Once we had loaded onto our bus, my group “Supply Management,” did a quick round of introductions. Everyone on our tour was from pretty diverse backgrounds. Our roster included a Ph.D student from the U of T, a journalist, the executive director of FoodForward, a professor with the U of T, an employee of St. James Food Basket, Barbara Emmanual of the Toronto Food Strategy among many others……
While riding toward our first destination, we shared what limited information we knew about supply management with the rest of the group. Since most of us had only a pretty basic understanding of marketing boards and the quota system, the conversation was helped along by one of our facilitators, Janet Horner, who had a great deal of personal experience to draw from (being a farmer and coordinator with the GTA Agriculture Action Committee).
Our first destination was the Altona Lea dairy farm in Blackstock, Ontario. Glen Barkey, the owner and our tour guide for the morning, explained that their farm has been a family-run operation since 1978. The Barkeys’ 50 cows produce about 56 kilos of butterfat a week. One of the most interesting things I learned on this tour is that the value of milk is measured in two parts. Farmers are paid a higher amount for butterfat ($14 per kilo) over milk protein ($12 per kilo). Since there is a surplus of milk protein, the milk industry markets it to other businesses. For example, it sells milk protein to companies that manufacture protein bars, chocolate ‘beverages,’ and frozen desserts (since these drinks and desserts are made mainly from milk protein, they can’t legally be called chocolate milk or ice cream).
Another really interesting thing we talked about was the quota system. One unit of quota (which allows the farmer to produce one kilo of butterfat per week) costs about $25,000. While this is the lowest of all the provinces, it can be a major barrier for new entrants. On the other hand, it also provides farmers within the quota system a good price for their product and a relatively stable income.
While at the Barkeys’ farm, we also went on a tour of the barns. We first got to see the newborn calves. They were so cute! After that we were led to the milking barn, where we were given a demonstration of how the cows are milked. No more Old MacDonald’s farm, these cows are hooked up to machines that measure the milk coming from the cows and automatically disconnect when the milk slows to a certain flow.
The tour finished with more questions and we eventually had to be wrestled back onto the bus so that we could get underway to our next destination: the Blackstock model cage-free egg farm.
As part of the tour, we toured an old egg grading station. The facility used to house about 90,000 chickens and receive eggs from other farms that they would clean, grade, package, and ship. According to the owner and tour guide, Svante Lind, he became increasingly bothered by how facilities like his treated their chickens. Once he retired, he sold all of his chickens and closed the grading station. He has since sought out a partnership with the University of Guelph where the university will be using his facility as a research site on how to best transition existing facilities into a scaled-down and more humane operation.