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Community Matters

Building good relationships is good business


September 22, 2010
By Treena Hein

Topics

These days, poultry producers have to do more than lend a rake or pick
up the mail to be considered good neighbours. Farmers of all stripes
must go further.

These days, poultry producers have to do more than lend a rake or pick up the mail to be considered good neighbours. Farmers of all stripes must go further.

“Recently, we’ve been discussing the importance of emphasizing community relations,” says Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) CEO Tim Lambert. “There are many ways producers across Canada are doing this. It’s everything from letting neighbours know when you’ll be cleaning out the barn to using best management practices to doing your part to ensure traceability.” Canadian Poultry looked into some of the many ways producers across Canada are building good community relationships – and we hope it inspires you to do the same, or let us know what you’re doing.

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Open House. Every fall, the UPA in Quebec holds a free open house called 'les Portes ouvertes de l’UPA.’ Visitors learn about production methods and the realities of living on many types of farms. Photo courtesy UPA


Personal interactions
On the outskirts of Summerside, P.E.I. next to a subdivision sits Kool Breeze Farm, well-known in the community as a place eggs are produced – and where to go for gardening supplies. Poultry farmers (and brothers) Ian and Doug Simmons, with their wives Tammy and Christine, also run a large garden centre, which offers flowers, trees, shrubs and lots more. The presence of the store has built a relationship from which both the farm business and the community benefit. “We get a lot of support,” says Ian. “Customers want to buy from local farmers, and also respond well to our variety of products, great staff and good location.”

Similarly, neighbours visit Kaiser Lake Farm in Napanee, Ontario to pick strawberries in the summer and buy market veggies in the fall. “Obviously you don’t get into berries to make good neighbours, but the spinoff is that they’re able to put a face on the local food producer,” says Max Kaiser, who runs the layer-pullet and cash crop farm with his father Eric. “People get to see my Dad, my kids, our wives, and see that a real family owns the farm. Granted, there are a lot of chickens here, but it’s a real family farm.” Kaiser says when he chats with visitors, he does his best to invite questions. “I live to dispel myths about agriculture and there are a lot of them,” he says. “I do my best to make myself available. That’s why I also speak to community groups, Queen’s University students, whoever asks me to.”

Those are by no means the only ways the Kaisers interact with their community. “We’re asked by people if they can ride their ATV in our woods, or dump brush there,” he says, “and we always say yes.” Kaiser notes that having neighbours on their land benefits the farm as well. “It means we’ve got eyes all over the place,” he says. “They’ll let me know what they saw and they do a lot to keep the trails clear. Being a good neighbour goes both ways.”

Taking part in events
Every year, the Simmons at Kool Breeze take part in P.E.I.’s ‘Open Farm Day.’  While these types of events don’t allow visitors to view a poultry operation in action (unless there is a special ‘biosecure’ viewing area), they do let neigbours and other visitors get to know agriculture a little bit better. “We provide a tour of the garden centre and display garden,” Ian explains. “Visitors also get to view our wind turbine that powers part of our operation.” The event features an annual scarecrow contest, as well as races (run by the Lion’s Club), wagon rides and more. “New this fall, we’re working with Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre to hold a ‘haunted corn field’ fundraising performance,” Ian says. “It all gives us some recognition in the community that we’re here for the long term, and that we care about our community.”

The Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), which represents all of Québec’s 44,000 or so farmers, also runs a free open house event every fall called ‘les Portes ouvertes de l’UPA.’ Visitors learn about production methods and the realities of living on many types of farms. Success is measured in a few ways, says UPA spokesperson Patrice Juneau, and one is sheer numbers. This is the eighth year ‘Porte ouvertes’ has been held, and more than 1 million people have taken part – including about 15 per cent of all Quebecers. “People also leave comments on comment cards saying how much they appreciated their visit and how much they learned,” says Juneau. “Many farmers who have participated have told us the event helped better their relations with neighbours from surrounding towns and villages. The bottom line is that through different means (media, internet, lobbying, government relations, etc.), we work very hard all year round to promote agriculture and position farmers as an important part of Québec’s social and economical future. But nobody does it better than the farmers themselves – that’s the beauty of the ‘Portes ouvertes’ event.”

Pretty to the eye
Everyone loves a nice yard, and making an effort to beautify your farm is something guaranteed to create warm feelings in the neighbourhood. Kool Breeze Farm has received a ‘Communities in Bloom’ award. Adds Kaiser of his Napanee farm, “We’ve been told we actually enhance property values because our property looks like a park.”

Besides keeping things neat and tidy and planting a few flowers, if you’re looking for a way to quickly and dramatically improve the look of your farm while obtaining a host of other important benefits, plant some trees. “Planting trees makes an ‘environmental statement’ to neighbours that the farmer is making every effort to resolve odour, noise and dust problems,” observes OMAFRA Agroforestry Specialist Todd Leuty. “It goes a long way to foster good relations.” Planting trees is also a relatively easy and inexpensive way to preventing neighbours from continual exposure to delivery truck traffic, and to reduce energy costs.

Community roots
Bert Harman, owner of Star Egg Company Ltd. in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan believes being a good employer is a very important way to build good community relations. He has 53 employees working at his recently expanded grading station and three regional egg farms. “A few years ago, we had trouble getting a stable labour force,” Harman says. “We want to reduce turnover and give back to our employees and the community.” Star Egg does things like rent a theatre for its Christmas party for staff and their family members and holds a festive meal. The event also raises money for charity. “The fact that most of our current staff have been here over two years now is really good for Saskatchewan,” Harman notes.

Best practices and more
In their document ‘Siting And Management Of Poultry Barns” (see link on page 28) the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands outlines many standard ways of ensuring good neighbour relations, from controlling pests like rodents, flies and birds to making sure safety standards are upheld. It also suggests that farmers “Turn off yard lights not needed for safety or security, particularly when they impact neighbours.” 

With regard to manure spreading, while most folks who live out in the country realize it’s done on a regular basis, “More and more poultry farmers are coming into situations where they can’t count on this awareness,” notes Gord Esau, who farms broilers with his wife in Chilliwack, B.C.. “Many city folks are moving to a little place out in the country that they’ve found, and they tend to want everyone to work nine to five and not make any noise, and they want things nice and green on nearby farms, but don’t seem to understand that it takes manure to make things green.” Esau only spreads twice a year, and times it right before a rain when there is either no breeze or a breeze that’s going away from neighbours. “I wouldn’t want the dust and smell blowing around my yard if I was in their shoes,” he says. Some farmers also let their neighbours know when they’ll be spreading.

Don’t forget to toot your own horn. If you’ve had your farm certified under the Environmental Farm Plan Program, or a biosecurity or food safety program, display your achievements to the neighbourhood with conspicuous signage. If you donate food or funds, ask for some modest recognition. Why not call the local paper or radio station and ask that they profile you and several other farms in the area that have instituted sustainability and best management practices?

EFC’s Lambert also believes that farmers must think beyond community relations, and consider social responsibility an important underlying part of business philosophy. EFC is leading by example. The organization co-ordinates donations of dried eggs to African countries and local food banks, sponsoring the ‘Run for the Cure’ (breast cancer), and is also working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization with their projects. “We are also doing studies to measure our carbon footprint as an industry, and looking at ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Lambert. “This includes broad-based transportation reviews and the use of solar and wind energy.”

Resources

“Siting And Management Of Poultry Barns” (a document of the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands) has many ideas for how to best manage pests and much more. It’s available at: www.agf.gov.bc.ca/resmgmt/publist/300Series/305104-1.pdf