A St. Marys-area farm family that, in 2012, moved beyond pork production and cash cropping to take control of a long-established direct-to-consumer roadside market was awarded the 2019 Ontario Pork Congress (OPC) Pork Industry Leadership Award.
The award was presented by outgoing OPC President Kirk McLean to Dennis Aarts, of Aarden Farms — the only member of the family who didn’t know about the award in advance of the 2019 OPC annual general meeting held at the St. Marys Golf and Country Club on Oct. 23.
Why it matters: The Ontario Pork Congress Industry Award has long recognized leaders in the pork industry.
Aarts said the award is meaningful because it is handed out by a group of dedicated volunteers who work hard to put on a successful and well-respected swine industry showcase.
“It’s a small industry but these people pull it all together. They raise a lot of money with the (annual OPC-sponsored) Hog Jog. That’s quite a group of people,” he said.
The long-time OPC volunteer who nominated Aarts for the Leadership Award, Sebringville-area farmer Henry Groenestege, explained it’s not just Dennis that should take credit for the award but the entire Aarts immediate and extended family.
“I’ve known (Dennis) for many years, and the whole Aarts family has always been doing a lot of promotion of agriculture to the public,” Groenestege told Farmtario.
The Industry Leadership Award recognizes “someone in the community that’s very much involved in promoting the pork industry, and basically pays it forward for the benefit of future generations,” says Trish Littlejohn, the OPC project co-ordinator.
After Aarts graduated from the University of Guelph, he added sweet corn production to the farm’s hog and cash crop operations, quickly establishing himself as a southern Ontario sweet corn leader. Then in 2012, Dennis and family purchased the nearby McCully’s Hill farm and roadside market and began direct-marketing their pork.
They had already established themselves as a leader in direct-marketing sweet corn, and through this acquisition the family was able to build significantly on the farmer-to-consumer relationship by not only selling the products of their own farms — including sweet corn and vegetables, pork, and the maple syrup drawn from the McCully’s Hill bush — but also fresh foods grown and/or produced by other area farms and small-scale processors.
Dennis has served as president of the Oxford County Pork Producers Association and with other agricultural organizations. McCully’s Hill Farm, meanwhile, remains an important part of the St. Marys and area community, hosting school and community groups for agricultural education events and tours, as well as fundraising breakfasts for community groups during maple syrup season.
Also at the recent OPC annual general meeting, executive member Chris Crump gave credit to McLean for his service as president in 2019, noting that he implemented innovations over the year that brought exhibitors to the show. McLean said a key accomplishment over the past year was the formalization of a couple of agreements with the City of Stratford regarding the use of the Rotary Complex building and grounds.
“This has been another year of uncertainties in the pork industry, and it doesn’t appear as if it’s going to be changing any time soon.” But he suggested the ability of the industry to react and adapt — much as the Ontario Pork Congress also has been able to do — shows that it’s a strong industry nonetheless.
Meghan Kirkpatrick of Agribrands Purina’s Woodstock office, who has been volunteering with the Pork Congress and with the OPC executive for about eight years, is the new OPC president.