WRITTEN BY JANET DAVIES.
At 27 and 24 years old, Jordan and Tess are part of a new energy pulsing in The County. They are a mix of modernity and tradition, old roots and new ideas,
While most farmers dream of one of their children having an interest in taking over the farm, County farmer Larry Pennings had three sons interested in taking over his two farms – a pretty good problem to have.
His oldest son Jordan told us, “We needed to do some expansion, so we thought why not just create another farm? Three smaller farms will all be part-time operations and hopefully work together but be independent, too.” Jordan is the first son to take on his own farm, Generations Farms on Smokes Point Road near Carrying Place. We retired Dad’s old barn and shuffled things around, including creating this farm, ready for the next generation.” He points into the distance, “Just through the trees are the two farms of my Dad’s that my brothers will eventually own.” Larry interjects, “That would be Dad’s and Mum’s two farms!” and everyone laughs.
Jordan grew up in Prince Edward County and says pretty much as soon as he could walk he’d go into the old barns to check out the baby chicks. He went off to Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, (took Construction Engineering, 2 yrs) but says, “I always planned to come back and settle down, after I’d finished school.” He came home to his girl Tessa (her maiden name is DenOuden), who grew up in a family of home builders in Frankford. “We were high school sweethearts,” she says with a smile. “We always kind of knew our life would be here. I went to college for hairdressing back then, now I’m back at school studying Early Childhood Education. We got married and lived (and built a house) just down the road from his parents for about a year before traveling for a year through Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It was an adventure. We knew we’d come back when we were ready, and when we felt we wanted to get involved with the farm.”
Their timing was good. They returned when Mum and Dad were getting ready to step away a bit. “Although they will always be around to lend a hand,” says Jordan.
The new Generations Farms is right next door to the old homestead and officially opened in November 2017. Larry says, “My dad, Bert Pennings bought the farm in 1972 from Jack Vader, so it’s been our family farm for 45 years. Jordan and Tessa, along with his brothers, are now third generation farmers.” Opa Pennings (grandfather) has just turned 85 and is still helping in the barns when needed.
When his poultry farm opened last Autumn, Jordan told the Picton Gazette: “My family worked hard to give us the opportunity to get our own start. That means a lot. I know some families will be selling out, getting out of it once they retire, but we were given the opportunity,” he says. “And my brothers Kevin and Ian think it’s a definite blessing, to be able to carry the farm on, and to have parents that are supporting us doing that.”
THE NEW FARM
Jordan’s farm boasts a state-of-the-art building with just under 26,000 sq ft of bird area, a large office and control room. “Poultry farming has changed a lot over the years,” he says. “We have automatic feeding, lighting and environmental controls. It’s wireless so when we’re away we can adjust and monitor things.” In fact Tess and Jordan stay close to the farm. “It’s our bread and butter,” he says simply. “We don’t let it get away from us. We keep a close eye on temperature, humidity and lighting so the birds are comfortable. It’s high tech, but the environment is as natural as it can be inside a building, and conditions are much more consistent than in the old days. Consistency is good for the animals,” he says firmly, then laughs. “Well, it’s good for everybody, really!”
Larry explains that his son’s new barn is designed for modular loading. “We’re transitioning from the old method of catching/loading the birds to a more efficient, humane and safer way for everybody. Birds used to be hand caught and carried to the side doors where they were loaded into crates, then onto the truck. The new system has fork lifts with modular units of drawer type crates. That means much less handling of the birds between here and the processing plant which is a lot better for them. Less stress for the birds.”
Poultry farming is a streamlined process these days. “The birds arrive as baby chicks, and are here until they’re loaded onto trucks to go to the production plant,” Jordan told us. “Before they arrive, we pressure wash everything, disinfect everything from the previous flock, put in fresh straw bedding and lower all the feed lines and drink lines. We get the temperature perfect and the water ready for the new birds. It’s a nine-week cycle, and the birds are here just over five weeks, so we have about four weeks for changeover and turnaround.” They may be automated but there’s still a lot of labour. “In those four weeks we clean the manure out, scrape the floor, blow the dust, pressure wash and disinfect,” he says. “Our feed lines come down with a hand winch in the centre of the barn. We really only raise them completely during changeover, say five times a year, but while the birds are in we adjust the feeding height as they mature.” The chickens run free inside their high tech home and can feed any time they like, but, just like their outdoor kin, they all settle down at nighttime. The difference is, their nighttime can be controlled by the farmer by the automatic lighting system which features high tech “dusk to dawn lighting” to allow for more natural lighting.
HAPPY IN THE COUNTY
Jordan ponders the appeal of The County. “Did I want to get away when I was young?” he laughs. “Of course! It’s what you do, break out and go off on your own, away from your parents. But there’s something about Prince Edward County. It’s beautiful and it’s home and I wouldn’t really want to live anywhere else.” Tess adds, “I love being surrounded by water. Our days are pretty flexible so we go to the beach when we can, to Wellers Bay or Sandbanks. There’s lots of lesser known places on this side of The County, hidden spots where you find peace, like North Beach.” Wellers Bay is just about a kilometer away at the end of their road. “We can launch my boat in minutes and be over to a great sand beach,” says Jordan. “I shouldn’t be telling people this,” he laughs. “Mum and Dad live on County Rd. 3 and they have water access, so we invite ourselves over there a lot!” Tess says spending time with family and friends is what they like best, including friends from high school days. “A lot of people we know went away, overseas or across Canada, but we’re seeing quite a few of them coming back.”
Jordan made the point that he and his brothers would be part-time farmers. “With all the automation, poultry farming can be part-time job now,” he says. “I went to Fanshawe to learn construction and building and I’m currently starting my own company to build houses. My plan is build houses in the daytime and take care of my farm and birds, too.” He and Tess currently live in the same house where he was brought up. “We eventually plan on building our own new house, closer to our barn.”
It seems Tess and Jordan’s timing is great. It’s a record-setting time for new building in The County. Every tradesperson is working to capacity and the market is strong for his skills. With one or two houses already under his belt, he is set to launch his company. When Tess is not tending the farm, she studies and works part time at the daycare centre at Trenton MFRC (Military Family Resource Centre). “I share Jordan’s interest in the farm,” she says enthusiastically. “I’m learning more about it every day, and I actually like doing chores! So I can help free up Jordan to do his building work.”
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