A Canadian adventure

Christina McCollam from Lylehill YFC was one of the YFCU members who were awarded a bursary sponsored by the Ulster Farmers' Union as part of the YFCU Exchange Programme.

The Exchange Programme has been offered through YFCU for over 60 years and forms many international lifetime friendships.

Members compete for places, are interviewed by a panel and receive intensive training before heading off to their foreign destinations.

Christina travelled to Canada to stay with various host families throughout her exchange. Here is her report.

A Canadian Adventure

I began my three month exchange to Canada at the end of May flying from Dublin to Toronto. Here I met the JFAO exchange co-ordinator who took myself and two other exchangees to our first host family of the week, Celie and Sophie Diebold and their dad Brad. I got to meet the other exchangees from Scotland, England, Germany, Switzerland and Austria who I would be spending my summer with. We saw a lot of farms in this County, visiting Lely and GEA robots, a Dutch sheep farm and an asparagus farm. We also spent a few days with Mike Sproxton and Sarah Teefy in Orillia where we saw the Georgia Bay Island, CN Tower, a Blue Jays game, visited a casino and got to taste our first ever Kawartha Dairy ice cream which we consumed at least twice a day throughout the rest of the summer.

We moved to Wellington County for the second week where we got a tour of Elora from historians. We went to the Grand River Racetrack for a buffet dinner before betting on horses, getting a tour of the facilities and watching horses being prepared by the owner of the racetrack. The club had also sponsored a race so we were able to get a group photo with the winning horse. We learnt how to play Lacrosse and other Canadian lawn games before sampling some Canadian whisky liqueur.

On the weekend of the 9th June we attended a leadership camp organised by JFAO for their members. We stayed in log cabins and participated in team building games, comparing qualities and traits you would expect to see or have in a good leader. This weekend gave us a chance to meet other members from junior farmers who we would be staying with later in the summer.

We moved to Durham West for our third week where I stayed with Brian, Jamie and Doreen Wetheral. Here we got to see a mushroom farm where they have 35 growing rooms and laser technology to tell them which mushrooms are ready to be picked before they are packaged. We went to a lavender farm that grows 60 different varieties before using it to make soaps, creams, jams, chutneys, candles and chocolates. We toured a seed plant and saw a fertiliser and meal store, and also did our first radio interview here. The club planned an international pot luck evening where all the exchangees made traditional dishes from their home countries which included haggis, rhubarb soup and an Ulster fry. We then learnt how to line dance and two step before the night was over. Before we went to our new hosts we went for a four hour canoe at a local river.

During our time in Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough with the Keitel family, we got to visit and climb the Warsaw caves, visit a pistol shooting range as well as visiting the largest lift lock, getting a guided tour and seeing how it is actually operated. We attended and participated in a Pow Wow which is educational in the form of celebration and dance of indigenous people. We visited a sugar shack where they grow maple leaf trees to get maple and use it for fudge and we also got to learn about the different colours of maple syrup before sampling syrup and fudge. We went to a Lakers Lacrosse game before trying their famous ‘Poutine’ which is made of chips, cheese curds and gravy.

I spent the next two weeks up in Renfrew with Miranda and Meredith Mullan but not before attending their Redneck Games show dance and camping. With this County we got our first proper work day where most of us milked cows and fed calves with one of their members at his place of work.

We also got to spend time at the local livestock market in Cobden and visit a bee farm. Bee hives are always 32° inside with 60-70 thousand bees per hive. The farm had a range of bee hive boxes in different colours so the bees know which house is theirs. Once the tray is full of honey they can weigh 80lbs, which is then extracted and bottled. As Canada celebrated its 150th birthday on July 1st, we got to participate in the celebrations, so we spent the day in Ottawa dressed in Canadian colours and met up with other junior farmers. We returned to Ottawa, visiting Parliament Hill, a lift lock and trying a delicacy called Beaver Tails. Before we split up for break week we had the opportunity to go white water rafting.

After break week we met up again in Essex Kent where we volunteered at a child farm safety day. The children were split into small groups and had a range of stations to attend to learn about PPE on quad bikes, falls into grain pits, tractor driver safety and distances. We got to see a lot of fruit and vegetables for a change this week and visited an orchard where they were harvesting cherries and we learnt about the process they go through before they are sold. We visited a tomato greenhouse plant which is 22.5 acres where they grow five different varieties, four of which are trials. They grow between January and December giving them three weeks to clean out, disinfect and replant. Another farm put up polytunnels to grow fruit; for example strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, chillies and tomatoes. It costs 10K CAD (Canadian dollars) to put up each polytunnel. They have 110 acres of tomatoes and have been growing strawberries for 15 years. We visited Point Pelee, the most southern point of Ontario before having a BBQ, campfire and smores.

Our next hosts were Middlesex Junior Farmers where all of the delegates shared a house belonging to club member Jason O’Neill. To start the week we visited an ice culture incorporation where we got to see how ice is made and how they carve it before donning warm coats and entering the ice lounge where we saw a truck, a bar, a castle and an eagle all carved out of ice.

We also went to Fanshawe Pioneer Village which is a heritage museum where we learnt about the tradition and history of the city of London and Middlesex County. We also got to visit and tour their County building where counsellors hold meetings and events and we saw the court house and old prisoner cells.

The London Research and Development Centre mostly researches in crop genomics, bio products and bio pesticides, protection and improvement of fruit and vegetable crops, soil and water quality. They have a Vineland research facility in the Niagara region and a research orchard in Jordan, Ontario.

We visited the Canada Curling Stone Company which showed us about the different types of granite and weights, new stones and reconditioning stones, with each stone weighing 18kgs. This company has exclusive rights to the Trefor granite which comes from the Trefor quarry in Northern Wales. We also got to join a local 4H group at one of their meetings which was a visit to an egg farm where the eggs are brought in on a conveyor belt to be washed, packaged and stored for distribution. They grade 1.3 million per week and ship 375 thousand per day, with a range of 38-40 different types of eggs.

We were only with our next three hosts for four days each, the first of which was Huron County where we took a tour of a John Deere dealership. Here we got to see the shop, the workshop and mechanics of some machinery including combine harvesters, tractors, sprayers and lawnmowers. They even have a separate covered shed with a range of combine harvesters, one of which cost 376,880 CAD which is over £225k.

A club member’s parent who has their pilots licence took us up in their four seater plane for an early morning flight where we got to see the local area and the vast amount of wind turbines. Before we moved to our next hosts we visited another member’s cottage by the lake and relaxed by the pool.

The first stop of many at our new hosts in Perth County was to tour Rheo Thompson Candies and Chocolate Store. We watched a short video on the history of the company and how they make their range of 152 different types of candies. We then got to see some of their products being made in their large kitchen and the moment we’d all been waiting for, getting to try some samples. Near to this company was a store called ‘The British Touch’ where the UK delegates were happy to be able to purchase confectionary, biscuits, crisps, soft drinks, trinkets, mugs and tea towels etc relating to the UK.

While in Perth County we also visited a pig unit which had 1,200 pigs up each side and are fed twice a day on an automatic feeder. This unit cost 1 million CAD to build, and the family are responsible for five pig units overall totalling 10 thousand pigs. With this County we also visited and toured a local butchers. Putting on white coats and hairnets, we got to see the cold stores, freezers and meat being butchered for the store such as steaks, sausages, burgers and mince.

We had been interested to see a helicopter in action spraying a field of crops so luckily enough we got a phone call to say this was happening on this particular day at lunch time. However, by this time the wind had picked up and health and safety prevented them from spraying as it would have been dangerous for the helicopter to take off in these winds and the spray could have been blown into neighbouring fields. The helicopter however can hold 200 litres in the tank and can spray 12-14 acres with one tank, covering an area of 50-60ft at a time. It can spray up to 80 acres an hour.

We also visited a sheep farmer who is expanding and has built a new sheep house at 95ft long, designed to hold around 1000 sheep in 12 pens of 90. With this they are planning to have around 120 ewes lamb every month. When the lambs are born they get a dose of vitamins and some nuflor. They are then held until they are approximately 100lb and then sold.

After a busy few days we moved to Grey County where we all stayed in a cottage by the lake with some Grey County members. Here we did some hiking at the Old Baldy Conservation area and saw some waterfalls including Eugenia Falls and Walters Falls. We visited Walters Falls Milling Ltd where machinery is powered by the gravity of water and operated by two turbines. They are one of two water powered feed mills in the world. We went to Keady Livestock Market where they had a livestock sale on as well as the farmers market. Consigners were selling anything from clothes, fresh fruit and vegetables, books and maple syrup.

Flower Pot Island was another highlight and is an island in Georgian Bay, part of the Fathom Five National Marine Parks, and is only accessible by boat.

The JFAO held their annual golf tournament at Guelph Lakes Golf and Country Club which we were invited to play in mixed teams with other junior farmer members. We enjoyed a buffet dinner and prize giving with those we played golf with before moving onto our next hosts in Niagara- Wentworth/ Haldimand Norfolk. I had the pleasure of staying at the home of the current JFAO president Matt Smith and his parents, after having played on his golf team. Matt hosted a pig roast and campfire inviting other junior farmers throughout Ontario. We started the week at Bonnie Heath Estate Lavender and Winery, getting a tour around the property where lavender and grapes were being grown before being shown how they process the lavender and getting to try a few samples of wine.

We also got to spend most of the day at Niagara Falls, seeing the falls from many different angles. We took the aero-car which meant we were above the falls looking down on the whirlpools, crossing the American- Canadian border four times in this short return journey. We got onto the Hornblower, which used to be the Maid of the Mist, taking us up close to the Niagara Falls, a simulator designed to make you feel you are among the falls with the ground moving and heavy mist coming down and the thundering sounds of the waves crashing down. We also got to go on a journey behind the falls, going down 150ft exploring 130 year old tunnels, hearing and feeling the vibration of the Horseshoe falls, before seeing natural daylight and the water coming down before us. We saw the Rainbow Bridge and walked along the whitewater board walk before going back to see Niagara Falls illuminated at night.

We then visited Norfolk Fruit Growers which began in 1906 with 40 million pounds of fruit being stored here. They have 33 cold rooms varying in size which can hold between 450-850 bins of fruit. We then had dinner at Hewitt’s Dairy Bar which is an American styled diner, sitting at the counter having dinner and dessert.

Before the week was over we had our first spirits tour of Forty Creek Whisky distillery, which started making Canadian whisky in 1992. They have whisky aging wood made of oak which allows the air to move and no water to escape, allowing it to age for at least three years. From every barrel they get 2,000 litres, with 1 million litres aging at any one time.

Throughout this week, we had been given spare time to prepare for the Ambassadors Banquet which included a presentation on our exchange. This allowed us to put our favourite photos together from each week and give a brief outline of what we had been up to. We were near Ingersoll for the Ambassadors Banquet where we enjoyed a sit down meal with hosts, present and past members and exchangees before we got up to deliver our presentation. We were then presented with a small gift from the JFAO exchange co-ordinator Meaghan before dancing the night away and then making it back to stay at Elori and Ryan’s who we met in our first week. They kindly made us a traditional Sunday dinner before we moved to our last hosts in Waterloo region.

My host Leslie was very excited to have some of us stay as first guests in her new house. Leslie made sure we had something different for breakfast every morning from cereal, bagels with honey butter, homemade waffles and homemade pancakes. We started our last week of the exchange at the African Lion Safari where we got to watch elephants swimming, saw an elephant show before getting an elephant ride and driving around the safari park. This week was also spent visiting Mennonite farms. Some old order Mennonites do not believe in new or up to date machinery for farm work as they rely on horses or turn a field of hay by hand with a grape. One Mennonite beef fed lot of 180 cattle, with livestock bought at 700-800lb, sell again at 1,600lb with an approximate average weight gain of 100lb per month. They also have 8 acres of apple orchards and 5,500 chickens which come at 19 weeks old and start laying. We visited St Jacobs’s market which is Canada’s largest year-round market of farm fresh products, arts and crafts, fashion and décor, with a livestock sale going on as well.

I would like to thank the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster for giving me the opportunity and experience of travelling to Canada through the exchange programme.  

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of my sponsors for helping fund my exchange of opportunity and experiences: the Ulster Farmers’ Union, McCollam Heating and Plumbing Ltd, British Texel Sheep Society, RUAS, Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster and Imagis.