Hours before some of us crack an egg into a frying pan for breakfast, farmer Kate Van Deynze-Fleming is out in her barn. In the pre-dawn darkness, she checks on the hens, makes sure the feed and water are running, and starts picking the eggs.
After a truck picks up that day’s production, her work isn’t done. The 37-year-old farmer from Holland, Manitoba, spends the rest of the day sweeping the barn, and doing other chores. In the evenings, she checks on her flock. And, of course, the birds don’t take weekends or holidays—so neither does Van Deynze-Fleming.
“Every day, you’ve got to show up at the barn, all the time. It is 24/7,” she says.
After working as a high school teacher for several years, Van Deynze-Fleming moved back to her parents’ dairy farm with her young family to take over many of the farm responsibilities. However, since her husband has an off-farm job, she was looking to transition to a type of farming more suitable for a solo farmer than dairy farming. Egg farming seemed like an ideal choice.
“Thirty per cent of our farmers are under the age of 45.”
Being a farmer at a young age isn’t uncommon in the Canadian egg industry. “Thirty per cent of our farmers are under the age of 45,” says Tim Lambert, CEO of Egg Farmers of Canada, the national organization that represents Canada’s more than 1,000 regulated egg farmers.
To help the next generation of farmers run their operations effectively, Egg Farmers of Canada launched a young farmers program in 2014. Van Deynze-Fleming is one of the 50 farmers who have participated in the program, which includes meetings, workshops, farm tours and webinars focusing on everything from technology to public speaking. Participating in the young farmers program helped her develop a network of peers across the country. She and the other participants still keep in touch to trade information and advice.
The program is just one of the ways Egg Farmers of Canada is working to ensure egg farming remains a viable career choice for a new generation. Ensuring farmers receive a fair price for their product is another.
Like dairy and chicken farmers, egg farmers work under the system of supply management. This allows them to produce enough eggs to meet the growing Canadian demand while not overproducing, which help maintain stability in the industry and a stable price for consumers.
“Because of the stability in our system of supply management, you see a lot more young people choosing as a vocation to stay on the farm—which is, I think, pretty cool,” Lambert says.
Van Deynze-Fleming is a big fan of the system because it provides a predictable income. “It’s something you can count on,” she says, explaining that a stable income makes it easier for farmers to invest in equipment and other elements of a successful farm. “You can plan for the future.”
To help farmers do their work as efficiently and effectively as possible, Egg Farmers of Canada funds research chairs at several Canadian universities in fields such as economics, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. “We’re working hard to continue innovations that will allow us to produce more eggs using fewer resources,” says Lambert. He cites figures from a recent study showing that the work is paying off. “We’re producing 50 percent more eggs using 50 percent of the resources that we were 50 years ago.”
“Canadian farms now produce about 9 billion eggs a year.”
That work even has benefits for Canada’s environment. Lambert notes that egg farmers have cut their energy use by 41 percent over the same half century, and decreased their greenhouse gas emissions by 68 percent. “It’s a very eco-friendly food,” he says.
And those eggs are increasingly popular with Canadians. Canadian farms now produce about 9 billion eggs a year. The average egg has six and a half grams of protein, yet a carton costs less than a fancy latte, making it an affordable, high-energy food source.
And behind every carton is a farmer who has been up at dawn and working till dusk to bring those dozen eggs to market—and to their own tables. As Van Deynze-Fleming says, “Our family eats the food we produce, and we’re proud to share eggs, locally and nationally.”
She has no regrets about giving up the predictable life of a school teacher for the long, erratic hours of a farmer. She recalls a recent weekend when her extended family gathered at the farm. Her nine-year-old daughter Anna remarked how much fun it was to work with her siblings and cousins to help with the eggs.
“The look on her face and her eyes—it was just the best thing,” Van Deynze-Fleming says. “The whole farm for me, that lifestyle, is worth it. It’s not always easy, but in the end, it’s worth it.”
Visit Egg Farmers of Canada to find out why being a farmer is worth it for so many Canadians.