Build­ing farm from ground up

San­dra, Leo Vos named Farm Fam­ily of Year

The Expositor (Brantford) - - FRONT PAGE - JA­COB ROBIN­SON

Al­most 20 years ago, San­dra Vos de­cided to ditch a ca­reer in nurs­ing to farm a par­cel of land in Brant­ford.

“I like to gar­den so I started to grow hay,” she re­calls. “I didn’t know any­thing about farm­ing. I didn’t know how to drive a trac­tor and I was scared of cows.”

De­spite that in­aus­pi­cious start, San­dra and hus­band Leo are set to be hon­oured as Brant County Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture Farm Fam­ily of the Year at a ban­quet next month.

San­dra grew up in Scar­bor­ough, and dur­ing down time would visit her un­cle’s farm on Pow­er­line Road. She went on to meet Leo (a Woodstock na­tive) at Western Univer­sity and the two moved to town in the early 1980s.

In 2001, San­dra pur­chased a chunk of her fam­ily’s land (80 acres) and tran­si­tioned into the world of agri­cul­ture.

“When you’re a brand new farmer, you have no knowl­edge, no equip­ment and no land be­hind you,” she said. “I was care­ful with what I could af­ford to do - I moved into small square hay.

“We had three kids that were just mov­ing into be­ing teenagers so they weren’t too im­pressed with the change mom was mak­ing. The next sum­mer they all went off to camp and never came home.”

Leo would help when­ever he was needed but for the most part, San­dra tack­led the day-to-day du­ties. As the years passed she de­cided the land would ben­e­fit from hav­ing cows on site. She learned about ro­ta­tional graz­ing and be­gan con­sis­tently mov­ing the small herd where the cat­tle could eat fresh grass while pro­vid­ing fer­til­izer with their ma­nure.

Vos be­gan with five cows and now houses up­wards of 30 in the win­ter and nearly dou­ble that in the sum­mer.

“That was a re­ally steep learn­ing curve be­cause if you don’t have the right type of for­ages and sweet­ness in the grass you can have some pretty stringy tast­ing beef,” Vos ex­plained.

“I’m a great be­liever in soil con­ser­va­tion and the best way to do that is to keep ev­ery­thing green.”

Her nurs­ing back­ground comes in handy dur­ing calf sea­son in March and April – the herd wel­comed 25 last year alone. Vos pro­vides the vac­ci­na­tions and even weens the young ones so they’re not stressed when sold to buy­ers.

“A whole part of my farm­ing is health pro­mo­tion,” Vos said. “I’ve al­ways be­lieved – rightly or wrongly – that good health starts with good food and good food starts with good soil.”

When she wasn’t at the farm, Vos be­came heav­ily in­volved with the Brant County Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture and its Buy Lo­cal Buy Fresh ini­tia­tive as well as the Brant­ford Cham­ber of Com­merce and Brant­ford Cat­tle­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

“I don’t have an agri­cul­tural back­ground but sud­denly peo­ple were ask­ing me things. They wanted me to come and talk and I found my role was that bridge be­tween the non-farmer and the farm­ing com­mu­nity,” Vos said.

“The (sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tion farm­ers) are ab­so­lutely amaz­ing – they can pro­duce, they take risks. It’s un­be­liev­able what farm­ers do ev­ery day, but they don’t al­ways have that time to go out and ed­u­cate the pub­lic. I think that’s be­come part of my role.”

The Vos fam­ily has wel­comed hun­dreds of folks to the land while help­ing or­ga­nize farm tours with for­mer On­tario Premier Kath­leen Wynne stop­ping by one af­ter­noon.

Their calves have be­come so pop­u­lar that San­dra Vos of­ten sells di­rectly to cus­tomers, peo­ple who trust in the high-qual­ity an­i­mals they’re re­ceiv­ing.

“It’s all about try­ing to make that next step eas­ier for the guy down the chain,” said Vos.

Make no mis­take though, things didn’t al­ways come easy on the farm.

“In the sum­mer when you’re do­ing bal­ing, it’s hot and hard work,” said Leo.

“(And) the equip­ment is def­i­nitely old enough to vote.”

The past 18 years have been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the cou­ple, to say the least.

“We’re both city peo­ple but after be­ing in it for a while, you re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate how de­pen­dent (gen­er­a­tional farm­ers) are on the weather, on prices – there’s so many things out of your con­trol you have to deal with,” Leo said. “The peo­ple we’ve met in the farm­ing com­mu­nity are amaz­ing – they’re just won­der­ful.”

In 2018, San­dra was pre­sented with the En­vi­ron­men­tal Stew­ard­ship Award by the Beef Farm­ers of On­tario. Next month, she’ll take home an­other pres­ti­gious hon­our.

“Peo­ple say to me, ‘Did you al­ways have a dream to be a farmer?’ and I say ‘No,’” San­dra laughed.

“Some days in the mud in the spring is the ab­so­lute worst, I hate it. That’s when I think about quit­ting, but I look at life in a way that you never stop learn­ing. Ev­ery day I learn some­thing new ... Also, farm­ing gives you a deep sense of con­tent­ment that you can’t ex­plain to peo­ple who aren’t farm­ers.”

These days San­dra is think­ing of ways she can slowly pass along the farm du­ties to oth­ers, but she’ll carry the les­sons she’s learned wher­ever she goes. Chief among them is the need to sup­port lo­cal.

“We re­ally be­lieve in the con­cept of, if you’re go­ing to build a strong com­mu­nity, you have to give back to the com­mu­nity you’re mak­ing your money in,” she said. “You have to build those con­nec­tions be­cause the bet­ter con­nected we are, the stronger we are.”

Also be­ing hon­oured at next month’s ban­quet are schol­ar­ship stu­dents Ser­ena Al­lardyce and Suzanne Kel­ley.

The event takes place at Blessed Sacra­ment Hall in Bur­ford on Feb. 2. The so­cial hour be­gins at 6 p.m. with din­ner served at 7 p.m. Tick­ets are $35 per per­son. Any­one want­ing to pur­chase a ticket can call Linda Sny­der at 519-759-4232.

JA­COB ROBIN­SON/POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

Brant­ford's Leo and San­dra Vos have been named the Brant County Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture Farm Fam­ily of the Year.

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