Meet the next-generation Ontario dairy farmers helping to nourish Toronto

Meet the next-generation Ontario dairy farmers helping to nourish Toronto

High-quality local milk starts and ends with a passion for farming

A dairy farmer’s day starts before the crack of dawn; while many people are still sleeping, they greet their cows for their first milking before the sun even rises.

It’s not an easy role. This 24-7 lifestyle involves a plethora of responsibilities that extend beyond animal care, encompassing broader resources and farm management—they are family-run businesses, after all. But those who do it for a living, do it from a place of passion and pride, focusing on the welfare of the animals and the production of high-quality milk and dairy products for Ontarians.

This passion is something that next-generation farmers Dave Overgaauw and Julia Verhoef relate to on a deeply personal level, thanks to their family-run dairy farms. Overgaauw works alongside his wife, parents and brothers, while Verhoef, a recent university graduate, joins her parents and older brother in running their farm.

Next-generation farmers

Dairy farming has held a special place in their hearts since childhood. “As a young girl, as soon as I was strong enough to hold a bottle of milk, I would help feed calves,” Verhoef recalls. “Growing up on a farm allows your love for animals to grow.” She says this evolved into helping care for the herd and developing a great sense of responsibility and pride in watching them grow into healthy calves and cows.

Although Overgaauw and Verhoef work at different farmsSevenhills Holsteins in Amaranth, Ont., and Verhoef Dairy Farm in Belmont, Ont., respectivelyboth have parents who immigrated from the Netherlands in the 1990s, excited for the opportunities in dairy farming that Ontario had to offer. As next-generation dairy farmers, Overgaauw and Verhoef have the utmost respect for the values instilled in them by their parents.

“What my parents passed down is the importance of resilience and patience,” Overgaauw says. “Change doesn’t happen overnight. The commitment and dedication needed to watch your animals and crops grow over time contributes to the love and pride dairy farmers have for what they do.”

Respect traditions and improve for the future

There are 3,273 family-run dairy farms across Ontarioa thriving industry that uses long-standing, proven practices while continuing to innovate for a more sustainable future. For Ontario dairy farmers, preserving natural resources and reducing waste are key to improving the industry for future generations.

“Dairy farmers are open to progress, and often what’s good for the business is good for environmental sustainability,” Overgaauw says. “For example, we work with an agronomist, an expert in the science of soil management, who helps us utilize crop data to improve the health and production of our crops. This allows us to be more efficient.”

Advocating for health and wellness

As second-generation dairy farmers, Overgaauw and Verhoef place great importance on sustainability and animal welfare. Both pursued education in agriculture at the University of Guelph, with Overgaauw earning a diploma in agriculture and Verhoef graduating this spring with a bachelor of science in agriculture, majoring in animal science. They’re proud to contribute to nourishing surrounding rural communities and cities across the province, and committed to preserving the vital roles of dairy farmers.

“The health of the herd is a dairy farmer’s first priority,” Overgaauw says. “We work hard to ensure the cows are thriving.” There are many ways that Ontario dairy farmers prioritize their herds’ well-being, like partnering with veterinarians and cow nutritionists to ensure their health and comfort are optimized.

“Growing up on a farm, you have animal care instilled in you from a very young age” adds Verhoef. “Ontario dairy farmers must partake in a quality assurance program that helps monitor milk quality and food safety, which ensures clean and comfortable cattle housing, top-quality feed, calm animal handling and medical care.”

Paving the way to a more sustainable future

Ontario dairy farmers are committed to meeting the Canadian dairy industry target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. With so much focus on sustainability, efficiency and animal care, the future of Ontario dairy farming is bright.

“We are always finding ways to be more efficient on our farms, and between my brothers and I, there’s a bit of healthy competition to see what new technologies or farming methods we can implement to help us do things better on-farm and to continue to produce high-quality milk,” Overgaauw says. “My hope for young farmers today is that they continue to invest in their farms and continue to be open to progress, improvement and evolution through new technology or learning from the successes of other dairy farmers.”

“Being a dairy farmer takes a lot of skill and patience, but once you see the results of all the work you’ve put in, it’s fulfilling and reinforces your passion,” he adds. “That’s what keeps us moving forward.”