WILLIAMSBURG -- Clad in his overalls, work boots and tractor cap, Gordon Garlough is every bit the ordinary farmer as he walks toward his house, leaving his brother, Bruce, to continue framing the new chicken coop the pair are building near the barn.
Garlough also happens to be a respected and knowledgeable leader in the farm community, a former high school teacher with a degree in agriculture who returned to his ancestral family homestead and the dairy industry back in the early 70s.
In the intervening years, he's made quite a mark on the agricultural scene.
His more than 25 years of service to the Dundas County and Ontario Federation of Agriculture was recognized April 21 at the University of Guelph, where the grandfather of two received a Rural Volunteer Recognition Award from the Ontario Agricultural College Alumni Foundation.
He was among 11 rural volunteers awarded plaques at the Foundation's awards banquet.
Garlough only learned of his nomination when he received an invitation to the event in late March.
"I was completely surprised," he says. "It was very satisfying to be recognized by my own people here in the county because they're the ones who submitted the nomination."
Now retired, having sold the dairy herd five years ago, he is one of a handful of Eastern Ontario farmers from his generation who graduated with degrees in agriculture. When he attended Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) 40 years ago, there were only two other students from this part of the province, he says.
He graduated in 1963, the last year that OAC was part of the University of Toronto, which issued his diploma. (It was the next year, 1964, that OAC was placed under the umbrella of the new University of Guelph.)
He spent the next 10 years as a high school science teacher. In 1973, he and his wife, Gladys, built a new home on the farm where he had grown up, just across the lane from his parents. A year later, he had quit teaching and was farming a 50-cow dairy heard with his brother.
He doesn't regret the career switch.
"Economically, it was probably not the best of moves but otherwise, no, I don't regret it. On a really good year on the farm, I'd have done as well as I did teaching. There were a lot of years when it was but a small fraction, but that's the trade-off."
His long association with the Dundas Federation of Agriculture began in the late 1970s. He is a past president as well as the DFA's current director to the OFA. "The bulk of my work is with the federation," he says.
A five-year member of OFA's environmental committee, Garlough has been fully immersed in matters surrounding the province's Nutrient Management legislation. He was among a select few who were permitted to speak on the draft regulations, at a consultative session in Kemptville held earlier this year by Environment Minister Chris Stockwell.
Bill 81 "if and when it ever gets implemented" is the largest issue facing agriculture provincially, he believes. He says the provincial government has made matters worse with cutbacks and the closure of local OMAF offices. "That's one of the many roadblocks to nutrient management. None of that local contact is there, so they're having real problems."
Forthright in his criticism of the provincial government, he says the "choking off" of money for agricultural research will stall the adoption of new agricultural techniques and technologies in Ontario. "Once the government comes to its senses, there's going to be a five to seven year lag period."
His interests extend well beyond the province, however.
In the early 1990s, he participated in a trip to Russian and the Ukraine organized by the Agricultural Institute of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Garlough had represented the CFA on a joint steering committee involved with delivering farming expertise to the former Soviet Union. That trip, and a subsequent tour of Ethiopia and Kenya he made through his involvement with the Canadian Food Grains Bank in 1996, were "enlightening," he says.
"It was an eye-opening experience about how other parts of the world live agriculturally. Russian and Ukraine probably have as good or better resources than we've got, but they were in a desperate situation as far as how those resources we're used."
He was struck by the "peasant-based" farming he witnessed in Africa. "Ethiopia was a totally different situation. You can't compare it to Russia or anywhere else. In a good year, they have enough to feed themselves, otherwise they don't. It's as much a subsistence sort of thing for them as we are economically business-driven."
As a member of the United Church in Williamsburg, he spearheaded a Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB) program eight years ago that has since spread to several other churches in Dundas County. In a nutshell, participating congregations grow crops on plots of donated land and use the proceeds to benefit the Third World. Two neighbouring Christian Reformed churches soon copied the idea and have been regular contributors.
This year, nine additional churches in the county will pool their resources and grow a crop together, according to Garlough.