John & Grace Kinghorn
By Treena Hein
Taking initiative to protect the environment and build the soil
(Woodville) – John Kinghorn grew up with a strong love of the land, and it was that love which called him back to make concrete improvements to his farm and the surrounding area after a very successful career off-farm.
Kinghorn’s ancestral beef and crop operation is located near Woodville, Ontario. He farms about 250 acres with his wife Grace of 52 years. John’s great-grandfather settled the land, and his father continued the tradition. When John was ready to enter the workforce however, he was attracted to an education/work program at General Motors in Oshawa. “Over the years, I was able to be involved in many innovative new ideas and had the opportunity to travel extensively in North America and Europe to explore these ideas and be involved in implementation of some of them,” he recalls. “It was 35 years of a fairy-tale ride in the industrial world for a farm boy.” Kinghorn retired early at the executive level, as Operations Manager of the Oshawa Truck Plant.
It was during his time in manufacturing engineering that Kinghorn got a taste of environmental leadership. “My greatest personal satisfaction and achievement in industry was leading a team that implemented ‘waterborne paint technology’ for the first time in the world in 1987,” he says. “The technology was developed by ICI in England in the early 80’s and had failed at implementation in a high-volume production process. As project manager for a large expansion project, I looked at the new technology and my team implemented the process in our new paint shop facility.” The use of this system is now the standard in auto manufacturing plants around the globe. ICI was recognized for this outstanding environmental achievement by Queen Elizabeth in 1988, and Kinghorn received a replica of the award for his involvement.
Once he’d retired from GM, Kinghorn was able to give full attention to his passion for his land (which he tends to refer to as a laboratory, not a farm). Within two years, he had built a solar watering system for his cattle, which was truly revolutionary at the time. “I dug a pond, fenced off the wetland area, and installed a solar-powered pump that moved water from the pond to tanks, with no run-off into the wetland,” he explains. “It’s still functioning today, protecting the water and it’s better for the cattle. The health benefits for cattle of drinking clean water are underestimated.”
This experience was put to use when Kinghorn became an active part of the ‘Carden Forum,’ a small group set up by the Couchiching Conservancy (CC) and made up of local quarry owners, conservation group members, landowners and others. From 2003 to 2013, Kinghorn’s 250 cattle spent summers on a 1,600-acre ranch purchased by the CC and other organizations, and over the years, Kinghorn worked with the CC to complete a series of environmental protection initiatives, including five solar-powered watering systems to keep cattle away from wetland areas.
Being part of the Forum was a positive challenge for Kinghorn and the other members as they worked together on both common goals and areas of disagreement. “Most times if you’re dedicated to finding a solution,” he says, “you can find one.” For his efforts, Kinghorn was presented with the Carden Nature Festival Award. Kinghorn chose to give up ranching because of the heavy workload and low financial reward, is happy to report that the 1600-acre plot has just become Carden Alvar Provincial Park. It is the only Ontario provincial park that supports cattle, that provides the necessary habitat for species-at-risk such as the eastern loggerhead shrike.
The Carden work is far from all Kinghorn has been doing over the last decade. He’s also provided leadership on major projects in his region in collaboration with the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA), Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the University of Guelph. (He also served as OSCIA director for the East Central region from 2003 to 2008.) Kinghorn valued the collaborations highly, on projects such as forage trials, pasture improvement, growing switch grass/big bluestem as alternative crops on marginal land, and most recently, assisting farmers to improve the health of their soil. On his own farm, he’s experimented with things like cover crops and double-cropping, minimum-till and no-till, all to build better soil. In 2014, Kinghorn received the OSCIA Lifetime Achievement Award (East Central Region), and he was strongly recognized as instrumental in building bridges between agriculture and conservationists on topics like the environmental benefits of pasturing practises.
Kinghorn believes that the investments that any type of farmer can make in the health of their soil will provide more dividends than anything else they can do, including expanding their acreage. “If we want to be sustainable, we need to learn and get involved,” he says. “There is so much generosity from so many places. And for our part, we need to be generous with our time in sharing what we’ve learned.”
Kinghorn adds, “From childhood through to today, I’ve lived in an atmosphere of respecting and protecting our environment. My parents taught me good values, and I am so grateful for that and the opportunities I’ve had. I am a truly blessed individual.”