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Meet the family who makes your bacon

Image courtesy of Ontario Farmer Publications Author: Credits: Image courtesy of Ontario Farmer Publications

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Meet the family who makes your bacon

You might not give the origins of your breakfast bacon or holiday ham a second thought, but Teresa and Martin Van Raay do. They have been raising pigs on their 263-hectare farm in Dashwood, Ont., for 33 years. "It's so gratifying to be raising pigs and to be supplying high-quality products to our customers—it's a real passion," says Teresa.

The family puts in long days on the farm, located just minutes from Lake Huron, where at any given time, they are caring for as many as 7,000 pigs. Even with six full-time employees helping out, that's more than a full-time job in itself. Yet, Teresa feels it's important to educate Canadians about the nutritional benefits of pork, and about the sustainable, modern practices used on pig farms across Canada, so she also takes time to serve as a member of the Ontario and Canadian pork boards.

All about quality
People are looking for convenient, healthful and great-tasting meals, says Teresa, and pork checks all the boxes. "You can have bacon in the morning, sliced ham at lunch and a pork chop at dinner and not realize you're eating the same product," she says. "Pork is just so versatile—we love it!"

On the Van Raay farm, pigs are grouped in pens according to weight, accessing feed (a specialized mix of corn, soybean meal, whey and a vitamin and mineral supplement) and fresh water as needed. "Every day, we do walk-throughs to check the amount of feed in the troughs, to monitor water levels, to make sure the ventilation systems are working properly and to note any needed equipment or building repairs," says Phil, the Van Raays' 26-year-old son, who works in the family business along with his brother, Dean, 30. "We also make sure the pigs are healthy,  sort them for shipping and keep the barn clean and disinfected."

The standards for diet and care come from the Canadian Quality Assurance program, a Canadian Pork Council initiative that assures the country's hormone-free pork is raised to high food-safety and animal-care standards (meaning that pigs are housed humanely). For example, for optimal health, pigs can handle only a four-degree temperature variable over a period of three hours, so the temperature and ventilation inside the barns are closely tracked. Keeping those barns clean is essential, too. Whenever new pigs arrive or market-weight animals are shipped to the processing plant, the pens and areas of contact are power washed and disinfected with an environmentally friendly hydrogen peroxide–based product. "Properly caring for your pigs means a higher-quality pork product," notes Phil.

Higher quality is the driving force behind an increasing appetite for pork, both at home and internationally: Some 7,000 pig farms across the country feed Canadians and people in more than 90 countries, with $4.7 billion in value added to the Canadian economy every year.

A way of life
Business continues to be brisk for the Van Raays. They sell some of their pork directly to consumers through their retail shop, The Whole Pig, and see about 60 percent of their product exported around the world. But for Teresa, who enjoys the camaraderie of other local farmers, it never feels like a chore. "You live and work and play together—you feel so much a part of a community," she says. Phil agrees: "You can't call it a job. It's not work; it's a way of life."

That's good news for Teresa. She enjoys farming alongside her adult children. And when the time comes, Phil and Dean may take over the business. "It's great to see the successes at the farm," she says, "and to know that, as a family, we're doing something good—in our case, growing food for the world."

Check out this delicious Stuffed Cider-Brined Pork Chops with Canadian Cheddar recipe.

This story was originally part of "Life on the Farm" in the October 2015 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
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Meet the family who makes your bacon

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