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In This Issue:

Small Farms are Real Farms, Sustaining People Through Agriculture
Growing Forward 2: 2013-2018
P.E.I. Farm Family Steering in the Right Direction
Farm Centre Association’s planting seeds of a Legacy Farm

Small Farms are Real Farms, Sustaining People Through Agriculture

By John Ikerd
Note: John Ikerd is Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO – USA; Author of, Sustainable Capitalism, and Essentials of Economic Sustainability, A Return to Common Sense, Small Farms are Real Farms, Crisis and Opportunity in American Agriculture, and A Revolution of the Middle and the Pursuit of Happiness;
John Ikerd will be the keynote speaker during a dinner honouring the PEI Agriculture Hall of Fame at the PEI Farm Centre; June 13, 2014.

Questions of small farms and large farms invariably raise questions such as “how large is large and how small is small?” A small beef cattle ranch obviously requires more acres than a large poultry operation and a large vegetable farm needs fewer acres than a small wheat farm.
The USDA calls any farm with less with than $250,000 in annual sales a small farm; others draw the line at $50,000 a year. I think large and small exists mainly in the mind of the farmer rather than in farm size or sales. The farmer who thinks he or she would be more successful if they just had more land and more capital is a large farmer at heart, no matter how small the farm. The farmer who is always trying to figure out how he or she might be able to make a better living on less land and less capital is a small farmer at heart, no matter how large the farm. However, I think there is some absolute size beyond which a cattle ranch, poultry operation, vegetable farm, or wheat farm simply becomes simply too large to be managed sustainably – although the critical size obviously will be different for different enterprises. Many of the so-called farm experts think of small farms as farms of the past, not farms of the future. They tend to look at trends of the past and assume those same trends will continue on indefinitely in the future. If this were true, there would be little hope for a sustainable agriculture – or a sustainable society or humanity. Because as farms have grown larger, they have become less sustainable. Thankfully, trends never continue indefinitely. At some point, all trends reverse course and move in the opposite direction, in agriculture and elsewhere.
A few years back, a couple of scientists proposed a list of the top twenty "great ideas in science" in Science magazine, one of the most respected scientific journals in the world. They invited scientists from around the world to comment on their proposed list. Among the top twenty were such ideas as the laws of gravity, motion, and thermodynamics. The top twenty also included the idea: "Everything on the earth operates in cycles,” including everything physical, biological, social, economic, – everything. Some scientists responding to the article suggested that things “tend” to cycle, but no one suggested removing “universal cycles” from the top-twenty list of ideas.
Like the pendulum on a grandfather clock, when trends go so far in one direction the laws of nature, including human nature, inevitably slow their momentum and eventually pull them back the other way. The world of the future, including farms of the future, will not be a continuation of past trends. The tendency toward larger farms is a trend of the past, not a trend of the future. The hope for sustainable farming is in a return to small farms.
That said, the past never repeats itself, at least not exactly. No two days, seasons, political cycles, or business cycles are ever identical, but we can recognize each cycle as like something we have seen before. Small farms of the future will be different from those of the past.”
To read the full article go to:


Growing Forward 2: 2013-2018

The Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture and Forestry and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada have entered into a new five-year agreement for agriculture called Growing Forward 2. Growing Forward represents a commitment from Canada's Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Agriculture for a new policy framework that will support a more profitable and competitive sector. This new framework is built on three priority outcomes:

  • Innovation
  • Competitiveness and Market Development
  • Adaptability and Industry Capacity
For information on Growing Forward II See:

P.E.I. Farm Family Steering in the Right Direction

by Mary MacKay, The Guardian; April 26, 2014
The Drakes’ Steerman’s Quality Meats business and farm in Vernon Bridge has adapted to the agricultural times for generations.
The Drake family has been steering in the right farming direction now for generations.
In fact, adapting to the times has been the only way to keep up with the ever-changing pace and face of the agricultural industry.
“You have to do it all. You have to grow it. You have to move it. And we’re lucky we’re able to do it,” says Debbie Drake from their onsite Steerman’s Quality Meats shop on their Drake Road farm in Vernon Bridge.
“You’ve got to make a lot of changes if you’re going to suit today’s customer,” adds her husband, Scott Drake, who comes from a family of farmers and butchers.
The original farmstead purchased by his great-grandfather in the early 1900s was 80 acres. Scott’s father expanded to more than 400 acres, which was bequeathed to his three sons, who in turn built up their individual acreages from there.
“Each generation kind of builds on (what they have) because you have to build it for the next generation,” says Scott, who now has 400 acres to call his own.
“This was my grandparents’ home. I grew up next door,” Scott smiles from the cozy farmhouse where he and Debbie, who were married in 1995, have raised their two children, Matthias, 17, and 16-year-old Kelly.
“The farthest I ever moved from home was out to the mini home at the end of the road. Then three years later I moved back in the road. Not too adventurous I guess,” he laughs.
Farming has always been a way of life for Scott. But prior to going into it full time at home in 1985, as an eager teen entrepreneur he started a weekly garbage disposal business, which he built from 16 customers to 100 at its peak.
“I like dealing with people and (it’s) probably where I learned a lot of my people skills,” says Scott, who started farming full time at home in 1985, raising beef cattle and hogs as well as growing turnips, hay, grass silage and grains.
In 1992, Steerman’s Quality Meats came into being when he started moving into the food service sector and doing more household accounts in response to the closure of meat packing plants: first in Moncton and eventually Charlottetown.
“My grandfather was the first butcher (in the family). Years ago that went hand in hand (with a family farm). Then my dad butchered with my grandfather but they quit butchering in the early 1970s,” Scott remembers.
“At that time the farms were getting larger and larger and the little provincial inspected abattoirs were being phased out. It was also just at the start of the supermarkets — K-mart food would be the first one — and then as those supermarkets started growing they started wanting to buy larger quantities from federally inspected plants and not wanting to buy from a little meat shop.”
The addition of an on-farm cutting room — the butchering is still professionally done off site — allows Scott to control the quality of cuts that he provides to his customers.
“I wanted portion control cuts. I wanted to fuss over it to have it trimmed just so and presentable for the consumer because the consumer I was trying to sell to was a restaurant that wanted portion control, or was a consumer that was used to seeing it in a nice lighted showcase on a nice white tray, not just cut and fired into a bag,” he says.
Building a strong customer base took years of hard work.
“Whenever this whole buy local, buy P.E.I. thing caught on, I had 10 years under my belt,’” Scott says.
“I had already evolved quite a bit and then this (consumer trend) just landed in my lap. It was just basically candy to a kid then because we’d had a lot of the groundwork done because there was a lot of learning lessons in those first 10 years: how the consumer expects things; how they perceive things to be, I had to learn all that. And then when you got into the food service there was a lot of lessons to learn there.”
One of the biggest lessons was how to price the product. “When you purchase a side of beef, you are charged the dressed weight of that side of carcass in the cooler.
“As the meat is cut into meal portions, some bone and fat is discarded making up the difference in weight,” he says.
“Now it’s more like a $100 box and I let the customers pick the cuts that they want. Having said that I had to have the business to a size where I had different customers to utilize the whole animal. Some clients they want blade roast, shank and hamburger, they don’t want the (more costly) cuts.
The very first food service order for Steerman’s Quality Meats was for steaks for a tournament at the nearby Avondale Golf Course.
“The owner had eaten our meat and liked it, so that was our ticket in.
“In P.E.I. business, you’ve got to have a personal connection . . . . If you have a little in like that it’s half the battle . . . ,” Scott says.
“The restaurants especially (have also changed in recent years). They’re big on buying local because of the way tourism is geared now . . . . People who come to P.E.I. now want to try our shellfish, our meats, our vegetables — anything that’s different from home.
“So if you can provide them with a unique product that they like, then they’ll tell others and others will come.”
Now on the cusp of his 18th birthday and headed for the faculty of agriculture at Dalhousie University in Truro, N.S., this fall, Matthias is a fifth-generation farmer in training.
He was just nine years old when he started his personal poultry business after a neighbour brought home some baby chicks and then decided that the food-raising route was not for her.
He now raises hundreds of chickens year round and turkeys for the seasonal Thanksgiving and Christmas markets as well as sells wood shavings to local farmers.
“When people hear I’m going to agricultural college, they look at me and say, ‘Why are you doing that. All you have to do is farm.’ But you have to be fairly smart to farm nowadays. You have to know the business side of it — keep the books straight — and the science part of it too — what to plant and what to apply, how much — to get the top productivity out of that product or that animal.”
For Matthias, farming is not just a career it’s in the blood.

“I was born and raised on the farm. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I will live and die on the farm.”

Farm Centre Association’s planting seeds of a Legacy Farm

by Mary MacKay, PEI Guardian,

The seeds for a long-lasting legacy will soon be planted by a new Farm Centre Association initiative.
This spring the association is embarking upon a Legacy Farm project, which is a community-based research and demonstration farm on an eight-plus- acre parcel of land directly behind the centre in Charlottetown.
“The whole idea of the Legacy Garden will be in keeping with the theme of 2014 so it will be honouring the past, giving recognition to the present and helping to create a vision of the future for Island agriculture,” says Phil Ferraro, general manager of the Farm Centre Association, which received funding from the P.E.I. 2014 Fund.
The association, which has partnered with the Agriculture Canada Research Branch, the P.E.I. Food Exchange and The Culinary Institute of Canada, has obtained a long-term lease of the land, which is on Charlottetown Experimental Farm property.
“Our partners include the Agriculture Canada Research Branch and they will be growing lots of grains and vegetables that were actually developed on Prince Edward Island in the past 100 years. We will be including some signage and having some tours of what those crops were and what they meant to P.E.I. and Canadian agriculture,” Ferraro says.
“Another partner is the P.E.I. Food Exchange which became fairly well known this past fall for going out and ‘gleaning’ fields. After a farm has been mechanically harvested they’ll go in to pick food and give it away to charity. Next year they will be growing food (in the Legacy Garden) as well as gleaning from other farm fields.”
The Culinary Institute will also be hosting a series of dinners at the Farm Centre, which will be coupled with events that all relate to Island agriculture and food security.
In addition to Agriculture Canada’s extensive field plots where they will demonstrate various crops that they’ve developed on P.E.I. over the years, there will be community gardens and research plots where new and under-commercialized crops will be introduced to that people can see what opportunities there may be to growing some of them.
“So between the community gardens, the research trials and the demonstration plots we will also have an activities area. This agricultural research station is actually unique in Canada. It’s the only one that has historically always invited people to be part of it — to walk across it. All of the other agricultural stations across Canada are more restricted,” Ferraro says.
“If you look back at past events it used to be a place bus tours came, where weddings were held, where special events occurred, so we hope to reinvigorate some of that enthusiasm around the farm by having an area where we will certainly be hosting events over the course of the year, but then in the future as the orchard and gardens mature that people will want to utilize the space for their events.”
Ferraro says the Legacy Garden has tremendous potential as an agri-tourism destination, for cruise ship passengers, for example.
“(Also) over the last couple of years is that farmers are using the farm centre as a depot for their community-supported agriculture projects, so within the garden there will be an expanded opportunity for farmers to do that,” he adds.
The half-acre community garden will be established this spring, as will a half-acre orchard of various fruits and nuts. Shelterbelts will also be planted to present an esthetically pleasing landscape as well as a productive landscape.
Educational programming, as well as demonstration farming activities, will also part of the Legacy Farm package.
“This being an urban location in the middle of Charlottetown, urban agriculture is becoming very prominent. The vast majority of new farmers in North America are small diverse farms with direct marketing, and the younger generation of farmers tends to be closer to cities or in cities,” Ferraro says.
“So there might be an opportunity for tools and techniques for small farmers and urban gardeners.”
There is also an opportunity for horticultural therapy for the elderly, disengaged youth, and those with physical, developmental, mental, and learning disabilities; and garden-based learning for early childhood education.
“ It’s a research, demonstration, celebratory, educational space. . . ,” Ferraro adds.
“It’s a very exciting endeavour. If you look at the original mandate of the Farm Centre it was to be an event centre and a place to help bring together urban and rural people . . . Somehow over the years it kind of lost that vitality and became just an office building. So we’re hoping to reinvigorate the mandate of the Farm Centre as well as the heritage of the (experimental) farm that had always been sort of a destination and celebratory site that was unique in Canada.”


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