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COLUMN: Students 'udderly' dazzled by trip to dairy farm

Food columnist takes his Georgian College culinary students to visit area farm to get first-hand look at how things are done

“All the cool kids are drinking milk…”

I hope you and your families are all finding some time to enjoy these long, sweet summer days. This is an excellent time of the year here in Ontario. So many great things growing and ripening ready to be snatched up and enjoyed at the peak of freshness. Community gardens, farmers' markets and farm gate tables are all starting fill up with a huge variety of local fruits and vegetables.

But what are the cool kids up to this summer? Well, they are drinking milk!

The second stop of the 2022 Farm to Table experience tour saw the Georgian College culinary students and I get to drop in on another outstanding agricultural producer here in Simcoe County. We packed up and headed out through the rolling hills and fields along Highway 89 into the village of Loretto and the picturesque Haanview Farms, home of the Sheldon Creek Dairy.

The farm is owned and operated by John and Bonnie den Haan and family. John’s parents came to the area from Holland during the migrations from Europe after the Second World War. With visions of Canada as the land of milk and honey, the family arrived with five children in tow and set to work.

Using a healthy dose of grit and determination, they were able to purchase their own farm and set the roots for what would become one of the most progressive agriculture producers in Simcoe County.

In 1953, Haanview Farms was established in the Sheldon Valley with the purchase of a cow named Maggie. Her direct descendants now make up about one-third of the farm’s cattle herd today.

The Sheldon Creek Dairy opened in 2012, where the focus was on crafting the milk into a wide variety of consumer ready products. Things like whole milk, yogurt (a traditional family recipe), kefir, 45 per cent cream, and many more are now available. And more are on the way as the development team works to create new and exciting products to showcase the exceptional quality of the milk their herd produces.

With the opening of the dairy, it was a natural fit to also have an on-farm store where you are able to buy all the things from the dairy and many great items from other local farms and producers.

Today, Haanview Holsteins and Sheldon Creek Dairy are operated by John and Bonnie as well as daughter Emily, who manages the Haanview Farms operations, Marianne Edward, another daughter who manages the Sheldon Creek dairy operations, and Mike Edward who is plant manager of Sheldon Creek Dairy along with the next generation, Wyatt and Walter Edward.

To anyone who has tasted something from the dairy, it becomes very evident that they focus on a quality product.

Marianne was kind enough to take the time to show us around the production facility and talk about some of what makes their farm unique.

Manageability and being adaptable to changing consumer and market demands were big topics of our talk. With just 75 cows and 600 acres at Haanview Farms, they have created a system that focuses on sustainability and stability. Marianne explained that the benefit of only milking 75 cows is that they know each one of them by name and see them face-to-face each day during milking times.

The cows live in a new robotic milking barn, which is truly a technological marvel! The voluntary system means the cows can milk whenever they want.

Animal welfare is also hugely important to the family. It’s easy to see everyone is very attached to the cows  their care and well-being are a top priority. And that only makes sense, because happy and healthy cows produce high-quality milk.

Our tour group was incredibly excited to see the herd and what all the different aspects of the farm entailed. For many, they had only considered a career in a kitchen as the opportunity for a cook. But now have seen how a culinary background and agriculture can come together and create something unique
and wonderful for the market.

Personally, I think chefs and farmers have a lot in common. The ability to see the opportunities, be able to adapt to a new situation and put in the hard work all serve both professions well. I think that those visions of Canada as a land of milk and honey just may have sparked in a few eyes on the farm that afternoon.

Marianne and the family also have some exciting news to share. After having to shut down their tours due to COVID, the farm is once again open for public visits. They would love for you to come see for yourself and visit the farm by booking a tour!

The Sheldon Creek Dairy Farm to Table Tour is going to be on Aug. 13. You and your family can experience the sights, sounds and smells of a real, working dairy farm. Filled with facts and humor, the Haanview Farms tour is fun for everyone.

For more information on the farm and their products, visit their website or their Facebook page

“It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose the cow.” – Harvey Mackay

Daniel Clements is the chef technologist at Georgian College’s School of Hospitality and Tourism.

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Daniel Clements

About the Author: Daniel Clements

In his bi-weekly Chef's Table column, Daniel will be looking at everything from local crops and trends in the business to seasonal delights and the local restaurant scene
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