Wilkinson’s Agriculture 101 tour was a big hit with locals and visitors alike

Perth-Wellington MPP John Wilkinson calls it his version of Country Mouse and City Mouse.

The annual Agriculture 101 tour, which was started in 2004 by Wilkinson and Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne, made its first ever stop in Wellington County on Aug. 21.

The tour brings urban MPPs and their staff and families to local farms and this year included stops at three Mapleton operations, including Clovermead farms on County Road 8 south of Drayton, which is owned by Bruce and Deborah Whale.

Approximately nine urban MPPs and their guests took part in the event, including Wynne (Don Valley West MPP) and Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best (Scar­borough-Guildwood). Best in particular seemed  impressed with the Whale farm operation, as well as the agricultural efforts of Trees for Mapleton.

“This is just great,” Best said following a presentation on Trees for Mapleton. “I think this is something that should be copied in other places.”

The birth of Ag 101

Wilkinson explained that long ago almost all MPPs came from a rural area, with the exception of a couple of cities, so most were very familiar with farming.

Over the last 100 years that has changed, he said, so rural members now need to reach out to the urban members so they can understand agricultural issues.

“The best way to do that is to be here in rural Ontario,” Wilkinson said in an interview. “There’s nothing like seeing it first hand – the size, the scope, the complexity [of the farms] and the unique way of life we have here.”

The tour

Every MPP on last week’s  tour was paired with a local farm family so they could become more familiar with rural issues and feel comfortable asking any agricultural questions they had.

Wilkinson noted that he and Wynne share the responsibility for getting urban members to the rural locations, but it is local farm groups – in this case the Wellington Federation of Agriculture – that “put on the day.”

He added the event is also supported by the National Farmer’s Union, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmer’s Federation of Ontario and a lot of commodity groups that provide food for the brunch at the start of the tour and the barbecue at the end of it.

The Ag 101 events have been so successful they have spawned “Toronto 101,” with farmers and rural MPPs travelling to urban centres like Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton to understand issues there.

The Whale farm

Visitors learned that in ad­dition to several crops, the Whale farm boasts about 175 milking cows and about 220 young replacing animals and veal calves.

“[The Whale] family has been farming this land since the 1840s, and you can see from the productivity that the family has looked after it very well,” Deborah Whale e­x­plained to one of two groups that were travelling by bus to the three farms.

She noted the family is meticulous about protecting the environment, has planted something like 35,000 trees “since we came here” and stores and handles  manure “very judiciously,” which has totally eliminated the need for commercial fertilizer on the farm.

At the end of the Whale farm tour, Wilkinson said, “Now you understand how big this business is and how important it is that we have the finest, safest, most nutritious milk in the world for our families.”

After the Whale farm, the groups toured the farms of Len and Brenda Jewitt (BLT Farms) and Elmer and Doris Frey.