A Q&A with Greenbelt Farmers
Innovation: the groundwork for Greenbelt farm growth
Charles and Judi Stevens
Wilmot Orchards, Durham Region
Q: How have you embraced innovation on your operation?
A: We adjust quickly to innovation; it’s our policy on this farm. We are always looking for better ways to serve the public, and looking at new technology to help grow and market our apples and blueberries. You need to stay on top of technology in order to be in this business. For instance, we were the first people in Ontario to buy a Hail Cannon, designed to disrupt the formation of hailstones and protect crops from unpredictable weather, and we have frost fans and a smart sprayer too. They are starting to become a necessity.
Q: Can you describe the partnerships you’ve initiated in order to grow your business?
A: Partnerships are a huge part of our operation. Whether it’s our banker, our accountant or the marketer of our apples. I would suggest getting involved with your local agriculture organization. I started with the Durham Apple Growers Association and now I am in a position within the industry that gives me a global perspective, but it took me 40 years. There are always opportunities, but they come from being active at a grassroots level. You can’t hide on your farm, you have to make connections and stay active.
Q: What does the location of your farm mean to you?
A: You can’t find better farmland in Canada. My daughter wants to farm this property, but if this land was developed, we would forever lose the opportunity to farm on this productive land.
The Greenbelt is all about protecting farmland. I like the initiative. We have a niche climate, and it needs to be preserved.
Tigchelaar Berry Farms Inc., Niagara Region
Q: In Ontario, what do you consider the biggest necessity to push your business forward?
A: The local food movement is critical. We need to continue to garner support for this. It allows us to sell at a price where we can be profitable. The number 1 thing is to serve a consumer’s appetite for local produce. Secondly, the availability of quality farm land. It is a very unique type of land that strawberries need to grow. We need to be able to find suitable land to continue doing what we do.
Q: What attracts your suppliers?
A: Consistency of product, quality and availability attracts our suppliers. It all relates back to technology. People look at our field and are amazed at what they see: the volume of fruit, the style in which we grow the berries and the innovative approaches we take to harvest and protect our crop. It’s also important not to place all of your eggs in one basket. It helps us maintain a diverse customer base.
Q: How did you discover the niche to build your business on?
A: We found our niche by keeping our eyes open and observing what people in the industry are doing.
Always seek out the opportunity. At one point, we only grew regular strawberries, available for three to four weeks per year. But, we saw the desire for our customers to have our product for an extended period of time.
We are becoming more and more specialized in order to meet the demand year-round, and by implementing new technologies, it makes us more efficient and able to farm in a profitable way.