Jenny Butcher, farmer, Ontario (Canada)
Jenny Butcher could have chosen to stay on her family’s dairy operation and do things the usual way. Instead, she and her husband Wes decided to go for a fresh start, start their own farm and do it from a different approach entirely.
If buying local (food) is becoming increasingly popular among the broader population now, especially following the pandemic, Jenny and Wes knew the importance of going local years ago and built their entire operation around it. Today, thirteen years after leaving the family farm, they provide artisan cheese, milk and beef as well as homemade meals made in the onsite commercial kitchen, all directly on the farm. It has earned the couple the title of Ontario’s 2021 Outstanding Young Farmers. Here’s Jenny’s story.
Little Brown Cow Dairy Farm & Store
Jenny Butcher (38) comes from an agricultural background and studied agriculture. Nevertheless, she and her husband Wes started their farm and on-farm store from scratch. “I have a rich background in agriculture”, Jenny says, “growing up on a dairy farm and completing my Bachelors of Commerce in Agriculture.”
“One of the things that interests me most about agriculture is the unchartered water that exists in de-commoditizing farms. There are thousands of things that can be done in the daily life of your farm to set yours apart. Those things make up a story that people are ready and willing to hear.”
Jenny and Wes run the Little Brown Cow Dairy Farm & Store in Ontario, Canada, a dairy and beef farm where the milk is pasteurized and processed into cheese products on site before being sold in the farm store. “My husband Wes and I own and manage a Vertically Integrated Operation”, Jenny explains. “We have a dairy and a beef farm where we milk 60 Jersey cows and house a herd of 200 in total. The milk is processed in our on-farm creamery, and the milk, the on-farm produced cheese and beef are the featured products in our on-farm grocery store.”
A ‘quirky’ approach
If she knows what it’s like to be treated differently for being a woman on the farm – the classic“is there a man around” we hear so often being one of the manifestations of this – Jenny decided to give it a twist of her own and accentuate her “female” touch. An unusual approach maybe, but one that works and it shows in the store! “I have acquired a myriad of stories through the years of people not accepting me as a serious decision maker on the farm. “Is your Dad around”, is a question that was asked often in the early years”, she explains, “but honestly, I probably have more stories of getting extra attention because I often provide a different point of view than an average farmer. Driving head first into the difference instead of minimizing it has been helpful.”
“As an example, we name our cows quirky, fun and memorable names and do so overtly on their nametags. I know that your average farmer doesn’t do this. But when you can justify the practice and bring it back to its relevance to production, that farcical practice can be respected as simply different. A name like “Fine Time Lucille” (Lucille, for short) has a much better memory recall than “Cow number 65” for the folks working on the farm, allowing them to manage each cow with more individualistic care. The name has the same affect on our predominantly female food purchasing customer base and allows them to invest emotionally in our herd.”
Women belong in agriculture
When we ask Jenny if she has any advice to share with young women who want to build a career in agriculture, this is what she has to say: “agriculture is about making food. Nourishing people has been a traditional responsibility of women in society. So, it is exactly where we belong! But in a traditional sense, perhaps women do better the closer we get to actually nourishing people and the further away we get from production. This is nothing to apologize for. Exploit it! It just so happens that the further we get along the supply chain, the more profit is involved too.”
“We get a lot of work done in a day and it’s work that I feel privileged to do. But don’t let articles about other people’s lives fool you! We have a staffed commercial kitchen where our meals come from, my house is an utter disaster unless you give me a week’s notice you’re coming over and even then it might still be. And, we don’t have kids! (laughs)”
Jenny Butcher and her husband Wes Kuntz left the family dairy operation to start their own farm. The goal: a unique and innovative farm experience. The story began with acquiring the license to process the milk from their twenty jersey cows into cheese. Today, Jenny and Wes are running an on farm one stop shop for all food items produced either on the farm or within 100km of Brantford.
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This article was published in Women in Ag Magazine 2021-4. Click here for an overview of the magazines.