Saturday, July 30, 2005

Old McDonald Had a Naked Farm?

Naked truth about farming
Dawn Cuthbertson - The Kingston Whig-Standard
July 29, 2005

ONTARIO, CANADA - Farmer Don Williams openly admits he’s not exactly a prime candidate for a hot body contest or modelling contract. Williams, 42, had never been self-conscious about his “few” extra pounds. That is, until he was asked to pose nude in a new calendar featuring farmers of Prince Edward County. “It’s not like I’m Mr. Muscle Man,” Williams said. “Those of us in the farming community tend to be a little shy in that department.” Williams said he was hesitant to show off his birthday suit – and farmer’s tan – at first.

He relented when organizers assured him proceeds from the calendar would go towards promoting the region’s agriculture industry. “One of our biggest jobs as farmers anymore is educating the public,” he said. “It’s really amazing how many don’t have a flying clue about the production of their food.”

The Faces of our Farmers calendar was spearheaded by Janice Hickey, a Toronto native who bought a hobby farm in the county in 1981 after falling in love with its charm. All profits will be sent to the Prince Edward County Ontario Federation of Agriculture to create bursaries for students working towards a career in the industry. Farmers have faced hardships for more than two years since the first case of mad cow disease was linked to an Alberta farm, and it’s about time the public understood their challenges, Hickey said.

Hickey hoped that showing a little skin might turn some heads, not just to the farmers, but to important issues facing the agricultural industry. “I think there’s a lot of city folks who take our food source for granted,” she said. Fourteen farms, from dairy cow to organic vegetable to maple syrup, are represented in the 2006 calendar. September features the county’s first winery, Waupoos Estates, with its employees posing behind a row of grape vines. “We have a baby that’s seven weeks old and we have men in their 80s,” Hickey said. Sales of the first 1,000 calendars brought in $10,000, surpassing Hickey’s expectations. She’s hoping to double that number and has called the printer to place a second order.

The calendar’s original concept, now oft copied, came from the British movie Calendar Girls, based on a true story about a group of otherwise proper women who take it all off for cancer awareness. Hickey said she decided to introduce the fundraising idea to the farmers of Prince Edward County while on a trip to Cornwall, England, after spotting a calendar showcasing naked fishermen in a shop. “I picked it up and just started laughing,” she said. “I loved the concept of these fishermen in their own environment. I bought it.” “We made it comical, a little tongue in cheek and there has been a warm response,” she said. “We’ve sold copies to people who don’t know a soul in it.”

The tasteful cover photo features Don Williams’s 68-year-old father, Bob, his 16-year-old son, Justin, and family friend Tom Foster strategically placed behind a red antique tractor at their 400-acre farm near Bloomfield. “I was shocked that dad did it because he’s conservative,” Williams said. “Basically we have our shirts off and the rest of it, well, you can use your imagination.”

Some farmers took more convincing than others to participate, Hickey said. Lyle Hagerman of Hagerman Farms in Picton wasn’t one of them. The spry 77-year-old is the August pinup boy, hiding behind onions, a bucket of gourds and five corn ears alongside five generations of family members and friends. “There was no hesitation,” he said. “It was lots of fun but I didn’t think it would ever take off the way it has.” Mr. March, Clifford Foster, 74, said the $15 calendars have been fierce competition to his sweet maple syrup since he started bringing them to the Belle-ville Farmers’ Market. “It was a fun thing to do and if it’s helping a young lad that would like to have a career in agriculture, I think it’s beneficial,” Foster said. “With the high cost of education, they need all the help they can get.” Williams said his brief career as an exhibitionist has earned him celebrity status around town. “We went to the movies the other night and I don’t know how many people stopped me to comment on it,” he said, laughing. “It’s not a pretty picture but the tractor in front of me looks nice.”

The photo shoot was a nice distraction during an otherwise difficult year on the dairy, pork, cash crop and Christmas tree farm, Williams said. With money already tight, Williams was dealt another significant blow when his youngest daughter, Brittany, was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. “The community rallied around us,” he said. “If [you’re] hitting rock bottom, they pick you up.”

That’s why Williams says he’s thrilled bursaries will be created for students who want to join the farming lifestyle. “Our future is with our kids and getting them involved is extremely important,” he said. Many farmers, especially in the beef industry, are starting to discourage their children from following in their footsteps, Williams said. Hagerman said he’s worried about that trend. “Without people who grow food, you’re going to be awful hungry,” the Picton farmer said. Williams said his son is showing interest in taking over the family farm one day and his two daughters are involved with 4-H. He lauded Hickey for her determination in making the calendar a success. “She’s like a pistol,” Williams said. “When she gets something in her teeth, she runs with it.”



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