Innovation to Plate: Profile of a young grower

A photo of Nathan Streef from this year's planting season. Photo provided by Mikayla Streef.
A photo of Nathan Streef from 2015’s planting season. Courtesy of: Mikayla Streef.

With a title like A Quarter Young, it’s no surprise that this blog has profiled a great deal of 20-somethings that have tackled everything from music, art, fashion, and business. Young entrepreneurship is alive and well in Ontario, and being a quarter young seems to only make it that much more impressive. Looking outside of the urban centre, it doesn’t take long to find that same work ethic is thriving in the fields that grow our food. You need only look so far as your dinner plate.

This past spring, during plant ’15, I had the privilege of catching up with Nathan Streef, a 24-year-old farmer just outside of Woodstock, Ontario. The Streef family has been farming for 40 years, with the family operation now exceeding 2,600 acres of produce you can find in your grocery store.

In the 21st century, farming has had to cope with an influx of engaged consumers. The result is seeing farms changing and adjusting their practices based on consumer needs.

To me, farming in the 21st century has a lot to do with efficiency and food safety,” Nathan says. “There is a lot of new technology available that can really help run a farm operation much more efficiently. Also there has been an increased demand for more food safety procedures. This adds some work on the farm, but I truly believe in the programs that are in place to bring a better, more transparent product to the marketplace.”

Outside of transparency, farming operations have a real need to be innovative to meet the rising costs of production, fulfil market demands, and yet still be profitable.

“[The first challenge is] bridging the gap between the new and the old. It’s important to have a good balance of innovative agricultural technology with experience and knowledge from the generation before us. [The second is] to be profitable with the increase in costs. [The third is] keeping up with the change in market demands. We are constantly having to change packaging and product according to the market as well as look to the future to develop and grow new commodities.”

For Nathan, the beginning of his education started at the family farm.

“I got involved in the farm when I was very young,” he explains. “As a kid, my brother Dylan and I were always out in the field watching our father and uncles work. Ever since I was a kid, I fell in love with what they were doing.”

“Once I was done high school I started to work on the farm full time for a year before I went off to school again. That year I really jumped into the business and knew that was what I wanted to do.”

After completing his two-year agricultural diploma at the University of Guelph’s Kemptville Campus, Nathan returned home to the family farm eager to begin his career.

“I currently look after the planting of the corn and the green beans, as well as the harvesting of green beans. I also look after the packing house and asparagus production. My family has been farming for 40 years in Canada and it is something I hope to continue for a long time.”

A typical day for Nathan changes depending on the day or the season.

“Some days I will be up at 2-3 a.m. to make it to the Toronto market and other days I could be sitting in a tractor all day planting corn. My work day becomes a lot more hectic during planting and harvest season. During the harvest season I start my day’s early in order to bring fresh, washed and packaged, beans to the market in less than 24 hours. Most of the time I will not leave the farm until late at night. It makes for some long days, but that is all part of the job.”

If there is anything Nathan wished he could impart on the consumer is to know how their food got to their plate.

“Ontarians should know more about how their food is grown. There is such a wide variety of produce grown in Ontario and some people don’t realize it. Supporting local not only gets you fresh produce, but helps support the people around you. The knowledge of what it takes to grow produce and bring it to market is something that has been lost over the last couple generations.”

To learn more about how to access just what Ontario has to offer, visit www.ontario.ca/foodland/foodland-ontario.

To learn more about how food gets from farm to table, check out #Farm365 or #FarmFactFriday in partnership with Streef’s Produce and Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA).

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