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This is ag: Fifth generation farmer sees countless changes over 50 years


BY EMMA GELDART

A fifth-generation farmer, David Dickinson, has achieved an impressive milestone.

He’s been farming on Dickinson Bros. Farm for more than 50 years.

The farm is in West Brook, Cumberland County. Dickinson admits the secret to the farm’s unwavering success has been diversity. Although predominantly a wild blueberry and maple operation, Dickinson Bros. has seen a variety of commodities over the years including maple, wild blueberries, strawberries, beef cattle, logging and grain.

While they’ve done away with their beef cattle operation, they currently have 200 acres of wild blueberries, 19,000 tapped maple trees, 120 acres of grain, five acres of strawberries and a 2,000-acre woodlot. Dickinson believes it’s this diverse mix of commodities that has ensured the farm’s prolonged success.

"Mixed farming has been good for us in that it all balances out,” Dickinson said. “You don't have the highs and lows others do because they all don't go up or down at once."

Growing up on the family farm, Dickinson always knew he would one day return to take over the farm. He attended the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (now Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture), completing the first two years in 1963 for the degree program, then going to MacDonald College in Montreal for his BSc agriculture, graduating in ’65. After graduating, Dickinson didn’t hesitate to return to the family farm. Today, Dickinson Bros. Farm employs four full-time and seasonal workers, in addition to Dickinson, his wife Karen, and their sons and grandchildren who pitch in during peak maple season.

Although there are still a variety of commodities on the farm, it is their maple and wild blueberry operation that are most prominent. Each spring, Dickinson, his family and the farm’s dedicated employees spend countless hours collecting, trucking, boiling and packaging sap to meet the demand of their consumers.

“Maple season is David’s most favourite time of year,” Karen said. “He takes great pride in his product and it shows.”

With the ever-changing and unpredictable Nova Scotia weather, Dickinson explains maple season seems to be arriving earlier with each passing year. Back in the 1960s, a typical maple season would run from the end of March until the end of April. Last season, Dickinson was tapping trees in mid-February and bottling syrup before the end of February. Despite the changing season, the high quality of the sap remained constant.

Over the years, the Dickinson family has made many changes to their maple operation to make the process more efficient. With the addition of an oil-fired evaporator and other improved technologies, David rarely has to spend tiresome nights boiling sap. The resulting products are used year-round to fill orders for markets, custom orders, and other retail stores.

During maple season, 80 miles of pipelines bring sap from the tapped trees to several storage tanks around the mountain. From there, the sap is pumped into a 1,000-gallon tank and trucked to their processing building, which is located six kilometers from the sugar woods. The sap is then processed using reverse osmosis, a technique that pumps the sap under high pressure to remove the majority of the water and increase the sugar content.

The Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture will be featuring some of the Dickinson Bros. maple products as well as other alumni products at its third chef-curated event called All About Maple.

The community is invited to join members of the Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture for a three-course culinary journey to taste and experience where food comes from. The event takes place Thursday, Feb. 21 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in Jenkins Hall.

For more information, contact Alisha Johnson at 902-893-6022 or email Alisha.johnson@dal.ca

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