by Giovanni Capriotti
ICE LAKE—At the beginning of the 80s, a young man named Max Burt decided to enrol into the Agriculture Diploma at University Of Guelph. Nothing suggested that those two years would have shaped his professional life as well as his private sphere. His wife Joanne had never thought of going to school and meeting the man of her dreams.
“I didn’t go to school to meet guys. If somebody would have told me about Max, I would have laughed at the time,” she said smiling.
Purchased in 1994 by Max’s parents, the Burt Farm sits at the very beginning of the Tenth Concession, near Ice Lake. The road runs directly into the Gore Bay downtown, crossing acres of land, birch and maple forests plus several ponds.
Shortly after his graduation Mr. Burt began applying his skills and gaining experience at the Sharpe Farm, a Guelph company whose main goal at the time was to meet the crop input needs of the area farmers.
Those were the days when his desire to provide people with a quality product flourished. The operations conducted at the north Guelph farm did not convince the young Burt. He recalls driving a truck worth $250,000 while spreading pesticides on the land.
“Truthfully, the company was doing an accurate job in applying anti-growth technology to the land,” he said in a whisper.
In 1994 he and Joanne moved into the farm, making their dream come true. All their efforts on studies and working for somebody else finally paid off. The couple was now ready to embrace their life together as farmers.
Passion has always been the driving force of Max Burt. According to him, the key component of agriculture lays in aiming to build the wealth from the land. Manitoulin is a glacial rocky island that does not necessarily welcome agriculture. A big effort has to be put into working the soil to render it into making it fertile.
“The passion for my job is always there. It may vary day to day, but it’s there constantly,” he said while butchering meat. “One day you might be really passionate about cattle and that’s when you get a kick on your leg,” he continued.
“The perception can change in a matter of seconds,” concluded Mr. Burt.
Nowadays human beings seem to have lost the ability to feed themselves. It is not uncommon for city dwellers to get caught supporting causes they barely know. Most of the time the idea of cruelty is applied to the nature without its explicit consent.
Realistically there are more unnoticed inhumane behaviours happening within an urban environment than in a hard working farm. When a group of wealthy individuals join forces, all they do gets metabolized by the mass more easily than possibly the actions of an independent farmer reiterating practices nearly as old as the planet.
“In this farm we feed our animals with forage and grains produced on our land,” Mr. Burt said. “I rent some land from Lee Hayden, my neighbour, so that I can optimize the rotation,” he continued.
Every once in a while Mr. Hayden helps Mr. Burt with chopping meat, a crucial operation for the retail store and the entire farm. The idea is not waste anything. The fat is an incredible source of bio-diesel, essential to run all the farm tractors.
The attention to details is maximized at the Burt Farm. The diet of the animals involves forage for the greatest part, while by the end the grains become fundamental to increase the energy profile of the diet.
“I produce my own grains and avoid soy-beans. In North America they are all GMO (genetically modified),” Mr. Burt said firmly. “I am not against a reasonable use of technology, still I want to provide a quality local product,” he confessed.
The relationship with the community is another aspect in which the entire Burt family takes pride. Their motto goes: “From our land to your hand.” The customers attend their retail store and you can tell that there is a special bound with the family. Everything goes beyond the pure commercial interaction.
“Money is important and you’ve got to be careful with your expenses if you want to survive,” said Mr. Burt. “The give and take from the community is what makes my job. It makes me proud when somebody wants to feed the chickens with my grains,” Mr. Burt added.
In all honesty, you don’t happen to see customers hugging a butcher in a major grocery store. The kind of life we currently embrace is paced by vital priorities. Food often appears to be something consumed to live.
Well, Manitoulin sets itself apart. Being able to proudly look people in the eyes is still a reward challenging the logic of profit. The Burt family seems well aware that a local production needs an emphatic community to support it.