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Canadian dairy history book celebrates Canada 150

Dairy farmers across Canada are celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial with a historical volume

With Canada’s 150th birthday just around the corner, dairy farmers across the country are sharing their stories in a new book.

“It’s a really neat look at our history,” said David Wiens, Dairy Farmers of Manitoba chair, at a recent district meeting.

Printed in both French and English, Dairy Farmers, Deeply Rooted for a Strong Future profiles dairy farmers in each province. In Manitoba, Alain Philippot and his family share the history and philosophy of their farm.

“When your peers choose you, it’s a very humbling experience,” Philippot said. “That your peers choose you and say this is a farm that we can highlight because they’ve been here a long time and they are doing a good job and you can stand up and say this is what we stand for — that’s humbling and exciting.”

Alain and Michelle Philippot with family.
photo: Submitted

Ashlee Smith of Dairy Farmers of Canada said the national organization worked with its provincial counterparts to find the right farms for the book.

“What we were looking for was multi-generational families or farms that had been established for a very, very long time or farms that were a unique piece of history,” she explained.

The Philippot farm was established by Alexis Philippot in 1912. He left Brittany, France in 1909 in search of a better life.

Arriving at the young age of 19, he worked as a lumberjack in the winter and as a farmhand in the summer, until he’d saved enough money to buy land and begin his own farm.

Eventually, the farm grew into a 1,800-acre livestock operation, later divided up among his six sons, while the family’s five daughters married.

The Philippot farm.
photo: Submitted

But it was a combination of the Great Depression and depleted soils that pushed the Philippot farm and others in the St. Claude area into the dairy business.

In 1958 Raymond and Laurette took over the farm, before it passed to Alain Philippot and his wife Michelle. Together with their three children, they now milk about 68 cows.

“I always wanted to be a farmer when I was a kid, but then when I was 17 or 18 I was not going to farm, I was going to be anything but, I was actually enrolled at Red River College for computer technology and I was accepted for 1983,” Philippot said. However, after spending a gap year at home on the farm before classes began, it was clear to Philippot that the farm was where he was meant to be.

“I really enjoyed the whole aspect of farming, making milk from soil, planting a crop, growing the crop, feeding that to the animal and then incorporating that with the genetics of the animal, improving the animal, improving the soil… so it’s the holistic thing of it,” he said. “And I get to consume my product every day, which to me is very exciting, because I get the fruit of my labour every day.”

That doesn’t mean Philippot has turned his back on technology and computer sciences, though. He sees a future where technology plays a vital role in the survival of the family farm.

Cow and calf on the Philippot farm.
photo: Submitted

“You are going to see the democratization of technology, to make it so that one person can do a lot with something very small,” he said, speculating that smaller equipment based on robotics could revolutionize the way small farms operate, eliminating the need to seek massive scales of economy with larger and larger operations, while live streaming and other communication technology could allay consumer concerns about quality and welfare.

Smith notes that stories of adaptation, community building and innovation can be found across the country, showcasing the role dairy farmers have played in shopping the country.

“We really wanted to highlight the contributions of Canadian dairy farmers,” Smith said. “In the building and the growth of the country as part of the 150th celebration… dairy farmers were integral in building Canada and feeding the country, so we wanted to provide Canadians with sort of a little piece of history and where dairy farming was and where it is today and the stories of these families which are very, very powerful.”

In Quebec the book features the Marandas family, which still lives in the same farmhouse built by their ancestors in 1736, although the farm can trace its roots back to 1666. And in Nova Scotia, the Burrows family of Clover Crest Farm in Green Oak talks about their operation, founded in 1765.

Back in Manitoba, Philippot said he hopes to see all these farms continue to thrive into the future.

“What I’d like to see is the family farm continue, where the model is based on the fact that there will be people who own the farm who are farming it,” he said. “A model where you want to leave it in as good, or better shape than you found it.”

About the author

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Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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