By Connor Lynch
PEMBROKE — If you try and fail, try and try again, or so the saying goes. Unless your hips are giving out because they didn’t fuse right and you risk crippling yourself if you don’t read between the lines.
Former dairy farmer Andrew Kenny, 49, found himself in just that situation, and while he’s no longer in farming, he’s got a new venture that local farmers might be interested in.
Born and raised on a dairy farm between Pembroke and Beachburg, the Kennys were originally in the cream business, back when the cream and milk marketing boards were separate. His mother, despite wanting to burn down the dilapidated shack they took over to start the farm, ended up on the board of cream producers for a dozen or so years, said Kenny.
By his mid-20s, three years after finishing college, Kenny was back on the farm. His parents were getting older and said “come back now because we want to retire.” So he did, and he had big plans. He quickly expanded, tripling the size of his herd and barn and doubling his acreage.
But he ended up selling the farm in 2008. He has a condition in which his hip bones didn’t fuse properly. By the time he sold the farm, he’d already had three hip surgeries and was looking at a fourth. The third one hadn’t gone very well, so Kenny decided to focus on his side business, making his custom watering bowls for tie-stall dairy farms.
But life went on, and soon he had a couple of kids and was looking for something to supplement the business.
He was chatting with Tony Straathof, local National Farmers Union president, wondering why hobby farming was so prevalent in the area. Why weren’t crop farmers renting more land? The answer seemed to be shipping costs. “We both said, it’s too bad we couldn’t make something with the grain here. But, what? Are we gonna make bread?” They had a laugh and left it at that.
A couple of years ago, Kenny was having a whiskey with a friend. Looking at the bottle, he read the list of ingredients: malt barley, corn. “I thought, ‘wait a second. We really like this stuff and we grow stuff. Why not make our own?’”
Kenny jumped in, buying space in Pembroke and started his own distillery called O’Kenny Craft Spirits.
He launched his first product, Valley Spirit Vodka, in June 2018 and started producing a single-malt whiskey last January. It’s a long and difficult process to get a micro-distillery started, he said, with particularly onerous requirements around fire safety. He’s now producing vodka, whiskey and moonshine from Ontario corn and rye with the help of Last Straw distillery at Vaughn. He sells his products online and includes delivery within Renfrew County. He is trying to get enough sales to break into the LCBO. “I think we’ll be in the process of putting things together for 15 years,” but he’s hopeful that once his distillery is up and running he’ll be a buyer for locally produced grains.
EASTERN ONTARIO: Former dairy farmer opens distillery with home delivery
By Connor Lynch