Know Your Food: Janan Dean of Proof Line Farm

To celebrate Local Food Week 2023, we thought it would be great to highlight local food producers who participated in our Know Your Food event last fall. For a summary of the event, see our previous blog post!

Proof Line Farm is co-owned by Janan Dean, alongside her husband Steve McNaughten and brother-in-law, Mike McNaughten. In operation as far back as 1850, the family farm produces and sells dairy products, beef, eggs, honey, and more.

Although Janan did not grow up farming or raising animals, it is clear that she has embraced her role as Co-Owner and Head of Marketing at Proof Line Farm with passion.

With a background in social work, working in non-profit organizations, and provincial politics, Janan’s focus is also on fostering better connections between rural agriculture and the larger food system, understanding the colonial history of her farm and the land surrounding it, and food literacy. She is, after all, the current Chair of the MLFPC Executive Committee! 

Given Janan’s fervour for the food system, it was a surprise to hear that she and her husband really had no desire to take over the family farm–at first. But a year of travel, culminating in a live-work experience at a micro-dairy outside of Melbourne in Australia, inspired the couple to invest themselves and new ideas in Proof Line Farm.

They were inspired by the micro-dairying process and the ways that small batch production could respond to local needs in more sustainable ways. Janan, Mike, and Steve are now “guiding the vision for the next stage of the farm.”

Janan and her family balance an operation including 50 Holstein dairying cows, a small set of Angus-cross beef cows, 50 ISA red hens, sweet corn and field corn crops, and rotations of wheat and soybeans. This balance is made possible, in part, because of their recently installed robotic milking operation, where cows learn to milk themselves(!), and the family’s labour can be turned to other new initiatives. 

Sustainability is central to Proof Line Farm’s vision. This is already being realized in practices such as growing 85% of its own animal feed, moving to low-till methods of cultivation that promote better soil health, and in the symbiotic pairing of hens and cows on the farm. These animals must, in fact, be kept separate for bio-security reasons, but as they are rotated around the farm pastures, hens peck at the fertilizer the cows leave behind, eating the bugs that pester the cows. Future goals include investing in a bio-digester, which captures methane and converts it into usable energy, which could be recycled on-farm. Janan also spoke of wanting to fully close the loop of dairy production. This would include turning byproducts like whey (9 lbs of which are produced for every 1 lb of cheese) into new consumer products rather than using it in animal feed or, worse, throwing it away as is common industry practice.

As it grows and innovates, Proof Line Farm is becoming a notable example of community stewardship and local food advocacy. As its lead farmer, Mike is enthusiastic about the care and welfare of their animals and shares this enthusiasm with the community by offering tours to local youth groups, girl guides, and scouts. Farm tours have also been available on Saturdays, when Proof Line Farms opens its farm stand to sell their beef, corn, and other produce. Through the week, however, Proof Line Farm shows their faith in community with their self-serve “Honesty Wagon.” Here, customers can purchase fresh eggs with cash, E-transfer, or a QR code posted on the unattended cart. Eggs, says Janan, are the “hot item at the farm.” 

Finally, despite many challenges with permitting during the pandemic, Janan and her family have been planning the construction of an on-site creamery and permanent farm store, which would also provide a space for agricultural education programs. At Know Your Food last year, Janan expressed her hope that Proof Line Farm would see its new facilities built in Summer 2023 and, indeed, their website reports that their farm market building will open this August! 

Until the new farm store is operational, the online shop for Proof Line Farm is closed. However, you can celebrate Local Food Week by visiting their Honesty Wagon any day of the week for fresh eggs, jams, and honey! We look forward to seeing what the future holds for this innovative operation.

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