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The face of turkey farming in Ontario

The face of turkey farming in Ontario

AmyBeth Brubacher never expected she’d live on a turkey farm when she grew up. But nine years ago she and her husband Colin took over his family farm, and now she can’t imagine raising their daughters anywhere else.

“Both my parents spent at least part of their childhoods on farms. They always talked about it really positively and I think it was definitely seen as the ideal place to live. When Colin and I first got married we weren’t really thinking about the farm. When we decided to do it I was totally onboard right away,” AmyBeth said.

Featured in the 2016 Faces of Farming calendar for July, AmyBeth helps run their Elmira-based turkey farm, while also homeschooling Zoe, Stella, and Mercedes.

“It was fun. It was a huge honour to be asked,” AmyBeth said.

Now in its 11th year, the calendar highlights 12 farmers in Ontario who produce a variety of goods. Farm & Food Care Ontario puts the calendar together to show the range of agriculture this province has to offer, and the hardworking people behind it.

“The Turkey Board of Ontario, every year they switch back and forth from doing a male or a female, so when I first was asked I initially said I think Colin needs to be the one because he’s the one that is in the barn most of the time, but it was a female year, so I got to do it. I think they were looking for interesting stories of people who are farming and I guess my story’s a bit different because I grew up in the city and I don’t have any background in farming at all. So it was kind of interesting that I have jumped into the farming life,” AmyBeth said.

The couple decided they were going to take over the family farm in 1999. It was a gradual transition, as they took over operation of the farm in 2006 and moved to the farm from Conestogo in 2007.

And it’s still very much a family affair.

“His dad’s still very involved in the farm. He comes probably every day and does stuff around the barn. And then Colin does chores morning and night. On Saturday that’s our big farm work day and we have high school students that come out and work for us. They work for at least half the day, if not a bit longer. My role is probably more behind the scenes, making food for the workers and keeping everything running. I do go to the barn if I’m needed. I have helped with the cleaning of the barn and feeding the turkeys when they were really young, and loading the turkeys,” AmyBeth explains.

The farmland was originally a dairy farm. This makes AmyBeth and Colin third generation farmers on the land, but second generation turkey farmers.

As an average size turkey farm, they sell their birds under the name Scotch Line Turkey Co.

A licensed auto mechanic out of high school, Colin later went into insurance, where he still works. But taking on the farm was a dream come true.

“From day one I always wanted to be a farmer,” Colin said.

From a young age he learned the ropes beside his dad, always aspiring to do it himself one day.

AmyBeth says it was a smooth transition with Colin’s experience and his parents’ solid foundation laid out before them. She’s also involved with envisioning the future of the farm.

She says most of their turkeys are sold to commercial processors. They’re just ramping up to one of their busiest times of year, since for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter they do what they refer to as custom work.

AmyBeth and Colin say homeschooling their daughters Stella, Zoe, and Mercedes gives them the flexibility to tend to the farm, while also providing a well-rounded education
AmyBeth and Colin say homeschooling their daughters Stella, Zoe, and Mercedes gives them the flexibility to tend to the farm, while also providing a well-rounded education. [Submitted]

“It’s something his dad started and we’ve just built on that. He would take the turkeys to a local provincially inspected processor and then bring them back to the farm and sell them to various restaurants and delis and butchers and things like that, plus individuals who want to buy a turkey,” AmyBeth said.

As for the turkey industry, they agree that there’s definitely a demand for it. Colin says turkey consumption is growing.

“You see it far more than you used to in chain restaurants to everywhere, in the grocery stores. Turkey’s seen now as an everyday food, not just a holiday food,” Colin said.

They note the local feed mills have always been helpful and a great resource for their business.

“There’s lots of support from people who are interested in buying local food,” AmyBeth said.

And while factory farms get a lot of flak for damaging the environment, the Brubachers are doing what their part to be as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible.

“We put a solar wall on the barn a few years ago. We draw our air through there, the sun heats it in the winter. It just makes the environment in the barn a little nicer at no cost. On a cold winter day when it’s sunny and cold outside the incoming air would be 20 degrees warmer than the outside air temperature just from the sun. It’s unbelievable,” Colin said.

AmyBeth studied music at Wilfrid Laurier University and education at York University before teaching in the public school system for 10 years. She was introduced to homeschooling and decided to take that on full time for her children.

“There were lots of things I loved about the school system, but I just wanted more time and space and freedom for my kids. We made the decision to home-school which has dovetailed really nicely with the farm lifestyle,” AmyBeth said.

“Just to do farm stuff it gives us flexibility,” Colin added.

The goal is for their children to be well rounded, so if they want to go into farming, business, trades, university, or whatever their heart desires, they’ll be well prepared.

“The agri-food industry is an exciting industry to be a part of. There are lots of changes and people becoming aware of where their food comes from and to be of that industry, helping to grow healthy food is really a privilege and it’s exciting,” AmyBeth said.

You can check out the full calendar and order one at www.farmfoodcare.org.

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