Submitted by Miranda van den Berg
Representatives of the Thunder Bay Federation of Agriculture (TBFA) as well as local representatives of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) recently hosted a self-drive farm tour and barbecue in hopes to generate some local discussion on recent concerns throughout the agricultural sector of this area. The invitation for the event was extended, in particular, to the members of both Federal and Provincial Parliament representing our region in hopes to voice any opinions on recent changes within the province that might cause concern for local farmers and producers.
The event took place on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, and started off with a self-drive tour of two local agricultural businesses, DeBruin’s Greenhouses and Trumar Farm, respectively. Both businesses represent the diversity of farmers and producers that this area is home to, and the large range of commodities that has been brought to the local market in the past few years. While this has been a very positive shift for the area, it also means that there are a larger number of factors that need to be considered at both the federal and provincial levels to continue to support local producers and farmers.
Arjen and Henriet DeBruin, owners of Debruin’s Greenhouses who have been providing Thunder Bay and area with local produce for over two decades, are currently facing one challenge in particular – the recent introduction of Ontario’s minimum wage increase within the next 3 years. While this change may be beneficial to those residing in larger urban areas, smaller-scale businesses, like DeBruin’s Greenhouses, find it challenging to be able to increase their employees’ wages while balancing their profits and keeping up with the local market against out-of-province competitors. Remaining fair to their employees but staying true to the local market raises cause for concern, which could very well be on the minds of many other smaller local producers within this region.
Trumar Farms, a third generation dairy farm, faces a different challenge – the recent rise in energy costs within the province. And while natural gas currently stands as the most affordable source of energy, Trumar Farms is unable to tap into these savings even though they are just 1km down the road from where the natural gas pipeline boundary has been placed. While the work to bring natural gas further into rural communities may be costly, a futuristic plan of energy savings would be quite promising to agricultural-based business like Trumar Farms, benefiting not only them, but the rural community as a whole.
Thanks to both DeBruin’s Greenhouses and Trumar Farms for taking the time to educate members of the tour on the ins and outs of their businesses which take place on a daily basis.
Following the farm tours, a delicious lunch was served which was catered by Daytona’s Kitchen and Creative Catering and included ingredients from 9 local businesses and producers. A special thanks to our local sponsors including Thunder Bay Co-operative Farm Supplies, Thunder Bay Feeds, Farm Credit Canada, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, and The Co-operators Insurance, our many inkind sponsors, and to Daytona’s for the meal which set the stage for the next item on the agenda – fellowship and open discussion.
We were privileged to hear the words of local dairy farmer and OFA Vice President, Peggy Brekveld, and her thoughts of recent concerns and issues within the local and provincial agricultural sector. Henriet DeBruin, Vice President of the TBFA, also took some time to speak on the threats facing small businesses in rural communities, in particular within the horticulture industry. Special guests included Bill Mauro, MPP Thunder Bay-Atikokan/Minister of Municipal Affairs, and representatives from the offices of Don Rusnak, Member of Parliament of Thunder Bay-Rainy River, and Patty Hajdu, Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay-Superior North. Out of town attendees included Corey Benner of Farm Credit Canada from the Ottawa area.
Special thanks as well to our local OFA Member Services Representative, Sandy Meyer, for the work she did towards organizing this event.
It is in the best interest of our Thunder Bay and area farmers and producers that we continue to voice our opinions and concerns, at the federal and provincial level, which threaten to keep them growing towards a long-term, strong and sustainable agricultural community.
Tomatoes ripen approximately 7 months per year in a monitored greenhouse environment at DeBruin’s Greenhouses.
Mini cucumbers are carefully packaged and delivered to local wholesalers and also sold at the local farmers’ market within Thunder Bay and area.
OFA Vice President Peggy Brekveld (left) and TBFA Vice President/owner of DeBruin’s Greenhouses Henriet DeBruin (right) inspect DeBruin’s hydroponically grown herbs and lettuce.
A dairy cow at Trumar Farms quietly chews her cud.
Brekveld leads a group discussion during the tour of Trumar Farms.