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A heart for farming inspires a fascination for agri-politics

People of Collingwood: Keith Currie, farmer and first vice president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture
2021-10-26 POCCurrie JO-001
Keith Currie and his grandson Zach tour his family farm in their combine. Currie is an eighth-generation farmer in Nottawa.

When Keith Currie walks out the door of his eighth-generation family farm in Nottawa, the smell of the air still brings a smile to his face.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with Currie, 60, local farmer and first vice president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I live west of Nottawa. I’m the eighth generation on my farm.

I went to Nottawa Public School and went on to Collingwood Collegiate Institute.

Originally, the Currie clan got kicked out of the Isle of Islay in Scotland, and this is where we landed. The first time I visited Scotland, I recognized why they choose to move here. They look very similar.

I still have the original deed going back to the 1820s.

My farm has been passed down here from generation to generation.

Aside from going to college in Ridgetown and my travels for the agricultural industry, this has always been my home.

Q: What do you farm?

A: We had a dairy operation but I sold the cows quite a few years ago now.

Since then, we’ve been predominantly grains and oil seeds such as corn, soybeans and wheat. My wife and I also had a sweet corn and gladiola business.

Q: You’ve recently announced your retirement from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, where you served for more than 25 years. What made you want to retire?

A: My first tenure into agricultural advocacy was with the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture. That was in 1986. Around 2000, I was elected to the provincial board.

In 2007, the provincial board was restructured. The zone I represented was Simcoe, York and Peel. There are 15 zones in the province.

I’ve been involved for 30 plus years. I’m retiring from that position on Nov. 22.

Q: What made you want to donate your time to a leadership role in the farming industry?

A: I’ve always been fascinated by politics.

The work we do in farm advocacy is mostly lobbying the government for the business of agriculture and making it better. Working in partnership or lobbying for changes in regulations that will be good for us.

My family was also very interested in politics. My dad served on some committees for, at that time, Nottawasaga Township. My mother was the mayor of Clearview Township for quite a few years.

From the time I could think, I wanted to farm.

It was a way for me to contribute to try to make agriculture better not only for me, but all those who follow behind me.

Q: What are some of the challenges and changes to farming you’ve seen over time that interest you?

A: Typically, the challenges we see are due to people getting in the way.

I think that’s a fair statement of just about any industry.

Our issues, at the core, haven’t changed a lot. It’s how they’re being dealt with and the people involved.

The agri-food industry is the No. 1 employer in Ontario.

The beauty of agriculture is, it’s always there. It’s recession-proof. COVID-19 is a prime example of how everything shutting down had to happen but agriculture had to keep going because people needed to eat.

We have an opportunity here in southern Ontario. We have good soil and good climate.

We’re dealing with things like land-use and planning. We’re losing 175 acres each day to development and sprawl. That’s a lot of land. We’re trying to get the governments of the day – whoever they are – to get a handle on that growth.

Q: You’re continuing to serve as the first vice president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, a position you’ve held since 2019. Are you retiring from the farm?

A: No. I’m still working the farm.

While I love what I do around the farm political scene, it’s meant I haven’t been home a lot. In the last five years prior to COVID, I don’t think I’ve planted a crop in the daytime. It’s always been in the dark.

COVID has been a refresher to me around why I chose the career of farming.

I’ve been able to get back to going around in circles in my field. I can’t tell you how great a feeling that is when you’re a farmer.

As long as my health is good, I’m going to continue to do it. I love it. I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.

Q: What types of things do you like to do in your spare time?

A: For about 15 years now, I’ve groomed Nordic trails up at Scenic Caves. I do that through the night as well. (laughs)

I was involved in building the zip lines up there and am involved in running that when I’m home in the summer too.

I played baseball for about 40 years of my life in some organized fashion. In the wintertime, I still love skiing and get a pass every year.

I have three daughters and a son, and they’ve been involved in a lot of sports. I coached one when she played on the provincial soccer team and another when she played on the provincial basketball team. That took up a lot of time too but it was a great way to spend time with my family. I enjoyed that aspect of it.

With what I’ve been doing (with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture), I’ve been able to travel a lot of my country. That’s been really rewarding; to combine travel with business. My wife retired four years ago so she’s been travelling with me.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: I think it’s about the awareness of all things agricultural.

We are a dying breed. About 1.6 per cent of the population of Ontario/Canada is actually on the farm.

When I talk about this being a family farm – about 96 per cent of that 1.6 per cent are running family farms.

Some of the myths that are out there about farming are something I really try to work hard on (correcting). In order for my farm to be successful, I need accountants, financial advisors, bankers, veterinarians, a mechanic, a welder. I need scientists. I have all kinds of technology on my farm, and I can run it, but please don’t ask me to fix it.

The job aspect of agriculture is so broad, and I think people don’t understand that.

On the farm, when I walk out the door and I smell the air and I smile, I think, ‘This is alright.’

To be able to raise a family in this setting, it’s a tough feeling to describe.

For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email jessica@villagemedia.ca.


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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