Breakfast on the Farm volunteers Quintina Cuddihy, Carleton County Junior Farmers; Dave Branson, Branson Family Sugar Bush and wife Wendy Branson, helped serve up a heart breakfast to the visitors of Dwight Foster’s farm and business in North Gower. Sawyer Helmer photo
by Tom Van Dusen
AgriNews Staff Writer
NORTH GOWER – City folks visiting a typical farm these days expecting to see Mom and Pop in coveralls and blue gingham surrounded by manure-stained urchins milking a handful of cows and cultivating a few crops are going to be surprised, even shocked, at the big business that constitutes modern Ontario agriculture.
Dwight Foster encountered some of those people Sat., Sept. 8 during Breakfast-on-the-Farm, a rotating event organized by Farm and Food Care Ontario, an agency that likes to describe its role this way: “Cultivates an appreciation for food and farming by connecting farm gates to our dinner plates.” Fundamentally, it’s all about teaching non-farmers about what’s really going on out on the concessions.
That’s a concept that Dwight and wife Ruth Ann foster and, along with family members were only too happy to lend to the cause their time, talents and massive operation of 3,000-head beef feedlot, elevator, thousands of acres of crops and grain trading business.
“I enjoy the experience of opening the eyes, of bridging the gap between consumers and producers,” Dwight says, explaining he was pleased to welcome more than 2,000 people at North Gower Grains and Foster’s Beef for a free full breakfast – with preregistration – and a tour of the facilities.
The Fosters are the poster-boy brand of farmers who Farm and Food Care want consumers to meet. The couple and their children encompass the fifth and sixth generations of the family to live and farm in what is now rural Ottawa. Always willing to try something new yet compatible with the existing operation, the Fosters have steadily expanded, including with the feedlot which is one-of-a-kind in the area, trucking business, and storage for 100,000 tons of grain.
They’re proponents of agricultural rights and the rural lifestyle without being pushy about it, community supporters, and, as Dwight has expressed, big believers in befriending consumers.
The gingham and manure–stained urchins might an exaggeration, but Dwight confirms he literally opened eyes when describing to city folk the nature and magnitude of his business, including how each cog is interlinked for maximum efficiency.
Modelled on a Michigan program, somebody came up with the tremendous brainwave for an Ontario Breakfast-on-the Farm program back in 2013. It was a huge success from the get-go, and 10 editions later, the event has pulled in 20,000 people at various places around the province who, for the most part, would never spend quality time on a farm much less get questions answered by experts from the producers themselves, too veterinarians and nutritionists.
“It provides a unique opportunity for farmers and non-farming Ontarians to have a conversation about food and farming,” says Farm and Food Care executive director Kelly Daynard. “It gives guests the chance to visit a real working farm and the opportunity to have their questions answered by real farmers.”
In terms of how much trouble it takes to set up, host, and tear down a Breakfast-on-the-Farm doo, Dwight praised Farm and Food Care for having a “well-oiled machine” in place which handled most of the details including pre-registration. Some 100 volunteers helped out including Perth farmer Barb Keith-Badour and family. Barb worked as a commentator on a bus ferrying visitors between the grain elevator and feedlot, husband Don answered questions in the beef barn and the kids served cider milk.
Full of kudos for the many sponsors who help Farm and Food Care make it all happen, Barb shared Dwight’s sentiment about the value of the exercise: “Being able to teach people about agriculture is my passion. I can hardly wait to do it again.”
Managing 2,000 people for a breakfast of eggs, sausage, maple syrup, cider and milk was easy due to the permanent space to seat more than 800 inside which Dwight does annually at his Customer Appreciation Day. With everybody pre-registered, the logistics were actually simpler with 500 guests rotated through in batches and then off on tour, he says. Several displays showcased other types of Ontario agriculture.
Farm and Food Care have come up with a magic formula for painlessly educating consumers and, in the process, turning many of them into agricultural advocates.