This week on Canada's Tastemakers, Ethan sits down with Nova Scotia's Meaghan Thornhill. A city girl by birth, she fell in love a sixth generation dairy farmer (and his cows) and moved to rural Nova Scotia. Meaghan and her husband own and operate Harbourfront Holsteins and Jezebel Jerseys. Meaghan talks about her love for her cows, embracing social media and the need to keep the conversation open between farmers and consumers.
FBC: You took a windy road to becoming a Dairy Farmer didn’t you?
MT: It’s true. I didn’t grow up on a dairy farm. I never really had much interest in cows, my preference was majestic horses! But that all changed in 2006, after a year of long distance love, I had to see if I could weather life on the farm and moved to rural Nova Scotia.
FBC: What did your friends think of that and how’d you like it out there?
MT: Well, all my friends and family thought I was crazy, but low and behold, something beautiful happened: I fell in love with the cows and I now know the farm is where I’m meant to be.
FBC: So where are you now and what do you do?
MT: I own and operate Harbourfront Holsteins and Jezebel Jerseys in Antigonish with my husband and share my adventures at modernmilkmaid.ca. We have 45 cows, milk 20 of them, and in case you’re wondering, yes, they all have names. And I’m heartbroken when one of them isn’t feeling well. I cry when my cows are sick. The last thing I’m thinking about is loss of milk or production. I’m thinking about the health and wellness of my cow.
FBC: You’re really active on social media, both serious and fun stuff.
MT: I am and it’s all about balance. I’m @modernmilkmaid on Twitter as an advocate for dairy. I’ll talk about what’s happening on the farm as well as issues affecting dairy farmers like the trade negotiations, animal health and the environment to name a few. I also created @FarmersofCanada, an account to learn about other communities and farm groups. The account is run by a different farmer every week, giving us a glimpse into all facets of agriculture life in Canada.
As for more of the fun stuff, I’m @modernmilkmaid7 on Instagram and it’s all about showing off my adorable cows. Lots of selfies!
FBC: Lots of agriculture sectors, including the Dairy industry have been faced with some criticism of late. How can we have a better dialogue so everyone can hear each other out?
MT: The misconceptions around our industry are frustrating but I understand that people just don’t know what we do. As a former outsider to farming, the perceptions about farming and what actually happens on a farm are completely different. Few people from the city will have an opportunity like I have to live on a farm, and this is part of the reason why I’ve become an advocate about dispelling the myths and misconceptions about how dairy farms operate.
There are so many gaps in knowledge between what consumers know and don’t know. It’s easy to get stuck in the negative, but when we start talking to one another, you get a sense that consumer values are in line with our values. It’s a matter of communicating.
What was your takeaway from being able to connect with people in person during the FBC2015?
Not having grown up on a farm, I’m able to discuss and answer questions in non-farm jargon. For example, discussing concerns about animal and antibiotic use is so much easier when it is done in a face-to-face setting. There is such a value in helping bloggers and social media users understand the work done by all farmers and agriculture groups in Canada. They have a direct line with the consumer and can help bring facts to them.
Any final words?
I have a true passion for dairy. I’m proud to represent young female farmers in Canada and proud to be producing high quality milk for Canadians. In fact, a woman at the conference thanked me for producing safe, quality food for her kids. It put into perspective the importance of the work that we do. Canadians really do appreciate their dairy farmers.
Images courtesy of Meaghan Thornhill
Find out more about the process of getting 100% Canadian milk from farm to table.