Check­ing in on the neigh­bour­hood farm

The di­vide be­tween ru­ral and ur­ban is shrink­ing

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - IN THE NEW FARM - Owen roberts Ur­ban Cow­boy

If you live in or near Toronto, lo­cal food hardly gets more au­then­tic than the beef that, for more than a cen­tury, has been pro­duced by the Sheard fam­ily at Sun­nymead Farms.

But can Bill, Sheila and son Will — as well as hun­dreds of other farm­ers like them on Toronto’s fringe — keep grow­ing lo­cal crops and rais­ing live­stock with mount­ing pres­sure from housing and in­dus­try?

Ab­so­lutely, says Will, a re­cent grad­u­ate from the Univer­sity of Guelph agri­cul­tural busi­ness pro­gram. And he be­lieves his neigh­bours far and wide sup­port him. “I’m com­mit­ted to farm­ing here,” he says. “This is my home, my com­mu­nity. I def­i­nitely want to stay put and con­tinue our fam­ily tra­di­tion of be­ing an On­tario beef farmer.”

The Sheards raise some 3,500 cat­tle and grow 1,400 acres of soy­beans, corn, wheat and al­falfa at Sun­nymead, just north of the Bramp­ton city lim­its. On a re­cent me­dia visit, I found their farm sur­pris­ingly serene, even though High­way 410 goes by their front gate, and their feed­lot was full of cat­tle.

Even in the farm’s in­fancy, when they were truly ru­ral, they had a close con­nec­tion to Toronto. And they’ve worked hard to be good neigh­bours. For ex­am­ple, when Bill’s fa­ther Wil­liam was young, in the 1940s, he was the point man (or boy, rather) on morn­ing cat­tle drives from the farm, down Eglinton Av­enue to the Toronto stock­yards.

His job was hu­man and an­i­mal safety, some­times even at his own peril. He’d pedal in front of the herd, wav­ing cars off to the side of the street to avoid col­li­sions with the driven live­stock.

Of course, times have changed. But decades later, the fam­ily con­tin­ues to em­ploy farm­ing tech­niques that sat­isfy their neigh­bours, their herd, their banker, ur­ban con­sumers and cit­i­zen watch­dogs.

That’s a bal­anc­ing act. But they do it with grace, us­ing new and dif­fer­ent ap­proaches they’ve learned through re­search.

For ex­am­ple, for an­i­mal health and wel­fare, they change the shav­ings in their feed­lot at least twice a week, or more if it rains. “If the an­i­mals’ feet are dry, their health is gen­er­ally bet­ter,” says Will.

En­vi­ron­men­tally, they have eave­stroughs on all their barns to catch rain­wa­ter. It’s then chan­neled un­der­ground and fil­tered through a 100-me­tre veg­e­ta­tive strip. By the time it reaches the nearby Credit River, it ex­ceeds min­i­mum provincial stan­dards.

They also use so­phis­ti­cated, highly cal­i­brated vari­able-ap­pli­ca­tion ma­chin­ery and soil maps to spread ma­nure. That way, the amount dis­trib­uted is pre­cise, and spread only where needed.

To pro­mote trans­parency, they wel­come vis­i­tors, such as those who’ll tour the farm this week as part of the an­nual Peel County Ru­ral Wa­ter Qual­ity Pro­gram.

And, the Sheards grow an acre of sweet corn just for their neigh­bours. They in­vite them to pick it for free, and while they’re at it, stop by for a look at their oper­a­tion.

Sun­nymead and its nearur­ban neigh­bours need to get along, just like all neigh­bours do. And, if in­deed con­sumers want lo­cal food, sup­port for sus­tain­able farms like the Sheards is vi­tal. Owen Roberts is an agri­cul­tural jour­nal­ist at the Univer­sity of Guelph, and pres­i­dent of the 5,000-mem­ber In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­tural Jour­nal­ists. Fol­low him on Twitter @ TheUr­banCow­boy or con­tact him by email at ur­ban­cow­boy­canada@gmail.com.

SIAN RICHARDS/FOR METRO

will Sheard a re­cent grad­u­ate from the Univer­sity of guelph agri­cul­tural busi­ness pro­gram, be­lieves his neigh­bours sup­port his fam­ily’s farm, Sun­nymead Farms.

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