My exchange trip to Canada started with a 9.00am direct flight from Dublin Airport to Toronto. I was not looking forward to the 8 hour flight but surprisingly it passed quite quickly.
Waiting for me in the arrivals hall was Mike Sproxton, program organiser for Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario (JFAO) and the English YFC exchange for 2014, Karl Hockenhull. As we left the airport building I had my first embarrassing moment when I headed for the passenger door of Mike’s car, forgetting in Canada they drive on the right hand side of the road so the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car compared to cars in Northern Ireland. Thank goodness I wasn’t driving as the road we were driving down (known as the 401) had more than 12 lanes of traffic and I learnt that it was the busiest highway in North America.
Mike took Karl and me to our first host who was Nathan of Waterloo Junior Farmers’ (JF). Nathan lived on his family’s vegetable farm and due to the wet spring in Ontario they were still planting vegetables so we got to help planting tomatoes. That evening we went to a pool party and BBQ where we were introduced to other delegates. Around a camp fire we met Libby Stewart from Scotland, Owen Woolley from Australia, Maria Muller from Switzerland and Ramona Hastedt from Germany. This was really the beginning of the exchange. The following day Nathan showed us around the family farm and we were given the opportunity to help plant some tomatoes.
The next day neighbouring Oxford JF became our hosts and took us on a tour of Oxford County. First stop was Ross Butler Studio Agricultural Art Gallery where we were able to view pictures and sculptures of farm animals including a real life size cow carved from wood, then on to Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese factory where we were shown the different stages involved in making cheese and we got to sample various different cheeses. An interesting tour of Jakeman’s Maple Farm showed us how sap was extracted from the maple tree and boiled to make Canada’s famous maple syrup. I was surprised to learn that it took 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup. We visited a dairy farm where there were fans in the roof and sprinklers spraying water over the cows to keep them cool – that’s one thing we have no problem doing at home. Our stay in Waterloo was completed by a trip to the local Farmers Market where you could buy just about anything including livestock, vegetables, fruit, clothes, crafts, etc.
After an enjoyable week spent with members of Waterloo and Oxford JF we moved on to Hamilton JF where we had a very busy week. As well as visiting a dairy farm and grain elevators, we spent a day at African Lion Safari Park. We also got to visit the Niagara Falls. The size of the Falls was incredible, especially when on the “Maid of the Mist” boat tour looking up at them from the bottom. We also got the opportunity to go horse riding and to visit the local drive in. Most evenings ended with a bbq and a get together around a camp fire.
At the end of the leadership camp we travelled to Bruce County where we were joined by Martina Rieberer from Austria. My hosts for the next week were pig farmers Brent and Alisha de Vriesmet who kept 200 sows. It was really interesting to see the sows in the farrowing crates and also the pigs in the sow stalls that are banned in the EU. The amount of bio security was unreal, with everyone stripping off outside the sow barn and being given a clean boiler suit and boots for inside only. I never realised pigs were so fragile!!
We visited two very different farms, while in Perth, one of which was a wild boar farm and Tenderbuff water buffalo farm. Although the buffalo milk was worth quite a premium(no one would ever tell us the exact amount), I felt the farmer deserved every cent, as the buffalos were quite intimidating animals and in the parlour there were air powered shackles that held their rear legs to stop them kicking when they were being milked. We finished our time with Perth JF with a camping trip to the Rodeo outside London.
Our next stop was Middlesex JF where all delegates stayed together at a B&B. The highlight of the week for me was a visit to Stanton Farm. This was an impressive Dairy farm where 650 cows were milked 3 times/day through a double 30 Herringbone WestfaliaSurge milking parlour. They had around 2,000 head of stock. The cows are housed in two sheds 1070 feet long by about 120 feet wide, the whole yard took up 50 acres of their 1600 acres!
After Middlesex, we moved to Huron County, where we stayed in Seaforth. This was another jam packed week highlights included visits to a dairy farm of Brown Swiss cows (which pleased the Austrian delegate),Thompsons grain elevator (mill), Case dealership, Goderich museum and gaol, picnic on beach and learned to play baseball.
Renfrew County were our hosts for the next two weeks. While with Renfrew JF we visited McBride’s Dairy Farm, a hemp farm, livestock market, a bee farm, Bonnechere Caves, went horse riding, paintballing, a demolition derby and we were interview by the local radio station.
After saying farewell to the members of Renfrew JF we moved to Peterborough where I lived ‘a millionaires’ lifestyle for the next week. My host was Paul Glenn who owned a 2,000 acres arable farm, and 17 lorries which he used to transport sawdust and shavings and he also used the lorries to cart in grain at harvest time. We stayed in his large log cabin beside a river where we spent some time during the week being towed behind his speed boat water skiing, water tubing and even had a go at fishing. We helped Paul to build a floating dock at his log cabin. During the week we went onto the Staples’ family’s own private island in a lake. There was just a cabin, a hot tub and a sauna on the island and the day was spent relaxing on the island and doing water sports in the lake. A brilliant day! Also during the week we visited a large chicken farm where the barn was 3 stories high and could accommodate 90,000 chickens at one time, went to see canal locks and had fun lazer shooting. At the end of the week we were on the move again to Durham West JF.
Here I stayed with Eric Kressibucher on his parents arable farm and got to help bringing in hay. I also spent a day with his sister helping out on her 4 corn stands(stalls) selling corn, peas, potatoes, cherries, tomatoes etc. The corn stands are set up on the road side and city people heading to holiday homes on the lakes stop to buy the local produce. Also we got to visit a goat farm that had 1200 goats and had just acquired 100 sheep. The milk from the goats and sheep was pasteurised and sold to local shops. We moved to Marsville JF for the last week of our exchange. This was a fun and mainly social week, though we did visit the veterinary college at Guelph University, spent a day with a horse breeder where we saw round his stables and how horses were prepared for a horse show and attended a dairy show which was held one evening. An interesting trip to Dircrest Holsteins veal farm revealed the different stages of rearing grain fed calves for veal production. Calves have to weigh around 300 kgs for the veal market and this is achieved on average when the calf is 150 days old. We learned how veal was full of nutrients, low in fat and was an excellent source of iron, zinc and vitamin B(12). A trip to Rib Fest saw me loosen my belt again as different butchers showed off their meat and I was able to taste ribs cooked in many different ways – delicious.
All too soon we were getting dressed up for the last night banquet for the delegates and all the Junior Farmers that attended from all over Ontario. Here I had the opportunity to meet up with many of the people who had hosted me over the exchange. Each delegate had to perform a presentation telling a bit about themselves and their time in Ontario. An enjoyable night was had by all although it was tinged with sadness as I said goodbye to my fellow delegates, now my good friends.
Bags packed, passport located, I headed back to Toronto Pearson Airport, where after a two hour wait in the plane on the runway, I was flying home.
The next day a cowboy arrived at Dublin airport. Cowboy hats don’t travel well, so figured I’d best just wear it and the cowboy boots.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank YFCU and JFAO for giving me the chance to visit Canada, and also thanks to UFU and NFU Toomebridge Office for sponsoring me and making my trip possible.
I can honestly say this was the best three months of my life, I thoroughly enjoyed my exchange to Canada, and I would recommend and encourage any young farmer to do an exchange as you’ll have the time of your life.