Buying the Farm: Part II of a series

by Alicia McCutcheon

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Expositor is exploring changes in farming practices on Manitoulin in a series called Buying the Farm. Many Island farms are being sold to buyers, largely from southern Ontario, who wish to either relocate here or farm them from a distance. The Expositor series examines a variety of these new agricultural practices.

GORE BAY—Over the past five years, Larry Pfeiffer and his son Curtis have been travelling to Manitoulin from their home in Monkton, just south of Listowel in southwestern Ontario, combing the Island in search of the perfect farms to which relocate, leaving a generations-old farm behind to start fresh over 300 kilometres north.

“I like the way it is here, laid back, like when I was a kid,” Larry Pfeiffer explained during a stop in Gore Bay on Friday, a break from the weekend-long farm tour with his sons Curtis, 29, and Ben, 32.

Mr. Pfeiffer’s 100 acres in Monkton is the place where he was born and raised and where he and his wife raised their four sons. The landscape has changed, though, from what he once knew. His neighbours’ farms have been steadily purchased by the big factory farms that have taken away the look and feel of the landscape, offering big bucks for acreages that, like Mr. Pfeiffer’s property, were generational. The going rate in Monkton? Anywhere from $13,000-15,000 an acre.

Island properties, on the other hand, typically sell for $1,000 an acre, the elder Pfeiffer added.

He hasn’t listed his farm yet, or put it up for auction, but with each trip to Manitoulin, Mr. Pfeiffer is that much closer and this trip might be it—the final push.

Unlike most of the kids he grew up with, Curtis Pfeiffer knows that farming is what he wants to do with his life. It’s in his blood; it’s who he is. These days, however, there’s no room for up and comers like him. Unless one has an unending cash flow to compete with “the conglomerates,” as they call them, there’s no point.

“There’s no opportunity for people our age to start farming,” he said, looking at his older brother. “You need at least $13,000 an acre plus the cost of living in the south. It’s just not possible. Here there’s a start. There, there’s no start.”

“We’re getting pushed out,” the father added.

“Down there, once a farmer sells he moves to town and that’s it; he gets a job,” Curtis explained.

“The big guys get bigger and the little guys just disappear,” Ben added.

Curtis said he thought about starting up in the Owen Sound area for a time too, but like his father, has fallen for Manitoulin.

The Pfeiffer men are big hunters and enjoy fishing too and enjoy the deer hunt every year down the West End’s Little Lake Huron Road as a neighbour from back home has hunting property there. And one thing’s for sure: both Larry and Curtis have decided on the Western Manitoulin as the place to start anew. The father said he is eyeing up a farm in Evansville while Curtis has his sights set on 400 acres in Meldrum Bay.

And even though 34 years ago on his honeymoon to Manitoulin Mr. Pfeiffer announced to his wife that he would retire here, retirement’s just not in the cards, but a cash crop and beef are. “I’m not going to quit yet, I’d die,” he said matter of factly.

“It’d kill him,” Ben piped in. “That’s what happens to farmers.”

Ben, too, has caught the Island farming bug. His first official trip to Manitoulin (in daylight anyway—the third eldest son is a livestock trucker and once made a delivery in the dead of night just outside of Little Current) has him hooked. Ben said he hopes to get involved with his little brother’s future operation and is already making plans to bring his girlfriend to Manitoulin and show her the sights.

Curtis said he plans to run a cow/calf beef operation of about 300 head.

“If I’m going to farm, it’s going to be a full-time job,” he said. “You have to make it worthwhile.” The number 300 is ideal, he said, because it’s big enough to keep a farmer busy and in business, without having to hire help.

Ben noted that the family had been checking out the crops and “they’re good here.”

“And you’re not in the boonies here either,” he added.

By next spring, Mr. Pfeiffer said, he hopes the family can make the move, provided, of course, Mrs. Pfeiffer can be convinced. “Every time she talks about it, it gets more and more positive,” he said, adding that he keeps reminding her that she’ll still be close to the rest of her family in the south.

The sons noted that a summer excursion and stay at the Evergreen Resort on Ice Lake definitely made her heart grow fonder. “She’s growing to the idea,” Mr. Pfeiffer laughed.

The family has settled on the west because “the soil looks more fertile,” Ben explained. “It looks like there’s more virgin soil here. Not stuff that’ been turned over and over again.”

Mr. Pfeiffer reminisced about his younger days, remembering when for every mile and a quarter, five farms stood on each side of the road. Now, those familiar faces and names have all but disappeared,

“She’s time for a change,” Ben said.