Behind The Lines: August/September 2008

“Faith in Arlan Galbraith, Ontario’s Pigeon King,” the cover story in our December 2007 issue, is the winner of the 2008 American Agricultural Editors’ Association Writing Awards Program Team Story category. As this issue of Better Farming reaches your mailbox, field editor Mary Baxter is in Tampa, Fla., accepting the award.

Our story was selected from among 24 entries from publications across the United States and Canada by judge John Schneller, associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.

We are in good company; Better Farming columnists Barry Wilson and Alan Guebert have both won in earlier years.

In mid-July, our Pigeon King story won bronze in the Trade Association Business Publications International worldwide awards. More important to us than the award, however, were the judge’s comments: “I think that this feature did more for the industry than any other feature entered in the contest. Great job with reporting. Great job with writing and editing. Overall, an A+.”

And in May we accepted the top award in the magazine category for investigative reporting from the Canadian Association of Journalists for the same story.

Since first writing about the Pigeon King breeding venture, we’ve felt like we were watching a car crash in slow motion. Hundreds of calls and emails from worried investors and their friends and relatives took on a new urgency in mid-June when Galbraith, the Pigeon King, walked away from the people who had entrusted him with their money. Many, including Amish and Mennonites, were staunch church-goers who felt they could trust someone who shared their values.

Our comprehensive coverage of the Pigeon King collapse and other breaking news can be found on our website at:

Those proud or grateful that they hadn’t invested should remember that each year thousands of people lose their investment in various schemes. Not just the naïve and the faithful are convinced of a scheme’s integrity. Only weeks before the meltdown, Conservative agriculture critic and former Ontario agriculture minister Ernie Hardeman supported the Pigeon King’s vision even when presented with opposing arguments and evidence by fellow Conservative and former PKI salesman Bill Top.

The Better Business Bureau said that everything was fine while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police and Waterloo Regional Police were unable to identify any problems. Following the meltdown, a published report quoted Waterloo Police as describing Pigeon King International as “an investment that’s gone bad,” offering the endorsement: “This was a company that ran well for five or six years.” In fairness, the officer involved later apologized.

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food, and Rural Affairs officials consistently told media that they weren’t aware of complaints. We’ve been told that two staff members had received a warning and documents from Top a year or more before the end came. Mark Wolf, a former PKI marketing and business development staff member, says that he also tried unsuccessfully to warn the Ontario agriculture ministry when he left his job as salesman about a year ago. BF

Robert Irwin & Don Stoneman

Better Farming - August/September 2008