By Bahaar Luhar
Bahaar Luhar and her family own an organic chicken farm called Chicken Thika Farm. They are the first small scale farm in Ontario to be certified organic and certified halal. An Aerospace Engineer by profession, she was an experienced retail banker before deciding to start her own farm. Let us read her story in her own words:
Coming to Canada
I was born in Nairobi, Kenya – third generation of a huge East Indian community raised in East Africa. My great-grandparents, and so many families, immigrated from the deserts of Buj, Kutch in India – to help build the big railway line in Africa. My father worked at a local private airport in Nairobi – a huge influence for me. As a young widow my mother made the difficult choice to immigrate to Canada with three young kids in tow. Education was the main goal and purpose behind the huge sacrifice we made, leaving the comfort of our community. I was raised dreaming of getting my pilots license – in fact the first birthday cake I remember had a plane on it . Unfortunately my eyesight excluded me from being able to fly.
Becoming an Aerospace Engineer
I pursued my dream by completing my bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Ryerson Polytechnic University. In our families success typically meant studying law, medicine or engineering; my sister who completed her education in alternate medicine as a naturopathic doctor – was another influence on me. Along the way I worked in many different places from the age of 13 : Baskin Robbins, Los Rios, delivering newspapers, working in a bakery, at a hairstylist assistant, summer jobs at a pharmaceutical company; selling make-up for Mary Kay; and tele fundraising while in university. After university I worked as a process engineer for an arm of the automotive manufacturer -Magna International. I programmed laser machines to cut metal, wood, plastic: everything from jewelry to the holes in the titanium de-icing tubes for Boeing planes. I was thrilled to be able to design and build my own candle-holders for my wedding.
Becoming a Banker
After my first child it was difficult to re-enter the workforce in my chosen field of study. My need to stay close to family narrowed my options further. I was able to work part-time at call centers because of the skillset I picked up during university. I joined a financial institution, 5 minutes from home, for what I thought would be a couple months until I went back into engineering. It will be almost 20 years since I joined the bank. The roles I have had the opportunity to enjoy include sales, leadership, intrapreneurship. I have been recognized for leading nationally in customer service, digital education, diversity & inclusion. You would think that my career was set at that point. This is when when life threw me and my family an unexpected opportunity and the best role of all.
Searching for Organic Halal Chickens
Let’s take a few steps back – Back in 1987 when we first came to Canada – it was difficult to find halal meat let alone organic or pasture-raised meat. We had to share a car and plan a shopping trip with 3-4 families to Knob Hill Farms. Fast forward 25 years – my husband, our 3 boys and myself have been living in rural southwestern Ontario for the past 17 years. In this beautiful countryside where there is no shortage of farms, we couldn’t find anyone to do halal slaughter. We were unaware that the meat that is certified both halal and organic comes from Quebec – that doesn’t make sense when we have access to local farms and can reduce our carbon footprint transporting meat within the province. Also that there are only 2 stores in Ontario that carry organic meat. We noticed a gap in organic, pasture-raised meat that was hand slaughtered and realized we could fill the gap. So we decided to give it a try and start with chickens – and here we are 4 years later. Proud to share we are the first small-scale family-farm in Ontario to be certified organic and certified halal. Probably the best decision ever for our family. While my husband and boys did the labor intense work – I set out to work on sales, marketing and client experience. It was an amazing opportunity to use my love of photography. At one point my mom asked me to please send pics of her grandkids because I only shared pics of chickens!
My Journey as a Farmer
When I came to Canada, among other dreams, I thought we would live in a farm – and my dream came true – I have definitely converted from being a city girl to a country girl :). I am very blessed to have been able to experience and learn all that I have over the last few years . We continue to learn and share our experiences – for example how to grow and store garlic, as well as tomatoes. Pasture-raised means we only raise chickens from April – September. Challenges include trying to keep our flock protected from predators and the elements. This year biosecurity became important with the avian flu. We ensure to keep up with audit requirements for Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Halal Monitoring Authority and CSI Organic Standards. We care for our animals and make sure we are producing highest quality for our customers. Even though it has been the toughest experience, raising chickens with my family has turned out to be the most rewarding experience. It keeps us close to nature, to reflect on the bounties of Allah and His blessings all around us. There’s no better feeling than producing food that you have grown with your own hard work and seeing the impact it has on families. We have had amazing feedback about the difference in taste – we have noticed that even our family, including 3 teenage boys, eat less but better quality meat and very filling. We enjoy spending time talking to customers about what we do and learning from them at our local farmer’s market. We encourage people to find out more about where their food comes from and “Meet Their Farmer” Saturdays at the Mount Forest Farmer’s Market – which runs all summer – and drop by the farm for a visit after. Our business continues to expand as the community learns about us all over the province. We now have regular clients in Ottawa, London, Mississauga and GTAA – we deliver all across Ontario as far as North Bay. We are partnering with other farmers to meet the demand for other meats such as goat, lamb and beef that meet standards of organic, pasture raised and halal hand slaughter. The last 2 years we have sold out and have had customers wait for the new season when the first crop comes in.
We discuss often at the dinner table the need to have an education and how many marriage ads contain the word BA or MA educated. To me education is only as good as it’s application. When I think about my background and where I ended up it may not look like a straight line. My degree is called the most expensive piece of paper in our house. When you think about how much time it took to accomplish that – the lesson is learning never stops – from the cradle to the grave. I believe in exposing our children to a variety of experiences so they can tap into natural talents and build a career based on their passions. I prioritize over any degree how we treat each other – family, neighbors, community and our fellow Muslims. Manners, trust and class are very important – and education that will build a foundation for your future is something no one can take away from you – and it certainly has earned the respect of people around me. The ultimate is if you are able to establish yourself in a career that combines Deen and Duniya without compromise. I believe in expressing out loud to the universe what you want and then accepting with open arms what God gives you in blessings. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished without prayer, vision and rolling up your sleeves to get to work. I thank God for guiding us this entire journey and look forwards to how it unfolds. Thank you all for your continuous support and encouragement – Here’s to continuous learning, lifting each other up and being part of a healthy, wealthy ummah:)
About the Author
Bahaar has a B. Eng from Toronto Metropolitan University. She managed high-performing teams in retail banking – recognized nationally for customer service. Bahaar is passionate about health, wealth and family and works with entrepreneurs, specializing in agriculture, who are looking to scale up. Visit her website at www.chickenthikafarm.com
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