Harshell Family Farm Enterprises is a picturesque farming operation in the Ottawa Valley, on the banks of the Mississippi River just outside of Almonte. We have been proudly producing food for Canadian families since 1985.
For several years we were dairy producers and won many awards for our quality milk. More recently, we have turned to cash cropping and continue to strive for excellence in production.
Prior to 2009 we produced a rather standard mix of crops; across the 300 – 400 acres (owned and rented), we grew corn, wheat, barley, hay and soybeans for consumption by our Purebred Black Angus Beef and sales to local elevators and marketing boards.
In 2009 we made a conscious decision to try to capture niche income by varying our crop plans. In the spring of that year we planted Identity Preserved Soybeans, Round Up Ready Soybeans, Hard Red Spring Wheat, Malting Barley and Canola.
Since Canola was not a crop which had been grown a great deal in our area, and not wanting it to be taken for a poorly managed field taken over by mustard weed (which has a similar appearance), we decided that we should put a sign in the field to label it clearly as CANOLA.
Immediately we were consumed by the thought that we could actually help educate the ‘incidental student’ by providing signs in each of our fields with road exposure. Hardly able to contain our excitement, we barely slept that night and in the morning we drove to the local sign company.
Much discussion took place and we eventually settled on several 4′ x 4′ red on white coreplast signs which named the crop, listed the end uses for the crop, and displayed our farm name, Harshell Family Farm Enterprises. Sharing the end uses for each crop felt very important to us, as did identifying our farm as family-owned and operated.
Ours is a popular road for walkers, joggers, cyclists, vintage car enthusiasts, motorcyclists, Sunday drivers, and everyday commuters. We knew the potential impact was huge.
A few days later we were installing the signs and before we were finished a number of car drivers were already stopping to read them. We were bursting with pride and for those who stopped to chat we were only too happy to explain our philosophy on educating ‘Joe Public’. Imagine yourself, with no connection to a farm and suddenly you are able to recognize the difference between a field of barley and one of wheat in its various stages of growth.
Throughout that first summer we received incredible feedback from our neighbours and fellow farmers who thought we had done something really great. Some farmers even commented that they learned from the signs as they had grown some of the same crops but had not given consideration to the end uses. From our house, which is set back quite a distance from the road, we could observe vehicles slowing down and sometimes stopping to read our signs. Mission accomplished!
Out in our community, at various functions throughout the growing seasons, we were often approached by people who had come to know us as ‘the ones with the signs’. We would beam with pride and explain our thinking on educating those who are interested in learning more about food sources. The positive feedback was unanimous.
For us, this is a ‘feel good’ project in so many ways. Yes, we are being socially responsible, but in the end we do what we do because it feels good.