By Trudy Kelly Forsythe
Working together, combining tradition and innovation and passing it on through the generations is common to thousands of farms in Canada.
Charles and Doris Keddy started their now 800-acre farm in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley over 40 years ago, planting and digging the first 300,000 strawberry plants by hand. Today, their son Phil Keddy and his wife Katie manage the farm, work with Charles and Doris, and raise their two sons, nine-year-old Charlie Jr. and seven-year-old Ben.
Their farm is a nursery, which means they grow nursery stock that they then multiply, harvest and divide to sell to other farm operations. The farms in turn grow fruit from those plants and sell the product into the marketplace. Last year, the farm propagated approximately 25 million strawberry plants destined for primarily Canadian and Florida strawberry farms. They also grow raspberry and blackberry canes and rhubarb and asparagus crowns for growers as well as sweet potatoes for retail. Plus, they manage a small herd of cattle to utilize land not suitable for nursery production and grow a variety of grains to feed the cattle.
The farm has grown to employ 40 to 80 people depending on the season and takes both generations to operate. Phil manages everything outside the office including labour, land management, future planning and marketing. While Katie also works off-farm, she manages the food and farm safety programs and helps with other tasks when she can. Charles and Doris work in the office and meet many of their customers in person.
Secrets to Success
Their relationships with customers, including visiting the farms where the Keddys’ plants go to finish growing, is a major part of Charles Keddy Farms’ success. “We know over the years that they value when we go to Florida to visit and have that consistent contact,” says Katie. “Technology helps with that because you can text and send pictures, but those face-to-face meetings will always be what makes the business successful.”
Indeed, that combination of tradition and innovation is an intrinsic part of multi-generational farming. “There are some core practices that you don’t stray from because that’s what built the business and then you can innovate certain aspects of it,” says Phil. “The job is still being done, but now we have a higher tech machine doing it, like with auto steer and auto guidance.”
For Charles, the younger generation’s ability to learn and adapt more quickly to new technologies is one of the benefits of multi-generational farming.
“Technology is moving so fast, it’s a hard job to keep up with it,” says Charles. “I grew up with tractors where you had to steer and pay attention to what you were doing. Tractors today drive themselves; they are all GPS and go in a much straighter line than I ever could.”
“Phil goes out at night, sets the GPS and only has to turn the tractor at the end of the row,” he continues. “He can listen to podcasts as he’s always trying to learn and stay ahead of the latest developments.”
The benefits certainly outweigh the challenges. Both Phil and Charles appreciate the flexibility offered by working together as it allows them to get away when they need to, knowing there’s someone looking after things every day.
“If we want to go away for four days in the summer with the kids, Mom and Dad are still heavily involved so I can tell them what I’d like help to do in the next four days and they’ll take care of it,” says Phil. “If they want to spend a week or two in Florida visiting customers, they can just pack up and leave the farm and the work is still getting done.”
They do admit working with different generations can have its challenges, but at the end of the day, they are family and that’s what comes first. For them, the key to making it work is consistent communication and not avoiding the tough conversations.
“That is so much easier said than done when you have people who are from different generations who communicate differently and have grown up differently,” says Katie. “But, if you’re talking, you’re moving forward for the long-term success of the business.”
Charles and Doris hope that Charles Keddy Farms continues on for generations to come, and while it’s unclear if Charlie and Ben will want to take over the farm, the two do talk about how they think they’ll run the farm later.
“You do this for family and hope to look down the road and see another generation get involved,” says Charles, adding, for now, “I hope Phil carries on and lets me pretend to make a few decisions and do a little something.”
At the same time, Katie and Phil love the relationship their kids have with their grandparents and the farm.
“For me, the best part is that connection to the past that the kids get to grow up and experience,” says Katie. “If they choose not to farm, that’s okay. Happiness comes first. But as they move into their own careers, we hope they see the value and opportunities that working in a family business can give them.”
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