© Guardian photo by Jim Day
Netherland natives Chiel Middelkamp, right, and his brother, Eelco, are standing tall in the fourth season of operating Middelkamp Organic Produce in Prince Edward Island.
Chiel and Eelco.
The first names of the Middelkamp brothers suggest the young sibling farmers may not be from these parts.
They are not. They are from the Netherlands. But they are doing a good job settling in to farm life in a faraway land.
The brothers have the financial backing of their father, Johan, in making a serious go at running a sustainable, organic operation in Prince Edward Island.
Johan has been offering up plenty of money and a good deal of sound, knowledgeable advice to his farming offspring.
His own vegetable farm in the Netherlands became certified organic in 2001. He has since sold the farm and works for McCain Foods in the Netherlands, buying potatoes from farmers.
In 2009, Chiel joined his father’s farm that dated back at least a few generations.
Land, though, was just too expensive in the Netherlands to entertain expansion there.
Germany, Sweden and Ontario were scouted as possible homes for a new farming operation before P.E.I. won out as the place to plant the seeds.
Chiel says several factors, including land quality and lifestyle, saw Prince Edward Island get the nod for the pair.
Dad bought 150 acres the first year and an additional 105 acres in 2012 for his boys to farm. A new warehouse was built and two tall grain tanks were installed.
Chiel, 27, and Eelco, 25, now into their fourth farming season here, have an operation that is certified organic.
Soybeans and barley are the largest crops grown by Middelkamp Organic Produce with potatoes, onions, red beets, celery and wheat rounding out the varied farm goods that are currently sold to Quebec and the Maritimes. The Middelkamps are hopeful of getting their onions and celery in the Sobeys chain of grocery stores.
Chiel notes there has been a learning curve for him and his brother.
A mix of unco-operative weather and lack of familiarity conspired to cause difficulties with broccoli and onion crops for the farm lads.
“The biggest challenge for us was learning the sand, learning the soil (that is in stark contrast to the heavy clay soil in the Netherlands),’’ says Chiel.
“It’s almost like relearning farming almost.’’
“There are going to be more blips, you know that,’’ he adds.
Johan, though many miles away, keeps a close eye on the progress of his sons.
He is heavily involved in any and all major decisions. He also makes his way twice a year to the P.E.I. farm spread around Alberry Plains and Summerville to help size up the planting and harvesting seasons.
“We talk to him regularly, (but) it is always easier to discuss things face to face,’’ says Chiel.
Chiel and Eelco certainly were not dragged into farming kicking and screaming. The pair embrace what they hope will be a long, prosperous and enjoyable career.
“Farming is a lifestyle,’’ says Chiel.
“What I like about it is you are your own boss.’’
He also relishes producing something that people enjoy, in this case a good variety of organic produce.
Eelco likes the variety the farming operation affords — one minute a marketing manager, a mechanic the next.
“It’s diverse work,’’ says Eelco. “Every day is new.’’
The brothers each rent their own place in Stratford. They car pool, actually truck pool, to the farm each morning, planning their day over a cup of coffee.
The work is evenly distributed between the pair while Chiel does more of the paper work and Eelco more of the work in the field.
The pair leans on as many as eight to 10 workers hired during peak periods of operation. On this day, a little over a handful are weeding the beet crops.
The brothers are both involved in the Young Farmers of P.E.I., but it is Chiel who has assertively dove into the agriculture community as an active player.
He sits on the board of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture and serves as vice-president of the P.E.I. Certified Organic Producers Cooperative.
The involvement, notes Chiel, was designed, in part, to get a good handle on the agriculture sector in the province.
Mission accomplished on that front, suggests John Jamieson, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.
Jamieson says both of the boys have integrated very well within the community. He is particularly impressed with the work ethic and thoughtfulness Chiel demonstrates as a sitting member of the federation.
“He’s just the kind of young person that we need in agriculture,’’ he says.
“He’s interested in sitting on boards and working with the agriculture organizations here. He brings a real fresh perspective.’’
Jamieson believes the biggest challenge for people coming from another country to farm in P.E.I. is in getting to be a part of the agriculture community.
Dutch farmers certainly have an impressive track record of harvesting crops and milking cows with great success in the province.
The Middelkamp boys hope to follow suit.
They are busy settling in, getting the crops growing well and establishing markets for their organic goods.
“Our goal is to have a good, self-sustainable farm ... that is going to work for the future as well,’’ says Chiel.
Editor's note: This is the fifth in the Farming for the Future series profiling P.E.I. farmers in honour of the 2014 International Year of Family Farming. To view previous
articles, check out www.theguardian.pe.ca.
AT A GLANCE
The 2006 Census of Population from Statistics Canada counted 315 immigrants in Prince Edward Island’s farm population or 5.9 per cent of the total farm population.
The Dutch represented 53.8 per cent of the province’s immigrant farm population, but they made up only 10.4 per cent of immigrants in the province’s general population.