Local Agricultural Hall of Fame Inductee Barry Hill Retires from Farming but not Community life
Cash crop grower and Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame inductee Barry Hill of Hillsfield Farms, Six Nations, officially quit farming
“It’s the first year I’m not growing a crop. I’ve sold all of my equipment,” said Hill, who turns 80 in June. “It was a tough decision.” It comes after several organizations honoured Hill for the legacies that his career created for Ontario farmers.
The tributes began in 2017, when he received a 150 Canada Award in Brant County.
In 2018, Hill was inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame; his nominee was the Ontario Soil and Crop Association (OSCIA), of which he was president in 2010. Next came two honorary degrees: the University of Guelph in 2019, in recognition of his advocating for sustainable food production; then his alma mater, McMaster University in 2022.
McMaster subsequently appointed Hill as an Engineer in Residence for the Faculty of Engineering, from which he graduated with a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1968. At press time, Hill’s been nominated for the campus’s Board of Governors.
This residency, which Hill said is a five-year term, and the pending Board position, means more meetings. But he insisted, laughing, “This re-energizes me, as it is more than just wondering what’s for lunch today.”
Locally, he remains active with St. Paul’s, a consecrated Anglican church officially known as Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawk, built in 1785. He’s been its organist since 2010; he chaired the Mohawk Chapel Committee as its first indigenous leader for 10 years. As the chapel’s historian, he published a history in 2016.
In his church history, Hill explains why he commits to St. Paul’s: “I hope to see the Chapel evolve into a site which represents reconciliation, not only for Residential School issues, but reconciliation of issues of social justice, land, education and conflict within the Community over spiritual beliefs.”
Hill constantly gave back to the communities that shaped him: his Mohawk heritage (Wolf Clan) and university. He created the William Barry Hill Scholarship, which annually awards $8000 to an indigenous undergrad student in their third year or above at McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering.
At the University of Guelph, Hill and his wife, Cheryle, support students through the Barry and Cheryle Hill Scholarship. It awards $2,000 to a student registered in the Bachelor of Science in Agriculture program.
Hillsfield Farms is “a one generation farm with three generations of experience,” said Hill. His father and maternal grandfather previously ran a small farm, when it was “commonplace” to have small family farms across the Six Nations on the Grand. “Many of them had barns built in the 1920s and 1930s by my paternal grandfather, who was a carpenter.”
An only child whose mother taught school, Hill helped with his grandmother’s eggs, selling them to a dealer in Hagersville for 20 cents per dozen. “I remember watching the dealer candling the eggs,” he said.
Hill’s maternal grandfather ran a cream route to an Erie Avenue, Brantford, creamery. “He sometimes returned with butter in a milk can,” he said, happily. “We had to get it out of the can fast, before it melted.”
But increasing farm consolidation and the trend towards bigger equipment by the 1960s soon made small farm life unviable. Six Nations has an additional structural barrier with the Indian Act, which forbids First Nations people from borrowing money from financial institutions. “We still cannot borrow under the Act, even though there are two banks on the reserve,” said Hill.
Therefore, Hill’s father moved to off farm work. Hill, who excelled at one of Six Nations’ 12 day schools and loved machinery, pursued engineering at McMaster. This led to a 28-year career with Ontario Hydro. “But by 1979, I got the farming bug!” said Hill.
Therefore instead of getting a cottage in Muskoka like Hill said that many of his fellow engineers did, he bought and restored a cabin with two acres of river flats along the Grand River at Six Nations. He grew a large garden, selling some of the produce door to door in Mississauga, where he lived. “But then I grew tired of feeding relatives, therefore I wanted to grow crops.”
Hill started with soybeans in 1980. “I planted real small, using small equipment. The farm equipment from the Six Nations small farms in the 1960s was easy to find at auctions.”
Hill’s first 12 years of agrarianism overlapped with his Ontario Hydro job. He farmed on weekends, with help from a local resident ,until his retirement from Ontario Hydro in 1993. “I became a ‘Sun downer’,” said Hill. “I retired from one career to a second one as a full-time farmer.”
Hillsfield Farms grew from an initial 20 acres to 2500 acres by 2022, said Hill. “I can claim that I’ve been farming for 40 years.”
Still enamoured with engineering, Hill became the first indigenous lecturer at Six Nations Polytechnic Institute, teaching math from 1993 to 2003. “I wanted to promote engineering as a career,” admitted Hill. ‘But math was not popular back then. We’re in different times now, because we have STEM and other scientific encouragements.”
Hill’s acumen benefited local collective economic sustainability ventures. This included co- founding the Integrated Grain Processors Co-operative’s ethanol plant near Aylmer. Hill said that the initial discussion began at the old Onondaga Council Chambers around 2001.
“We wanted to provide a value-added crop. Corn prices were so low that hog farmers stopped growing their own corn to buy cheap corn.”
In 2,000, he co-founded the First Nations Agri Group Cooperative at Six Nations. Designed to create greater purchasing clout for agricultural inputs, Hill said that its 20 members farmed approximately 6000 acres; it became a model for other First Nations. “It was considered radical at the time, though,” he said.
For 20 years, Hill assisted The Two Rivers Community Development Centre, providing start up capital and expertise to more than 400 businesses at Six Nations and Mississauga. “They (centre) lend on character, not collateral; therefore there’s a higher risk loss, but the businesses were generally successful.”
Hill’s time as an OSCIA Board member, from 2003 to 2011, included the continuation of the Environmental Farm Plan, the establishment of the Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program, and creation of the OSCIA Scholarship Fund which grants up to $10,000 to a graduate student researching soil health.
Hill concedes that he might still drive a tractor at Six Nations this season. “I may drive for the person who bought my equipment,” he said, grinning.