A few years ago, before she took over full-time management of her parents’ egg farm, Tonya Haverkamp held down two very different but strangely complementary jobs.
She was spending one part of her day on the family egg farm–and the rest of the day at Zehrs, a local supermarket, stocking shelves in the dairy section. Very often she would find herself quite literally putting her own eggs onto the store shelves.
The experience gave her useful insight into consumers, since she would regularly have to field customer questions about the nutritional value of eggs and the meaning of such things as omega-3.
She’s now left Zehrs to devote herself full-time to egg farming. And she looks forward to a career where the knowledge that she is helping put food onto people’s plates is a big part of the payoff.
Tonya Haverkamp grew up in an egg-farming family in rural southwestern Ontario.
“I literally grew up in the barn,” she says. “When I was a baby, my mom would put me in a car seat in the barn while she was collecting eggs.”
Of course, she helped out.
But going into the egg farming was the last thing on Tonya’s mind. First she studied to be an esthetician, and then she got her Class DZ driver’s licence so that she could drive a truck.
That got her nowhere because, she ruefully recalls, “I was 18 and everyone wanted someone 25 with five years’ experience.”
So she took a job at Zehrs, and over 14 years she worked her way up from cashier to positions of increasing responsibility.
At the same time, she continued to help her parents on the farm.
But working at two jobs got to be too much, and there came a time when she had to make a choice. So two years ago, she left Zehrs, moved to the farm and started operating and managing it.
“I love it!” she says of her choice. “It just feels like home to me. I’m used to being in and around a barn. It’s what I grew up with and that is what I am most comfortable with.”
“It’s nice not having to commute to work,” she adds. “I’m always here. There are not a lot of people who can say they live where they work and work where they live!”
Knowing she is helping feed people is a big part of her daily motivation.
“There are not a lot of people who can say they help feed the people of Ontario,” she says proudly.
“Eggs are in a lot of products. We’re a small part of a big picture and it’s kind of neat to be part of it.”
Her years in the grocery industry taught her that consumers, particularly those in rural regions, generally have a good understanding of where their eggs come from.
But she says egg farmers do need to make sure people have a better understanding of egg farming itself.
When she looks to her own future, she sees herself remaining in the business – either taking over her parents’ operation or starting one of her own.
“I would like a family and I would like my kids to have the same upbringing I had,” she says. “It taught me hard work and responsibility – and to care not just about myself, but also about the hens.”