to do now!

Next up…planting, picking and preparing – oh my!