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Thatcher Farms: All local food is all natural with the Thatchers

by Kelly Waterhouse

GUELPH-ERAMOSA - There is a trend in food these days to become “locavores”  or local food eaters. The push to buy food grown in one’s own community and within the province has become food fashion.

Unfortunately, popularity sometimes brings with it the stigma of a niche market. Don’t buy into the hype. Local food is not a fad. At its roots, local food is about much more.

Dana and Adam Thatcher, of Thatcher Farms near Rockwood, are invested in proving the local food movement is not a movement at all; it is simply a way of living the good life.

“We’ve become so disconnected from where our food comes from that we’ve lost our traditions,” said Dana. “Buying local isn’t new, and it’s not a trend. It’s the way it always was before - the tradition of farming and community values.”

As first generation farmers, the young couple is taking the risk of investing in their farm future, ensuring sustainable agriculture and safe local food is available for their family - and everyone else’s, too. Determined to control their products and their livelihood, the Thatcher’s are building their dream right in their own backyard.

Spread out over 140 acres, Thatcher Farms has undergone some major changes since Adam took over the land from his family. As a graduate of the Ontario Agricultural College, his dream was to pursue farming full-time. He began in the pig industry, but when those market prices dropped, he looked for a new venture.

In 2007, Thatcher Farms became a working sheep farm, with a flock of 250 Rideau Arcott ewes. That domestic breed was developed by Agriculture Canada at the Animal Research Centre in Ottawa and released to sheep breeders in 1988. It is one of three truly Canadian lineages.

“I chose the Rideau because they are prolific,” said Adam, currently in the middle of a busy lambing season.

“Most of our ewes will have twins and triplets, but quads are not uncommon,” he said, pointing to his newest set.  “We lamb three times a year. It keeps us busy.”

The change in livestock was the momentum the two needed. In summer 2008, they built their Thatcher Farms Country Store, a farm gate retail shop that features their own naturally raised meats, including hormone and additive-free lamb, beef, pork and chicken, and they also offer summer sausage and Omega 3 eggs. They are now harvesting their own honey, too, and feature local maple syrup. 

Dana’s home baked meat pies and fruit jams are a customer favorite. Plus, they support other local farmers, including the award-winning goat cheeses from River’s Edge Goat Dairy, in Arthur.

Maintaining a head of 40 cattle and pigs allows them to stock the Country Store with their own meats without assuming huge overhead.

But perhaps their most exciting goal was the completion of an on-site cutting house last spring. Thanks to a grant from the Ontario Cattleman’s Association, the ability to cut and package their own meats offered them complete quality assurance and control. The Thatchers could see their hard work come full circle. It meant their customers could too.

“This is what I am most proud of,” said Dana, offering a tour of the spotless, modern cutting house built by Adam, complete with a walk-in freezer, and a separate area with confectionery ovens and room for baking and canning.

“We have lots of plans for the store as a result of this place. It was a dream of ours. Now we are a part of the food production process every step of the way. We grow the feed our animals eat.

We feed and care for the livestock, who have a good quality of life here, and we are a part of the lambing season and all that entails.

“Adam does the trucking to our small, local abattoir in Drayton, and then the carcasses are returned to our farm, where we have the cutting and packaging done here. We can feel good about how our animals are treated and the high standards of sanitization in the final product,” she said. “It adds so much value to our finished product.”

An important part of that pride comes with the respect for the skill of their hired butcher, William Merrit.

“He has worked for three generations of Dana’s family,” Adam explained. “He was an apprentice with Dana’s grandfather in his grocery store, then worked for Dana’s uncle, and now he works with us.”

The confidence in that relationship is more than just quality control.

“It’s rare, to do it all, and it is a lot of work to be a part of everything,” said Dana, who shares the farm work and raising of their two young children with her husband while on leave from her elementary teaching career. “We work together and share all the jobs. These are hard times right now, because it’s just the two of us. It takes a lot of time and effort, but we’re both devoted to it.”

On Saturday mornings, people will find Dana at the Guelph Farmer’s Market, where she loves the atmosphere of her fellow farmers and their customers.

“People come up to me and ask good questions about how we raise our animals and our farm. I think people like to meet the person behind the food they’re eating.”

She enjoys the opportunity to connect with her customers, too. It’s not about big purchases so much as it is about conscious choices, and for Dana the pride in her work is in knowing another family benefits from her labour.

“They know my name and they call me their farmer. I love knowing people are in their kitchens, cooking food with our label on it, and they’ve connected with us in some way. These people recognize how important what we do is - and that means something to me.”

That’s why the farm gate sales are important. It gives families a chance to get out of their cars and see the property, meet Adam and Dana Thatcher, and get a sense of where their food is grown.

“It’s about educating people about the value of agriculture and what it takes to get food to their table from beginning to end. It is so important,” she said. “When they meet me at the market or come to the store, they make the connection to the farm and the farmer. They see that it isn’t a romantic lifestyle; it’s hard work, yet it is so worth it.”

Based on the return customers and the growing interest in their products, she smiles.

“I know we’re on to something good here. We’ve got no complaints and people like our product. We stand by the quality of our food. ”

On the horizon, the Thatchers would like to add a pavilion to their property as a place for people to come enjoy the countryside, host agricultural-themed events, chef dinners, school tours and group outings. The goal is to bring people out to the family farm as a destination, making the connection between farming and the future.

Local food isn’t a niche. It’s about family and community. It’s about healthy food and a healthy economy. It’s home.

“I really believe in what we’re doing here,” Dana said, off to do chores. “My heart is in it, and Adam’s heart is here too. The adventures that await our children on this farm, they can’t be measured.”

Thatcher Farms is located at 5257 5th Line of Eramosa. For more information, call 519-856-4073 or visit buylocal@thatcher-farms.com.

 

Vol 44 Issue 10

 
 

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