Another day, another dish, another smile.
“It’s everything I ever wanted”: Meet Jessica Toner, fourth generation potato farmer
Nestled in the hills of Grand Falls, New Brunswick, you’ll find Toner Produce Limited: home of the Toner family, and part of McCain’s network of farmers. After 30 years, the fourth generation of Toners is taking up the family business, led by Jessica – the first female farmer in her branch of the Toner family.
Today Jessica manages Toner Farms with her cousin Luke, fulfilling a dream her younger self never thought to have. “I didn’t want to become a farmer,” Jessica remembers with a smile. “My grandfather, who was a potato farmer, also owned a car dealership. I didn’t want anything to do with farming, so I went to work at the dealership at 16, got a Bachelor of Commerce, then went out west and started selling cars.”
Jessica rebelled against her farming roots but soon came to realize there was something missing from her life – passion for her work, the same passion her dad had for farming. “I called my dad and he said farming is not what it used to be. It’s about knowing how to run a business. He told me that I should head home, try it, and see if I liked it.”
Not only did she like it, she absolutely loved it. “I fell in love with the lifestyle,” Jessica remembers. “It’s everything I ever wanted, and I never realized it was in my own backyard.”
You can sense Jessica’s love for her craft in the way she describes it: not nuts and bolts so much as a craft to be perfected. “From the time you put the seed in the ground to the time you harvest it, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.” Her mind wanders in search of a metaphor. “The only way I can describe it is like a kid on Christmas morning,” she says. “You have an inkling about what’s under the tree, but you don’t know for sure… and when you finally see the crop come up you get a feeling of great achievement.”
Jessica chafes at the idea that farming is a boys’ club. “There are more and more women in the industry,” she points out. “One thing that stopped me from considering farming as a young kid is that I didn’t have any role models. These days female farmers are on the rise, and little girls in school can see them as a role model.”
Her advice for young women looking to get into the industry is simple: “If you love it, then do it. If you only like it, you’re not going to succeed at it. Loving it will get you up in the morning, will push you beyond your limits. If anyone says you aren’t good enough, look them in the eye and say ‘watch me’… then prove them wrong.” It’s her love for her land and her potatoes that gets Jessica up in the morning – promising another generation of prosperity for Jessica’s family and delicious potato products for McCain consumers.