It was easy to see why everyone who attended Breakfast on the Farm had to park at the Fallowfield Park and Ride. The crowd was huge. Tinkess Photo

OTTAWA – For 62 years, Blackrapids, the Ruiters family’s second-generation dairy farm on Fallowfield Road has been a labour of love. Their farm is home to 110 animals and showcases the impressive innovation and technology used in farming today. On Sat., June 22, they opened their doors to Breakfast on the Farm, a chance to tour a modern dairy barn and witness first-hand how robot technology intersects seamlessly with human effort to handle tasks such as milking and feeding. The farm reflects the Ruiter family’s commitment to efficiency and sustainability.

Peter Ruiter, at six foot 10 inches is reportedly the biggest farmer in Ontario, and one of the hosts for the farm tour. His father immigrated from Holland 62 years ago and began the dairy operation, and now Peter runs things (The farm was purchased by the NCC but is still operated by the Ruiter family.)

Right from the start, this farm tour was a little different. The event was organized by Farm and Food Care ON, a registered Canadian Charity and whole-sector coalition made up of representatives of all farming types and associated businesses. They required that you register in advance, and, as well, when you arrived, it was necessary to park at the Fallowfield Road Park and Ride and take an OC Transpo shuttle to the farm. This should have been seen as a hint of how many people would be attending.

When you got off the bus and looked through the front gates, it became clear that this was a different kind of farm tour. Farm tours often draw many people, many of whom are friends and neighbours, but the numbers at this event were exceptional.

In 2018, the farm had to replace their barn due to a fire, and the NCC allowed the new barn to be built with a great upgrade in technology.  There are robot milkers, robot feeders, and it a very bright, airy atmosphere.

In addition to dairy, the farm grows corn and soybeans and wheat to feed their cows and 400 acres on this farm is used for that purpose. Corn that isn’t used for feed is shipped to Prescott to be made into ethanol for fuel.

When most people think of the City of Ottawa, they don’t usually expect much in the way of farming (other than the Experimental Farm), but there are approximately 900 farmers in the City of Ottawa and they farm 235,000 acres. The City of Ottawa is bigger than Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver put together it runs from Arnprior to Burritt’s Rapids to Navan and almost up to Smiths Falls. It’s a huge area.

In addition to the Ruiter family, most volunteers were part of the 900 farmers who farm in the Nation’s Capital.  Their goal for the day seemed to be to answer as many questions as possible, and in doing so educate as many people as possible about what modern day farming is all about.

“Coming into this, I knew that it was going to be a big event,” said Mark Ruiter, Peter’s son.  “I know that this is important to the community. I believe that we’ll get as many people as we can, and we’ll help educate as many as we can.

“It’s big, culturally. We’re able to bring all the industry together, not just the dairy farmers. We’ve got chicken farmers, pork farmers, everyone. Everybody together to help spread the word and awareness.”

There were also equipment dealers, representatives from the maple syrup industry, Christian Farmers Association, The NCC, beef cattle, sheep, and many more, each ready, willing, and able to answer questions. 

Peter Ruiter was in his element and took advantage of it to talk at length about his love of farming.  “Seeing these many people on the farm today, what’s incredible is that it’s not my farming community,” said Ruiter. “It’s city people that really don’t know much about farming. And really what I want to show people is all your food starts here, it starts with farmers, with the volunteer shirts out there. That’s where it all starts.

Ruiter was excited about how many people seemed interested in finding out more about where their food comes from. “That’s the biggest thing, like, there’s lots of detractors out there who want to keep it, you know, a secret,” said Ruiter. “Yeah, but we want to exploit the opportunity, to show, what farming is and where it happens and it’s a great event to do that. I’m like now I’m just amazed by the number of people. It just keeps growing and growing.”

Having his farm located where it is, at the corner of Prince of Wales Drive and Fallowfield Road, Ruiter says he has been adopted by Barrhaven as their farm.  “I’ve always been proud of being a farmer and I’m proud of what I do in the barn, and I’m not afraid to show anybody what I do,” says Ruiter. “This is just an extension of showing it off.

Many people go through their entire life without finding that one thing they love more than anything else. Peter Ruiter, however, loves farming today as much as when he first started.

“I love the hard work,” he said.  “Ironically, with the robots, the part I miss most is milking my cows. But it gives me so much more flexible time, so much more flexibility. It’s great.

“I love growing crops:  there’s still nothing like in the spring when you plant that seed, you get down on your hands and knees and see that its sprouted and it’s coming up. To me that’s just new life. I had a new calf yesterday. That’s what starts you every day. That’s new life.”

That is the type of passion that fuels a life as a farmer and why food keeps finding its way to your table. You’re welcome.