The Pfenning family has been farming as far back as documented family history exists. Until chemicals were introduced into agriculture, everybody farmed organically – it was simply called “farming.” It is only now that a distinction is made between conventional methods, and organic ones. At the turn of the century when agri-chemicals were new, Adam Pfenning and then his son Wilhelm Pfenning embraced the modern farming techniques and enjoyed the short-term yield increases they offered. However, by 1950 Wilhelm was starting to realize that he was sacrificing his own health because of all the agri-chemicals he was using and he started to question the nutritional value of the crops he was growing.
In 1952 he made his first attempt at ‘chemical free farming’ but due to community pressure and lack of expert advice he reverted to ‘modern agriculture’ for a short time. His health continued to get worse, mainly from exposure to mercury-based seed treatments, but his love for farming did not diminish. His quest to produce wholesome food without destroying the environment and his own health began, and he started reading, questioning, and developing contacts with like-minded farmers.
Finally, in 1965, with two young children and another on the way, Wilhelm and Barnhild decided to give organic farming another try; and they haven’t looked back. It was very difficult to farm differently from the neighbours in Gnodstadt, the small Bavarian village where the Pfenning family had lived for hundreds of years. The pressure from both neighbours and family was intense at first, but the last 37 years of farming have proved him right. Today there are several farmers in Gnodstadt who have converted to Organic farming.
In spite of a lengthy battle with the West German Autobahn Commission, the Farmstead that had been built by Wilhelm became part of the planned roadway of the new A7 Autobahn 1n 1978.
Wilhelm and Barnhild decided to look to the future and moved themselves and all four children (then aged 11 to 19) to Canada in the fall of 1981. The family immediately started farming on the land where we are located to this day. Today, the farm is operated by Wolfgang and Ekkehard. Even though Wilhelm passed away in 2011, his wisdom and experience act as a guide and measure for the daily decisions that are necessary in running a farm. Now, the next generation of Pfennings have joined the family business, and continue the good work begun so long ago.
THE FARM TODAY
Since those early days when the Pfenning family arrived here in New Hamburg in 1981, many changes have occurred. The farm has grown from ~100 acres to ~700 acres. With this growth, and the development of our import program, our storage and production capacities have had to expand as well. We have become more than a farm, we are now a wholesale distribution centre for fresh, organic produce - always local first! The number of people required to run the farm business has increased as well – ~45 people are employed here year-round, and in the peak of growing and harvesting season up to ~140. All are considered Pfamily!
The home farm is now a busy hive of almost constant activity – people and trucks coming and going at all hours. The days begin in the wee hours, as our small fleet of trucks get loaded with the day’s deliveries. The drivers are usually on the road by 5:30am, and make their way across Southern Ontario to our network of customers. The field teams, which consist of locals, Jamaican migrant workers, and students, gather at 7am to learn where their efforts are needed that day, and they disperse from there. The office and warehouse crews start to arrive at 8am. All throughout the day we have trucks delivering and picking up product, tractors and other farm vehicles coming and going, and customers picking up their orders. The field work wraps up around 5pm usually, but some days go long. Office and warehouse crews aren’t too far behind. Then the evenings are quieter; cooking smells, conversations and laughter fill the air.
It’s a dynamic, ever-changing place! But underneath all of these changes, our goals and values remain the same: to produce the healthiest and safest food that we are able, to consider the impacts of our actions on future generations and the environment around us, and to do it all with a willingness to learn and adapt.