In the year that Keith Thurston and his son Jeff mark 50 years of serving the Lindsay-area farming community through their Pioneer Seeds dealership, someone in that community had an even greater recognition in mind.
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On March 31, the Lindsay Agricultural Society hosted its annual Kawartha Lakes Spotlight on Agriculture award night and Thursthill Farms was handed the 2023 Farm Family Award.
Why it matters: The Spotlight on Agriculture event is an annual celebration to recognize agricultural excellence and achievements across the Kawartha Lakes region.
The program described the Thurstons as “a multi-generational family with deep roots in our community (that has) made outstanding contributions to agriculture and the community.”
“It was a great surprise for us,” Jeff Thurston told Farmtario, noting the award is based on nominations from the community and deliberations of a three-member panel.
“We don’t know who nominated us, but we were thankful and humbled to be nominated and that (the Lindsay Agricultural Society) chose to recognize our family with this award.”
Recognition is nothing new for Thursthill Farms. It has repeatedly achieved top annual production numbers among Kawartha Lakes dairy producers, but Jeff said being honoured by neighbours and friends is especially rewarding.
Responding to the announcement with an off-the-cuff acceptance speech, Thurston told approximately 450 attendees that community is definitely important for the family. Also important is keeping up to date with developments in agriculture, such as reducing tillage in cropping operations and using data-gathering capabilities from two milking robots.
But of the criteria mentioned in the award program, Thurston said family is the most important.
The family was also recognized for farming in the county for 175 years. It has actually been 188 years since Jeff’s ancestors moved to the Lindsay area, and the family has been at its current location near Dunford for 110 years.
He has a brother, Jeremy, and a sister, Jessica, who aren’t farming now but always helped parents Keith and Sandy guide Thursthill Farms.
“We all grew up learning all those valuable life lessons. There would be some difficult times — like when you lose livestock — and you could see the stress and the toll it took on your parents, but they were still there for you and you helped each other get through it,” said Thurston.
Now, Jeff and his wife Nicole have four children — sons Kyle and Sam; daughters Grace and Taylor — and they’re the sixth generation of the family on the farm. Kyle, the oldest at 22, has been taking a greater role in the past couple of years.
From the home base of 100 acres, Thursthill encompasses approximately 1,200 acres. The dairy was a tie-stall operation when Thurston was a kid, then converted to free stalls and a milking parlour when he returned to the farm from post-secondary education. In 2015, two milking robots were installed and Thursthill now milks about 100 Holsteins.
Keith Thurston started the Pioneer dealership in 1973 and it’s still going strong, with Jeff managing the business and Keith in an active role.
“This time of the year, with seed deliveries and getting all the orders figured out, we’re starting to get busy making sure all those things are done before the big push of planting comes along,” Jeff explained.
While the family is the top priority, contributing to the wider community comes a close second.
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The Thursthill name is synonymous in Kawartha Lakes with putting forth a positive message about agriculture. The farm has hosted visitors on numerous occasions as part of school tours or other outreach programs.
“The accomplishments and contributions of this family include 4-H leadership for both agricultural and homemaking clubs, interprovincial 4-H exchanges and hosting international students and other delegations on the farm,” said the Spotlight on Agriculture award program.
Family members have been involved with Soil and Crop Improvement, the county milk committee, Environmental Farm Plan Peer Review and the Kawartha Lakes Agricultural Development Advisory Committee.
Jeff serves the local minor hockey organization as a coach and at the Association level. Family members volunteer at their church and Sandy Thurston has spent a lifetime serving the Women’s Institute organization at various levels.
“There’s a little WI hall right across the road from us that we all help out taking care of,” said Jeff. “It’s just the way it is when you’re across the road. You clear the snow, you cut the grass. Whenever someone wants to use the hall for an event, they drop in to get the key.
“It’s all part of being in a community and living with your friends nearby.”