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Meet farming’s face of February - Cathy McKay

by Patricia Grotenhuis

A summer job for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food during university led to a life-long love and a diverse business for Cathy McKay. McKay is featured in the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar published by the Farm Care Foundation.

Cathy McKay

McKay’s page is sponsored by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. She’s the first apple grower to ever appear in the annual calendar that features the faces and stories of some of Ontario’s farmers.

The summer after completing her undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology, McKay got a job working in apple orchards.  She immediately knew that she belonged there, and later, she and her husband bought a farm after she completed a Master’s degree in Plant Pathology.  Thirty-two years later, she still loves being out in her apple orchard. She and her husband also raise sheep and have a corn maze and a pumpkin patch on their property.
“I love the orchards.  I like the aesthetics of them, and it’s an interesting and challenging crop technically,” says McKay.

During the first 20 years on the farm, McKay and her husband both had off-farm jobs.  Once established, McKay reduced her hours but continued to manage a small Integrated Pest Management (IPM) consulting business from home, giving advice to other farmers on how to care for their crops – in particular how to manage any potential threats from insects and other pests that can threaten an entire crop. Her husband continues to work as a livestock nutritionist.

Although it was a steep learning curve at the beginning, McKay says neighbours were very helpful and supportive. “We’re very fortunate in this area that we have a group of apple growers who very readily exchange ideas with each other,” says McKay.

To add to the idea-sharing, McKay writes a newsletter for the area growers containing information they can use in their orchards.  The newsletter is published weekly during the growing season.

McKay uses IPM extensively in the orchard, and tries new pest management products as they become available.  This helps her know which products to suggest for her customers so they can use as few pest control methods as possible while still protecting the trees and fruit.

McKay has taken a number of roles in the agricultural industry, including as a director on the Ontario Apple Growers Association, a member of the Ontario Pesticide Advisory Committee and the Ontario Horticultural Council Food Safety Management Committee. She is also on the Okanogan Plant Improvement Board.  She is also the church treasurer, a member of a book club, and enjoys doing yoga in her free time.

McKay attends industry conferences and technical meetings to continue her lifelong learning and has taken several adult learning courses.

With the apple orchard, McKay has built both a wholesale and retail market for her apples.  Along with her farm-gate sales, she has built a system to help teach customers about her farm.  She also welcomes tours from schools and adult English as a Second Language classes and community groups.


Posted by Farm and Food Care on February 22nd, 2012 :: Filed under Canada,Consumers,Education and public awareness,Faces of Farming,Farm life,Innovation and technology,Uncategorized
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