As a grocery retailer or a restaurant in Ontario, there’s a pretty good chance that most of your customers are not farmers. That’s not surprising, given that over 80% of Canadians now live in cities or urban centres.
Although the connection from farm to fork may have become fragmented during a generational shift away from a rural lifestyle, the recent buy local movement has seen a resurgence in those who are interested in understanding where their food comes from. This is exciting for pork producers, who as a group, are encouraged by the opportunity to share their story.
In Ontario there are currently more than 1,500 pig farms. With a group of this size, it’s fair to expect some diversity. So while it’s challenging to describe the average or even typical pig farm in Ontario, at least one thing is for certain: Ontario’s farms are still predominately family owned and operated.
Vista Villa Farms is a second generation farrow-to-finish hog operation in south-western Ontario. That means their farm raises pigs from birth to market size. They also specialize in breeding stock sales and have developed both a domestic and international market for these products.
At 78 years of age, Bob Robinson still plays a fairly active role in the farm that he and his wife Rose founded together almost 50 years ago. His sons Jeff and Brent as well as their spouses, Erin and Susan are now involved in the day to day operations. According to Erin, as family farmers, they’re able to take on roles in the business that complement their individual strengths.
Originally from Sudbury, Erin came to farming after meeting her husband and finishing her communications degree in university. An eye-opening experience, Erin admits she’s learned a lot. “I still learn new things every day”.
The Robinsons are passionate advocates of responsible animal agriculture and always excited about the unique and exciting challenges that each day brings. They recognize that there are some misconceptions that still persist about the industry. Take hormones and antibiotics for example. Many consumers are surprised to learn that hormones are never used in Canadian pork production and that antibiotics are only given when required. In fact, as Erin states, “pork producers have regulations under the Canadian Quality Assurance (CQA) program regarding medication use and withdrawal periods” and that they are “strictly monitored”.
Another misconception stems from the belief that pigs will eat just about anything. And although there may be some truth to this, Vista Villa ensures a solid diet consisting of mostly corn, soybeans and vitamins. Feed consumption is tracked, providing an insight into eating behaviour and animal health.
For the Robinsons, animal health and care is a primary concern. After all, evaluating health and happiness of the herd is a vital part of the responsibilities that are performed every day and allows them to understand where improvements in care can be made, if required.
Being responsible about animal care and environmental sustainability, while at the same time ensuring that the business allows the family to earn a living can undoubtedly be challenging in the best of times. The family is nonetheless diligent and committed in these efforts.
Farmers are consumers as well. They have a vested interest in producing high quality pork products because they feed them to their own families.
Although pig farming is generally a rural activity, the impacts of the efforts of families like the Robinsons are felt throughout the communities of Southwestern Ontario. The pork they produce provides us with safe, nutritious meals for our own families. Their contributions to local sports, church and school boards demonstrate a commitment to the community as a whole. Even further reaching is their contribution to the food bank program on a monthly basis through Ontario Pork to provide food to those in need.
Erin Robinson sums it up pretty well. “We love what we do and we are passionate about it. It’s a way of life, not just a job”!
Connect with Vista Villa Farms on social media by following them on twitter (@VistaVillaFarms) or by following them on facebook (www.facebook.com/VistaVillaGenetics).