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How Joanne Hayes made the leap to farming full-time

This is part of a series of profiles of young egg farmers. They are all young leaders taking part in Egg Farmers of Canada’s national young farmer program, an initiative designed to prepare the next generation of industry leaders.

Joanne Hayes

Tillsonburg, Ontario

Joanne Hayes never expected to trade her office job for the daily rhythm of farm life, but in 2005, she and her husband, Dave, took a bold step. While simultaneously juggling full-time jobs, they bought a small chicken farm and threw themselves into the world of agriculture. The result: Hayes Haven Farms, a thriving enterprise that includes egg production, chicken farming, asparagus and a maple syrup operation—all while raising four children in the heart of the rural Ontario.

Early years on the farm 

Raised on a tobacco farm in Norwich, Ontario until the age of 16, Joanne’s early years were deeply rooted in agriculture. The family decided to move off the farm after her father passed away. Despite the move, Joanne continued to live in the countryside, maintaining her connection to rural life.

Life on Hayes Haven Farms

While Joanne initially continued working full-time while farming on the side, as did her husband, a diesel mechanic, they shifted to full-time farming in 2018. “For us, the transition was driven by the lifestyle: being at home with our children, showing them how to work and creating opportunities for them in the future,” says Joanne. “Also, it’s great to know we are producing food for other families.”

Farming practices

Despite the challenges of starting their own farm, Dave and Joanne are committed to their lifestyle. The family uses an egg packer to streamline their daily operations, with their four children actively involved in collecting eggs and checking on the hens. The farm also includes a 12-acre woodlot with 1,000 tapped maple trees, a hobby of Dave’s that has grown into a profitable venture. Each March, they run a pancake house and maple tours, offering a maple experience complete with a buffet pancake breakfast and educational tours.

Community involvement 

Joanne is an active member of the agricultural community, serving as a councillor for Egg Farmers of Ontario’s Zone 3 and a director for Asparagus Farmers of Ontario. She enjoys participating in special events, volunteering at fairs, and educating the public, including children at schools, about egg farming.

Embracing the learning curve

Initially, Joanne pursued studies in hotel and restaurant management, later taking evening classes in accounting with the goal of completing her Certified General Accountant (CGA) designation through McMaster University. 

“Had I never worked in an accounting office, we wouldn’t be doing what we are today,” says Joanne, who has embraced the learning curve associated with farming practices and the ins and outs of the overall sector. 

She appreciates the sense of community and support within the egg farming sector, finding it both fascinating and rewarding. The contrast with asparagus farming, which lacks the same level of support and stability, highlights the unique benefits of the egg farming industry.

“Being able to connect the pieces to see how the system is put together across all of Canada has been really fascinating for me,” she says. “Seeing all these people work together to create this incredible system we have has just blown me away.”

Future industry potential 

While she hopes her children will choose to continue the farming legacy, Joanne emphasizes that it should be a lifestyle they genuinely desire.

“I think farming is something that’s inside of you. It’s not an easy gig but it’s something instilled in us by our parents that we saw them do. With many older farmers retiring, there is significant potential for young people to succeed in the industry.”