Landman family: A recipe for family harmony with something for everyone
We did it for the love of farming. The kids do it because they love it too, and see a future in it.
Over in Grand Valley, the Landman kids have been garnering a lot of attention within the farm community and beyond. Of the six kids, only the oldest, 30-year-old Jordan, has decided to pursue a career off the farm, in landscaping.
The Landman kids’ grandparents immigrated to Canada in 1954 and lived on a couple of farms prior to buying one in 1969. “My dad was the youngest of nine. A lot of my uncles tried to decide if they wanted to farm, so at different stages a different uncle would be in charge of something. Then it got to my dad, and he loved it,” relates 24-year-old Rebecca Landman.
Her parents, Eric and Kerry, officially bought the 80-acre dairy farm from his parents in 1997. Looking back, Rebecca says, “I don’t think it was really ever expected that any of us would get into farming. There were six of us and after dinner it would be chore time. Mom would say, ‘Go play outside in the barn.’ While we were out there it was, ‘Oh, look, can you feed this calf?’ As I got older, we had more stuff we had to do. It was always a fun thing for us.”
While most kids get kittens or puppies for pets, Eric and Kerry gave their children laying hens and bunnies. That’s just how things went.
By the time Rebecca started thinking about a career, she was sure she wanted to be a chef. She attended North Bay’s Canadore College, but was quickly disappointed by the “huge disconnect between restaurants, their food and how it was grown. I thought it was the weirdest thing, seeing as I lived on a farm and all we did was grow food.”
Rebecca did go on to work at a few bakeries, but her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and in 2010 she returned home to help out. At the same time, her father was building a garage and her mother prevailed on him to add a commercial kitchen so Rebecca could continue her career. “I started a bakery, a half-acre vegetable garden and the CSA.” The first shareholders in the CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) were mostly friends who, if necessary, might be counted on to forgive a few growing pains.
However, her first year was marked by “the most ideal growing season in the world and I thought, ‘Oh, this is so easy. I can do this.’ The year after there was this crazy drought, but we increased to 25 shares. This is our fourth year and we are up to 55 shares.”
In the meantime, the family had sold their dairy quota and decided to get into milking goats – where 21- year-old Ashleigh eventually found a niche, though it’s not what she had first imagined for herself. While Rebecca went back to school to study sustainable agriculture at Fleming College in Lindsay, Ashleigh was working toward a diploma at Ontario Agricultural College, heading to a career in industrial farming. However, like Rebecca, it didn’t take long for her to become disillusioned with life off the family farm, as she quickly discovered the corporate culture and brand loyalties of big agriculture were outside her comfort zone. By that time, the goats were already in the barn, but Eric was more than happy to incorporate her new ideas on breeding and bookkeeping.
Tragically, Kerry lost her battle with cancer in 2011, leaving behind three teenage boys and a husband who, a few year before, had found a passion in dry stone construction. Now 48, Eric is still, as Rebecca puts it, “running the show,” but he is putting more and more trust and responsibility for the day-to-day operations in the hands of his children.
Josh, 19, is in charge of the chickens and 16-year-old twins Jesse and Carter help their sisters in the kitchen and barn respectively.
Today, the Landmans run an impressive operation with a two-acre CSAwhere they grow vegetables, and operate the commercial kitchen for making pies and preserves they sell at both their on-farm store and other retail outlets, as well as at farmers’ markets in Shelburne, Orangeville and Elora. They also sell eggs and meat, including chicken, turkey, pork, lamb and some goat. Ashleigh hopes soon to add cheese to her goat milk products.
Like all families, the Landmans are not always friction-free, but they manage to keep things running smoothly by carefully organizing the various farm operations. For example, Rebecca owns the CSA and bakery outright and Ashleigh owns the goats. Jesse gets paid hourly for his work in the kitchen, and Carter gets a share of the goat milk revenue.
When arguments arise everybody gets a chance to be heard, and Eric will intervene if the kids don’t manage to work things out on their own. “Everybody is pretty good at knowing when they have to give each other a little space,” says Rebecca, who has become something of a surrogate mother for the family.
Still, life without Kerry remains a challenge. “We’re getting a system … it takes a little getting used to, like eating dinner at 10 o’clock at night because we all thought somebody else was going to do it,” admits Rebecca.
In the meantime, Eric’s dry stone construction has created a new opportunity. He belongs to the Dry Stone Wall Association of Canada, which held a festival at the farm in 2009. At the end of the festival the Landmans were left with an authentic blackhouse, but no idea what to do with it. Then family friends asked if they could host a dinner there.
Since then, Landmans have added catered multicourse meals for parties of 10 to 16 in the charming stone building. People can book a private function or purchase a couple of tickets and enjoy a unique experience at a farm table with strangers. Either way, by the end of the meal, everybody is talking to each other and laughing.
These days, Eric believes there are “two footprints for farming – expand and get into factory farming or find a niche. The niche seems to be more enjoyable.”
And the kids seem to agree. “We offered them the opportunity, but we never expected all of them to take it,” says Eric. “Kerry always said, ‘It really doesn’t matter what it costs to do what you want to do. Do what makes you happy.’ We did it for the love of farming. The kids do it because they love it too, and see a future in it.”
In August, Landman Gardens and Bakery hosted the first of what promises to be an annual event – Savour Fair. “The idea came up sitting around with some other farmers and local foodies, chatting about how we don’t have this type of festival going on in this area. It’s not really related to anything else we do, besides wanting to educate customers on good local food,” says Rebecca.
The event featured sampling stations by local chefs and caterers, a farmers’ market and music, all to celebrate “what good, simple, delicious food should be!”
In true “pay it forward” fashion, proceeds from the event went to local high school students continuing their education in the field of agriculture.
Their crops include oats they sell themselves and a 30-acre field of sunflowers they harvest and sell for birdseed.
Sheldon Creek’s whole milk is sold in traditional glass bottles with a plug of cream on top. They also sell chocolate milk, strawberry milk and eggnog seasonally, and yogurt.