How to start your own sustainable food business

Small Business Canada

Robert McKinlay

I am the 5th generation of McKinlay’s at Silver Springs Farms. My family moved to the property in 1888 from Scotland. Since then the farm has grown from 100 acres to 2500. We run a mixed farm growing both field crops and cattle. I attended the University of Guelph for their Bachelors of Agricultural Science and graduated in the spring of 2021. I have moved back home and begun investing in the family operation and started taking on more management roles in the operation.

The impact that farmers have on their local economy and community, and how the face of farming is becoming more reflective of younger generations?

Silver Spring Farms has been an employer of youth for many generations. For those who come to work with us, this may be their first job. Knowing this, we help them learn responsibility, a strong work ethic, and the rewards of completing a job from start to finish. Our farm recognizes the importance of teaching a younger generation proper farming skills; we employ four part-time employees, as well as host high school co-op students.

Our operation has a large impact on our local economy and community because we are a large purchaser and distributor of agricultural products. We recognize the importance of offering business to local services, so we purchase things like seeds and forages from neighbours. Our operation drives the local economy by providing a market for local producers and offering commodities to improve their operations.

How are you one of many Ontario Beef farmers practicing sustainable farming, including rotational grazing, caring for waterways, and improving soil biodiversity?

Ontario beef farmers are advocates of sustainability. My family farm is situated on a diverse landscape, so we keep protecting the surrounding ecosystems in mind. Some ways we have done this is through preserving wetlands and watercourses by fencing wetlands from grazing cattle (so they do disturb them), as well as restricting the cattle’s access to certain streams to ensure they aren’t affecting the nearby riverbed.

Another way we practice sustainable farming is through using livestock to improve our soil health and manage crop residue. We use rotational grazing on all of our pasture farms to eliminate over-grazing and protect vulnerable grasslands. Our farm also places importance on surrounding ecosystems, including birds. We do this by managing hay land on our farm, which allows for bird nesting. Delaying our grazing to later in the year allows for local birds to nest and raise their young.

All of this reduces our farm’s environmental impact while also producing safe and high-quality products.

How young farmers like Robert are looking to get other young professionals engaged within the industry, spreading the understanding of modernized and sustainable farming methods within the province?

My family prioritizes helping young farmers starting out in the agriculture industry. Most recently, we’ve helped five young farmers by providing them with guidance, financial assistance, and education opportunities to help them launch their careers as the next generation of farmers. It’s been a rewarding experience to see these young farmers progress in their careers and contribute to the agricultural industry, particularly through sustainable practices we have taught them, such as rotational grazing, watercourse management, and cover crop grazing.

I’ve also created a young farmers group. These events have been extremely beneficial when it comes to networking, discussing operation management, and round table discussions on proposed ideas for the industry.

How are you of many young Ontario Beef farmers practicing entrepreneurship in owning your own small business and working a second job to support his family?

Farming has been a lifestyle for my family for many generations. The farm is more than a business to us, as it has been our family’s identity for hundreds of years. Being able to work and care for the land is a responsibility to the generations before me and future generations to come. Being able to produce a safe, sustainable product is a source of pride that our family has enjoyed and that I hope to continue.

The nature of agriculture is having one or two harvests a year, which is where income is generated. Due to this, I have been working off the farm to have a steady income stream to cover my cost of living in between harvests. Since our business is working with nature, it can be difficult to predict or control the outcomes. Having a second job off of the farm, but within the industry has allowed me to diversify my skill sets, improve time management skills, and help me set deadlines, which is something I continue to teach to the younger generation of farmers.

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