Nick Ahrens
Peterborough , Ontario

Nick Ahrens – Yorkshire Valley Farms

By Treena Hein

If Nick Ahrens’ ancestors could meet him, there’s no doubt that they would have much in common to talk about – and they’d be proud.

Ahrens is a successful sixth-generation Peterborough area farmer with a keen interest in sustainable agriculture. He grows organic crops and is also an organic chicken producer for Yorkshire Valley Farms, the largest and fastest-growing organic poultry business in Canada. “I love being a part of a very sustainable farm business, producing what we consider to be the healthiest and highest-quality product on the market,” Ahrens says. “We are a farm-level business owned by farmers.”

Indeed, it was expertise in organic farming that Nick and his father Tom, a Yorkshire Valley Farms co-founder, brought to the table as the company started up in 2009. Tom Ahrens is a long-time master organic crop and beef farmer who was interested in expanding his acreage. By 2009, Nick was also an experienced organic farmer, who, with Tom, had grown organic crops and raised organic beef for years, adding small-scale organic chicken production 16 years ago.

As Yorkshire Valley Farms got off the ground, it was important to establish large markets. The founders approached Canada’s largest grocery chain – Loblaws – in 2010, and were happy to find the firm’s poultry buyer very enthusiastic. The fledgling company also found a friend at Maple Lodge, a processor that supplies Loblaws and has federally-inspected plants – a must in order to ship products across provincial borders.

That year, Tom built an organic chicken barn (Nick and his wife Kate, who now have two young sons, followed the year after) and by December 2010, the first Yorkshire Valley Farms chicken hit supermarket shelves. Yorkshire Valley Farms now offers over 20 products to many outlets, including fresh whole chickens and chicken cuts; frozen nuggets, wings and more; whole turkeys and turkey products – and just recently launched organic eggs. Today you can find Yorkshire Valley Farms products in many retail stores.

Tom and Nick produce about 18, 000 chickens on average in each of their barns every eight weeks. Nick explains, “These barns feature more room per bird (21 kg per cubic meter) than conventional barns, as well as access for birds to the outside. The buildings also have natural light and ventilation, provided through screen panelling along the entire opposite side walls. When the interior barn temperature builds up, our natural ventilation systems kicks in.”

Nothing wasted

The Ahrens’ organic poultry production is one big economically, socially and environmentally- sustainable circle. Tom and Nick grow organic wheat, spelt and corn for their chicken feed. The organic soybeans the Ahrens grow that don’t go for human consumption are also used as a feed component. Spelt straw from the fields is used as litter in the barns, and afterwards is composted and returned to the fields as fertilizer and organic matter.

Besides the interesting challenges of farming organically, Nick says the biggest factor that keeps him excited to go to work in the morning is being on the job with his Dad (although semi-retired Tom isn’t active in the business every day these days). “That’s a big thing for me,” Nick says. “I also love producing the best quality product I can under a sustainable program, cropping and chickens. Yorkshire Valley has three keys to success – our people, our products and the process that is used to get the product to the market. They are all so important.”

Nick also likes that the farm is not an isolating place anymore. “People want to connect with the farmer directly, which is exciting,” he says. “They want much more information than they have in the past.”

What’s been most surprising over the years for Ahrens since he began producing for Yorkshire Valley Farms is strong consumer reaction. “The demand has been so high, and we didn’t think we’d be growing this quickly,” he says. “Before Yorkshire Valley Farms, Dad and I were exporting organic crops, and then the demand for organic started to grow by leaps and bounds domestically. In the last five years, prices have been getting better and the market keeps getting stronger.”

Tom and Nick would like to have two more barns added to their operation in the future. “I want to move forward in an organic – there’s no better word for it – and natural manner,” Nick says. “It’s exciting to be a part of something that’s in an upwards trend, and be able to offer the possibility to my children to take over a strong business someday.”

For more, visit with a new video tour of the Ahrens family farm here:

A barn on the Ahrens farm with newly installed solar panels (photo courtesy of Yorkshire Valley Farms)

Nick Ahrens is part of the largest organic poultry business in Canada (Photo courtesy of Yorkshire Valley Farms)