We were wishing for a blue-sky-sunny-day, it had been raining for about a week now so we thought our chances were pretty high to enjoy some nice weather. As we had planned, I texted Avaleigh at 9:03 that Saturday morning:
“Hey, it’s Lyne. Beautiful day!!! We will be a bit late though, I am sorry. Jacob got my cold so he is a bit slow this morning. We will be there more around 10:30, is that ok?”
She replied within the minute.
“No problem at all. I’m actually a few minutes late also”.
By the time we were in the car, the sky had changed.
“I hope it’s not gonna rain…” I texted her in the car at 10.
“I know… overcast like crazy…”
We kept going. And finally we arrived, a bit late as usual but excited to be there. After all, it’s not every day that you have the chance to visit a working dairy farm!
I met Avaleigh through work, as simple as that. I was collaborating with Dairy Farmers of Canada on a joint sponsorship and through our conversation, she told me more about her story.
Born and raised on a dairy farm, she grew up with cows around her, learning how to take care of them as she was learning how to take care of herself. With her parents home next to her grandparents house, she came and went on the farm freely, helping and learning about what it is to be a farmer.
Avaleigh is now married to a dairy farmer and lives with her husband at the Schouten Dairy Farm, a bigger operation than the one her parents own.
When she learned I had never been on a dairy farm, she immediately invited Jacob and I over to come visit. I could tell this invitation was born from a real passion for farming and great pride. I told her that I would take her up on that invitation.
The road to the farm was breathtakingly beautiful. Still close to Ottawa, we had the impression of being in a different land. One where the animals were outside chilling on the grass, rabbits hanging around and people growing their own food – everything was as it was supposed to be.
We arrived in Kinburn at 11. As we were getting closer, a country-looking sign confirmed we were at the right place: Centuryholm Farm, The Eastman Family. Avaleigh welcomed us at the car as soon as we parked, a small cat following her footsteps. Her grandfather then passed us on a big tractor, waving his hand as a welcome sign, a big smile illuminating his face. We felt good right away.
Avaleigh looked happy to have us over. “My mom and my sister are in the house but they will join us for the visit,” she said, at the same time they were coming out of her grandparents’ house. As I was shaking their hands, another cat came running, followed by the cutest and dirtiest farm-dog. Her dad would soon join us to talk to us about the unique lifestyle of a farmer in Canada.
The first members of Avaleigh’s family to put their foot in Kinburn were from Omagh, from County Tyrone in Ireland. “They arrived in 1833 and were given 100 acres of forest from the Crown, along with basic tools and a few animals to get them started – pigs, cows and chickens,” explained Avaleigh. “The deal was that they had to clear the land and turn it into tillable, or farmable, land that could grow a bountiful crop. On that same parcel of land today, our family grows corn, soybeans, hay and small grains (wheat, oats, barley).”
The animals, you would be right to assume so, are all fed by what the family manages to grow every year.
Her father, John Eastman, is the 6th generation to farm the land. As he explains, farming is a way of living and a seven days a week job. “You have to be on the farm, no matter the day or the time. Even if it is Christmas or Easter, the cows still need to be milked,” he said.
The work is extremely physically demanding. John went on to mention that the amount of bending and repetitive tasks a farmer has to do in his or her life will take a toll on you – you are always lifting something, moving something, always down on the ground. Farming isn’t an easy job. Listening to John, it became clear you have to be dedicated and ready to give everything you have to be a farmer.
“You know, what always amazes me is driving from Toronto to Mississauga, for example, and seeing house after house, new suburbs, and you know that every one of these people living in these houses has to eat food, and most drink milk. As farmers, we bring this food to them, we deliver their milk and food,” added John. Now that is something to be proud of.
The Centuryholm Farm has 40 milking cows at all times. When you add the calves, the “dry” cows (or the cows on maternity leave like Avaleigh suggested), and the milking cows there is about 100 animals on the farm at all times. Every two days, 2100 litters of milk is being picked up from their farm.
Avaleigh’s family farm and the dairy industry in Canada operate under supply management, a system that makes it possible for every Canadian to have steady access to fresh, local, high-quality dairy products, poultry and eggs all year around. For those less familiar with supply management, an easy way to see it is that it assures Canadians have access to local, safe and healthy food and that the farmer gets a fair return for his or her work. It keeps farmers farming, and it gives consumers the security of knowing that what they are eating is as fresh and local as possible.
When we look around us, we should be proud that Canada is working under this system. Some people are quick to attack supply management and lose the perspective of how it benefits all of us. Farmers are the backbone of this country and we can choose to support them by supporting supply management. It is as simple as that.
Stepping foot on a dairy farm
When we stepped out of the car, I think the first thing that hit me was how crisp the air was. The second thing that I noticed was the absence of noise. You could hear the cows around, the sound of some trucks in the fields, but there was a tranquility in the air, a peacefulness you don’t notice in the city.
Growing up in rural New Brunswick, I was totally in my element. As we were walking towards the barn with Avaleigh’s family, I looked at Jacob and I knew right there we were sharing the same feelings.
It is hard to explain how it feels when 10 cows are looking at you. First, they are gentle creatures, I really have to say it. I was a bit worried they would run at me or try to head-butt me. But they are the sweetest animals. They are also very smart and completely understand what is going on around them. As Avaleigh and her mother were explaining, when it is time to be milked at the end of the day the cows line-up, on their own, at the gate and walk right through the barn and go to “their” station – they actually know where their spots are in the barn. “The thing is that they love being milked, it creates a huge relief for them,” she explained to us.
As we were walking outside, I noticed some big structures on the other side of the field. “What are those,” I asked. “These are scratching areas for the cows! They love it – it’s like going to the spa for them,” Avaleigh answered, smiling.
As I looked around and saw Jacob taking pictures of the cows, I realised that farming was not only about being on site and doing the work, it was about caring for your animals. Something that was a priority on the Centuryholm Farm.
As the nice weather was approaching, I just couldn’t imagine going to the dairy farm without sharing this experience on the blog. So I pushed my luck and asked Avaleigh not only to let us take pictures for a post but to share a family recipe made with milk. Not only did she agree, but after the visits, she invited Jacob and I to have a slice of this wonderful milk cake with her grandparents Dalton and Betty Eastman and with her mother Jennifer.
Sitting in their warm kitchen and eating this delicious dessert (we will share the recipe in our next blog post), it struck me how lucky she had been to grow up on a farm. That is when I realised that no rain or clouds could ever overcast the pride this family had in their hard work and in what they had accomplished, one generation after the other. Farming truly is a unique lifestyle. One of a kind.