The year is 1761. King George III has become the King of Great Britain and Ireland—the great-great-great grandparent of our own Queen Elizabeth.1 The first life insurance policy in North America was issued in Philadelphia. And a man named Deacon John Newcombe and his sons, Eddy and John, received a land grant in Nova Scotia. They left New England and moved to the Annapolis Valley, in a region called Cornwallis, and got to planting.
Ten generations later—through Confederation, two world wars and over 250 years of history—Deacon John’s descendants are still farming that same plot. Cornwallis Farms is one of the oldest farms in Canada, older than Canada itself. On Canada’s 150th birthday, it’s awe-inspiring to think that this farm has seen all 150 years… and far, far more.
Today, Cornwallis Farms is managed by its ninth generation: Geneve and Craig Newcombe, in partnership with Craig’s brother Brian and his wife Edna. The tenth generation has recently taken up the family business. Geneve and Craig’s son David, a fresh-faced St. Mary’s University graduate. We spoke to all three, and Craig’s mother Alice, an eighth-generation farmer at Cornwallis.
In 1761, the Newcombe family farm was a subsistence farm. Today you’ll find crops, eggs, poultry, dairy and much more. The farm has even achieved feed sustainability. They grow all the feed they need for their own animals. Into the 70’s, the farm moved away from the orchard and focused more on dairy and poultry.
“Craig’s grandfather was a very smart man to go that route,” notes Geneve.
Agriculture was an essential part of Canada’s war effort, when Canadian eggs helped feed hungry soldiers in Europe during World War II. After the war the market eroded, explains Craig. “Eggs were not very profitable for many, many years,” says Craig. Supply management brought much-needed stability. Because of supply management, Cornwallis Farms remains what it has always been: a family business.
“I get along very well with everyone in my family,” David says with a chuckle. “Everyone in the family wants the best for the farm, we all want to see it continue to the next generation.”
David, now 25, has been full-time at the farm since 2014, after graduating from St. Mary’s University. He’s not new to farm work though—David has worked on the farm every summer between semesters since Grade 9. He also spent a year in the Egg Farmers of Canada young farmers program, expanding his understanding of the egg farming industry. But when it comes to education, David brings a unique twist. His degree is a Bachelor of Commerce, not agriculture.
It’s a good thing too: farmers need a business mind like never before. These are turbulent times in Canadian agriculture. In the Annapolis Valley, “there’s been a pretty steady decline in the number of farms,” according to David.
So, what’s the Newcombe family secret? How has Cornwallis Farms survived and thrived for ten generations?
“That desire to have the legacy continue has caused us to be very forward-thinking with technology,” Craig points out. “If you aren’t going forward you are falling behind, especially in the agricultural sector these days. We take our opportunities, and if we can use technology to become more efficient we have no problem leaving our comfort zone.”
“Supply management has been vital to us for the last number of years,” says Geneve. “It’s given us the confidence we needed to make investments.”
When he takes over, David wants to take those investments a step further. “I want to see us do even more for environmental conservation,” he says, “greater effort in renewable energy… maybe a few wind mills, more solar panels, as much of that as we can manage.”
David’s excitement is the family’s excitement. As Geneve puts it, you can’t force your kids to continue the family legacy. But that’s exactly what David wants to do. “Our job is done,” says Craig with a laugh. “I’ve wanted that from day one. To see it achieved is so rewarding.”
“I’m happy we did it, and I’m even happier my son is nearby and I get to see him everyday!” says Geneve. “I’m glad he doesn’t have to go west to look for work. It’s nice when the family can stay together.”
“It reminds me of when my husband and his brother ran the farm,” says Alice. The emotion is obvious in her voice. “It makes me very proud.”
For ten generations, this farm has kept the Newcombe family together. In a part of the country where many young people leave the province for new opportunities, that’s no small achievement. It’s a grand achievement. It’s the kind of achievement that makes us proud to be Canadian—proud to serve Canadians for generations, and for generations yet to come. Just like the Newcombes of Cornwallis Farms.