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Meet Brant County's farm family of 2019

So, what would Opa think?
 
“Well, we were always pretty proud of Opa,” Lukas Hilgendag says of his grandfather, the late Willi Hilgendag, who, with wife Rosemarie, brought the family to Canada from Germany to build a new life in the 1970s. “I think he’d be pretty proud of us.”
 
The Hilgendags have been named the 2019 Brant County Federation of Agriculture Farm Family of the Year.
 
Lukas Hilgendag, a graduate of the University of Guelph, is the junior manager at Bow Park Farm and represents the third generation of the family enterprise.
 
He says his grandfather was dedicated to farming.
 
“You know, he really loved his cattle. First thing in the morning, he’d check up on them and it was also that last thing he did before bed.”
 
The family has been been farming the historical Bow Park Farm for more than 40 years. It is now operated by Willy and Petra Hilgendag and Willy’s sister, Elke Hilgendag, and her husband, Gerry Klunder.
 
The siblings have six children between them: Conrad, Lukas, Isabel and Julia Hilgendag and Willem and Simon Klunder.
 
Willy Hilgendag says his parents operated a successful farm in Germany.
 
“But this was in the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, and they were worried about the future,” he says of the decision to emigrate to Canada.
 
The family purchased the Bow Park Farm, which over the years, has featured a cornucopia of fruits and vegetable crops, including cucumber, tomato, strawberries, pear and cherry orchards. As well, it was involved in shorthorn cattle breading, a Jersey milking herd and produced Bow Park Cream Cheese more than 100 years ago.
 
Now, the farm is used to grow 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat.
 
A past-president of the Ontario Seed Growers, Willy Hilgendag is intimately involved in multiplying soybean and wheat varieties, most of which come from the plant breeding department at the University of Guelph.
 
“Over the years, we have supplied a lot of certified seed from our processing plant for Ontario farmers and for farmers in the Europe and the United States,” he says.  “As seed growers, we are constantly working on preserving the seed purity and distributing these innovative, disease resistance and hardy varieties to progressive farmers.
 
“We also clean and ship soybeans with high protein to food processors in Canada and Asia.”
 
Products from the Bow Park Farm can be found in soy milk and tofu.
 
“Years ago, our late father Willi exhibited his grain in the local area and won 12 world champion trophies at the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair in Toronto,” Willy Hilgendag notes. “We’re all so proud of him.”
 
Although Elke and Gerry are professionals who work off the farm, they dedicate their free time to raising the pure-bred limousin cattle that they inherited. Sons Willem and Simon help care for the animals. Simon is in high school, while Willem will be starting an agricultural heavy mechanic program at Fanshawe College this year.
 
Meanwhile, Julia is finishing her final year of the agricultural program at the University of Guelph, Ridgetown College, while Isabel is completing her masters of science in biology degree at the University of Waterloo. Conrad is a University of Guelph graduate and is working as a property manager in Europe.
 
Willy Hilgendag is also a past president of the Brant agriculture federation, serves on the Brant Historical Society board and is the treasurer at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brantford.
 
“It is the farming traditions and values of hard work and co-operation with family, friends and neighbours, which give us daily satisfaction and inspiration to be the best we can,” he says. “We care for the land and sustainability for future generations
 
“With our church youth and their congregations of area Lutheran churches we planted 2,000 trees on environmentally sensitive areas along the Grand River a couple of years ago.”
 
In addition, he has taken steps to honour the history of Bow Park Farm, which was started in 1844 by George Brown, a leading architect of Confederation and the founder of the Toronto Globe, now the Globe and Mail.
 
He started a private agricultural museum two years ago to display 150 years Ontario farming history and hopes to have a grand opening in June.
 
The Hilgendags were nominated for the federation award by the Edgar family, Harold and Mary-Ellen, John and Ken. They described the Hilgendags as dependable, energetic, helpful and generous.
 
“A few years ago our wheat crop became diseased with fusarium (a fungus) and none of the local elevators would accept it off the field,” Harold Edgar said. “I contacted Willy (Hilgendag) and eventually he found a market for our crop.
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