After 17 years in operation, the Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative assembly yard is for sale. Passer-bys will have noticed the signs up at the property just south of Harriston on Hwy 9 where, since 1995, pork farmers have been bringing their pigs to have them shipped to market. When I first moved to Harriston in 2010, it was one of the first things I noticed about the town and it piqued my curiousity.
Prior to the Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative, the yard existed and was operated under Ontario Pork however in 1995, they made the decision to cease operations at assembly yards around the province, including the yard in Harriston, and the yard came up for sale. In 1995 pork prices were reasonable and producers were optimistic about the growth and success of their industry. Following the announcement by Ontario Pork, about 100 producers in the area got together to discuss options, and from there the Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative was born and a board was elected. Members joined the Co-op for a lifetime membership fee of $100. Tony Andrade of Andrade Farms in Harriston was elected as the first President of the Pork Co-op and continued in his role throughout the existence of the Co-op. The objective of the Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative was to provide an option for small pork producers to assemble and ship their pigs in an affordable way. To meet this need, the newly formed Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative approached Ontario Pork with an offer to purchase the yard and continue its operations. Harriston Pork Co-op members and supporters chipped in to purchase the property with cash and struck a deal with the local Ivel family who would manage the yard as well as truck all the pigs that were assembled there. Most of the pigs that were shipped from the yard were headed to Quality Meats in Toronto and individual producers shipped anywhere from 2 or 3 pigs per week up to 100 pigs per week.
The establishment and running of an official Co-operative is quite involved and a steep learning curve was undertaken by the ambitious group. Its formation speaks to the practical and innovative nature of farmers and their desire to see the pork industry develop and prosper. Much paperwork and many meetings were undertaken by the group of hard-working farmers and they proved to be an inspiration to other pork farmers around the province, although it seems it was the only co-op formed of its kind. After all this hard work, it’s sad to see the ‘For Sale’ signs go up at the co-op owned assembly yard.
Many hardships have fallen on pork farmers in the last 5 or so years with plummeting pork prices and increasing feed costs. Many small producers are unable to compete and as remaining farms get bigger, they ship their pigs themselves without the need of an assembly yard. A number of the founding members of the Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative have since gotten out of pig farming for more lucrative careers and those that are left are simply not shipping enough pigs to keep the assembly yard in operation. At its peak, there were more than 100 producers using the yard and shipping more than 1,000 pigs per week. In the last 5 years, these numbers have been steadily declining and there are now less than 20 producers using the yard.
At the Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative annual meeting in the fall of 2012, the difficult decision was made to sell the property where the assembly yard is located and disband the Co-op. The remaining producers will continue to ship their pigs with the Ivels but will no longer have a yard to assemble them; either paying to have the pigs picked up at their own farms or delivering them directly to the Ivels. Once disbanded, all members of the Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative will receive their initial membership fee back along with whatever proceeds come from the sale of the assembly yard property.
The Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative was a unique fixture in Minto and a testament to our area’s agricultural heritage, and I for one am sad to see it go. As small family farms continue to disappear in the wake of large industrial farms, we risk the loss of this heritage in many ways- the loss of rural landscapes, rural economies and rural communities. Finding ways to support small family farms is vital to ensure not only the existence of our rural, agricultural heritage but also to ensure the existence of our basic food security. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish… and article (stay tuned!)
In the meantime I wish the members of the Harriston Pork Marketing Co-operative well in their future endeavours and thank them for their hard work and innovation in supporting small family-run pig farms.