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Let’s Eat: A modern farm

Cornell Farms has been ahead of the curve in adopting new technologies. 

Cornell Farms is a fifth-generation family farm, owned and operated by Kim and Pat Cornell. Located in the Rainy River District, the farm is well known to Thunder Bay consumers for selling their beef and beef products at the Thunder Bay Country Market, where they have been vendors for 15 years.

However, the farm is primarily a beef breeding stock business; breeding and selling Red Angus and Polled Herefords. “I grew up with Hereford cattle here,” Kim says. “We added Red Angus in 1991. They’re both British breeds and we’re in an environment where the British breeds work pretty good, so that’s what we do. They’re easier keepers.” 

Farmers buy cattle from the Cornells to breed for beef cattle. Buyers are from all over Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and Minnesota, but Kim has even had a buyer from Kazakhstan. “That was a little bit of a surprise,” he says. 

“We always try to be a bit ahead of the curve,” says Pat. “Decades ago, we marketed our cattle on VHS. We had a professional video done of our farm, and we put the cattle we had for sale.” Now, online shopping for livestock is fairly common. “Maybe it was unusual when we started, but now it’s not unusual. Currently most of the livestock auctions are done through people watching online,” she explains. 

“And COVID has amplified that,” Kim adds. 

The Cornells have also been early adopters of reproductive technologies. “The average consumer doesn’t understand that a lot of the technology that occurs in human health was learned in the animal industry,” Kim says. “All the IVF (in vitro fertilization,) embryo stuff, was learned in the bovine industry in the 60s and 70s.” 

Northwestern Ontario does not have a vet that implants embryos, but the Cornells’ daughter, Rebecca, is a large-animal veterinarian near London, Ontario, and comes home frequently to help her parents at the farm. Several other farms in the area have also started asking her to implant embryos, Kim adds. 

The Cornells have the support and help of their family; not only Rebecca, but also Garnet, their son, who helps on his days off, and their daughter-in-law, Michelle, who manages social media for the business. 

Last year’s drought hit farmers hard. The Cornells say they ended up selling off some cattle that they typically wouldn’t sell. “And we bought a lot of feed to try and stay in the game,” Kim says. 

“The drought here was a lot more severe than it was in Thunder Bay. A lot of people here had a 25 per cent hay crop. There’s been a lot of cattle lost from our community,” he says. 

“We’ve survived a lot of things; I’ve been doing this for over 40 years now. You see challenges over the years, but this is one of the most challenging years we’ve had,” he admits. “It had a real impact on the mental health of the community. [The drought] was so severe and sudden; a lot of people were really rattled by it.”

Although breeding cattle is their primary business, the Cornells have been selling beef to consumers since the 90s, and the couple say diversifying their business has helped them through the inevitable ups and downs of farming. “Slowly, the farmers’ market thing has grown on us,” Kim says. “If the breeding market is strong, that’s fine, but diversifying is good; we have another option. The two have worked well hand in hand.”

In addition to beef and related products such as beef sausages and beef jerky, they sell chickens and smoked pork products as well. “We raise 800 chickens every summer, “ Pat says, “and we sell smoked pork, bacon, smoked pork chops and peameal bacon.” The processed meat products are made locally in Barwick, Ontario.

Cornell Farms does not have a retail store at the farm, online orders can be picked up at the farm. The farm also takes their meat to markets in the region, such as Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, Kenora and Thunder Bay. 

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