Skip to main content

Ontario's Outstanding Young Farmers mark 'surreal' victory

Stewart Skinner grew up with pigs at his family’s farm near Listowel, as did his wife, Jessica Kelly.

So, despite forays into the public sector, the pair were destined to return to the industry they love, to start their own pork operation back in 2015.

“We do speciality pig production, as well as some speciality crop production. So, we raise hogs under certified humane standards, as well as certified organic standards, and then have some certified organic cropping as well,” says Kelly.

The couple, who have two young children and a third on the way, raise approximately 25,000 pigs each year at farms across Midwestern Ontario for shipment to the US and Canada. They are very proud to be selected as Ontario’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2023, but they are also at a professional crossroads.

Jessica Kelly and Stewart Skinner, Ontario’s 2023 Outstanding Young Farmers, near Listowel, Ont. on Sept. 13, 2023. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

“This whole process has been kind of surreal, because we’re celebrating a business that historically we’ve accomplished a lot of really good things by being true to principles, while we’re actively looking at maybe having to dismantle parts of it,” says Skinner.

Market fluctuations, farmland price increases and power dynamics in the speciality pork industry have them considering drastic changes to their business, and have, at least temporarily, soured their view of the future of pork production in Ontario.

“At an industry level we cannot in good conscience say that the next generation of farmers are going to have the same starting point that we had. It’s going to be worse,” says a frustrated Skinner.

With their farm in flux, Kelly and Skinner are doing their best to try and see the big picture, and stick to the values they’ve learned through numerous humanitarian trips to East Africa — that private business and entrepreneurship can be a force for positive change.

Stewart Skinner checking on some of the 25,000 pigs he produces from farms across Midwestern Ontario near Listowel, Ont. in May 2018. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

“That’s something that’s going to continue to fuel us going forward, whatever our business might look like. Our farm might change shape and form over the years ahead, but for us, thankfully we haven’t lost that yet,” says Kelly.

It’s those values that made them name their farm, Imani Farms.

“Imani is a Swahili word. It’s the Swahili word for faith. If you’re going to do what agriculture demands of you, then you need to have faith. You cannot control everything in this business. There are just too many parts of it where you have to put your hands up in the air and say a prayer. And that’s faith, regardless of who that prayer is going to,” says Skinner.

Kelly and Skinner will vie to become Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers during a national competition this November, while trying to weather the ever changing winds of their own hog operation, based near Listowel. Top Stories

These are the 5 headlines you should read this morning

A gunman kills three people on a Las Vegas school campus, Pierre Poilievre threatens to delay MPs' holidays and a Saskatchewan veteran receives France's highest order of distinction. Here's what you need to know to start your day.

Stay Connected