The latest research from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation focuses on nine successful farming operations within Ontario’s nearly two million acres of permanently protected Greenbelt.
Home to 5,500 farms, farmland makes up 43 per cent of the Greenbelt. Farmers in the Greenbelt grow higher value crops than most Ontario farms—with gross farm receipts per acre in the Golden Horseshoe nearly doubling the Ontario average ($1,756 compared to $939).
The following are the farmers' success stories:
Luke and Jenny Carnaghan took the reins of Carncroft Farms, Luke’s grandfather’s livestock operations, in 2003. Today, lamb production is the main enterprise for this young entrepreneurial married couple living and farming in Ontario’s Greenbelt.
Carncroft Farms, in Durham Region, has expanded from its own herd of 150 ewes to an impressive 700 ewe operation collaborating with two other partners. By sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge, this innovative three party collaboration has leveraged its collective determination and efforts into a profitable business model.
Along with the creative partnership, the Carnaghans shifted their marketing strategies from traditional livestock auction sales serving the Christian and Greek Orthodox Easter markets to year-round lambing and marketing partnerships with five other Ontario lamb producers and a major Ontario lamb abattoir. As a result, they are able to serve markets 12 months a year.
The Carnaghans credit the success of their relatively young business to their pursuit of further education and business skills, and the networking and mentoring of nearby farmers. Open-mindedness and courage in the adoption of different production practices has also been helpful.
"We are on a good path and headed for continued success," the Carnaghans maintain.
Cooper’s Farm & CSA
The Coopers have found their niche in direct marketing, and continue to grow and diversify their products and customer experience
Farming for over 20 years in Durham Region, Steve and Lisa Cooper realized early on that diversifying was a crucial tool to be successful. They now run a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture, take part in five farmers’ markets, and offer an on-farm store and roadside stand.
The Coopers farm 100 acres and rent another 300 acres nearby their operations in the permanently protected Greenbelt. The acreage is used for their livestock production and CSA, as well as pasture, hay, and growing some feed crops. Their CSA was launched in 2007 with 50 families, and has now grown to 550 in the summer and 250 in the winter.
To diversify and grow their operations, the Coopers have also built an agri-entertainment/education business by setting up a corn maze and offering farm tours, as part of their goal to continue expanding their offerings. The Coopers consider their farm to be a work in progress, always changing and adapting to customer demands.
These Greenbelt farmers were recognized with a major award as Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers of 2010, a tribute to their innovation and farm management practices.
Meyers Fruit Farms was started by Fred Meyers’ first generation immigrant parents in 1955 when they bought farmland near Niagara-on-the-Lake. Today, Fred and his sister Elly manage the business, along with Fred’s son Jim and Elly’s son Aron. A family-operated farm through and through.
This Greenbelt farm includes 250 acres of owned and 100 acres of leased land where the family grows delicious peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, fresh grapes, and wine grapes. To continue expanding their operations, the Meyers have embraced diversification and also produce greenhouse flowers and herbs.
Approximately 70 per cent of the farm’s floral sales are direct to customers in the United States, with the remainder serving customers in the Canadian market. Their fruit is marketed across North America in partnership with a major neighbouring fruit producer and wholesaler.
Already supporting 25 full-time and 75 part-time jobs, Meyers Fruit Farms is in the planning stages of a major expansion—an example of entrepreneurship that helps make the Greenbelt an economic powerhouse.
The third generation of a family-owned operation, brothers Jan and Dale VanderHout jointly run Beverly Greenhouses Limited, a successful greenhouse cucumber producing farm located near Waterdown in Ontario’s permanently protected Greenbelt.
Over three decades ago, the VanderHouts started concentrating exclusively on cucumbers, a standard and effective practice in today’s greenhouse vegetable industry in Ontario. By specializing on cucumbers, the brothers have been able to benefit from only needing one set of equipment and not requiring several arrays of packaging—both helping to boost their bottom line. Jan and Dale focus on what they do well.
The province’s greenhouse industry is renowned as a model in terms of technological advancement and Beverly Greenhouses is right there with the rest of this industry. New advancements in technology using cucumber sealing, packaging, and palletizing equipment have returned a solid financial return on their capital investment. At a rate of 19-20,000 cucumbers an hour, their packaging line is highly efficient. To ensure their operations have adequate sources of high quality water the brothers adopted an innovative water recycling technology for both environmental and cost reasons.
With their eyes to the future and protecting the environment top of mind, they are committed to passing on their successful and innovative operation to a fourth generation top of mind, “our objective is not to leave here in 20 years and have everything contaminated – this is our sustenance,” the Vanderhouts mentioned.
Greenwood Mushroom Farms
Durham producer has mushroomed into one of the largest enterprises of its kind in Canada
With an innovative ownership team of five people, this Greenbelt producer in Durham has mushroomed into one of the largest enterprises of its kind in Canada—providing an impressive 360 jobs.
In business for over 50 years, Greenwood Mushroom Farms now has two production sites and a large processing and packaging operation. Getting to be one of the country’s largest producers wasn’t without its challenges and Greenwood is committed to finding innovative solutions. Odour from their composting operation has caused considerable agitation from neighbours. To address this issue, Greenwood is adopting innovative technology to enclose the operation.
Windmill Farms, an industry leader with an extensive and sophisticated distribution network and delivery system, ships Greenwood mushrooms seven days a week within eastern Canada. These shipments go to retail, food service, and pizza markets and include over 100 local and distinct Greenwood products.
Over the years, Greenwood has expanded in several phases increasingly incorporating mechanization, which has enhanced cost stability and production consistency.
Carron Farms Limited
A fourth generation family farm drives innovation through re-branding and new product offerings to meet customer interest
Jason Verkaik is the fourth generation in his family to successfully farm in Ontario. In 1934, Jason’s grandfather and his two brothers moved to the Holland Marsh to clear land and begin farming in the remarkably productive specialty crop area which is now protected by Ontario’s Greenbelt. Over 80 years later, Carron Farms vegetable production now covers an impressive 250 acres of Marsh and high land.
The Verkaiks invested in a packing line and an automated packing system for onions, carrots, and beets. Once Jason took ownership of the family operation, he started to re-brand the business, including a new marketing approach based on telling his family’s story of farming and where food comes from.
Jason also pioneered the Harvest Share Box program in his area. In only five years, Harvest Share has grown from 64 to over 500 customers. The Verkaiks provide some of their own vegetables in the weekly box, and source the rest from other growers of quality produce, or from the Ontario Food Terminal—all Ontario grown. Not only is Harvest Share self-sustaining, it has propelled Carron Farms into trying new products, such as Indian Red Carrots and multi-coloured beets, to meet the desires of consumers, including new Canadians. Trials with various carrot varieties provided the knowledge needed to introduce a multi-coloured carrot pack sold through Sobey’s. More than 50 acres of East Indian Red Carrots and 100 acres of multi-coloured heirloom carrots are now grown in Ontario every year.
Jason has positioned Carron Farms for continued growth and he’s committed to its success: “There’s a lot of work still to do, and also a continual drive to keep going.”
Tigchelaar Berry Farms Inc. exemplifies the manner in which many successful farm businesses have evolved.
Dan and Jeff Tigchelaar are third generation Ontario strawberry growers, currently based near Vineland in the Greenbelt. When the traditional strawberry business began to decline, they recognized the need to diversify and innovate. As a result, they started growing day neutral strawberries with four acres of the crop in 1998. Because they aren’t impacted by day length, day neutrals can flower and grow fruit continuously, as long as temperatures are suitable. The amount of daylight normally controls the beginning of a strawberry plants flowering process.
The Tigchelaar are leaders in the berry sector, embracing innovation in production and constantly striving to improve yields and quality. A creative system of floating row covers promotes late fall plant development and flower bud initiation, thereby supporting an early spring harvest. And to stay at the forefront of production technology, the brothers conduct on farm trials and work on projects in concert with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. With minor modifications, the Tigchelaars’ berry equipment has been creatively adapted to serve the needs of a neighbouring grape grower, thereby generating another source of revenue.
The local food movement has generated a consumer willingness to pay a higher price for local food and the Tigchelaars are capitalizing on that over a longer season with the day neutrals. “We can’t compete on price alone”, says the Tigchelaars, “but because consumers are willing to pay more for a quality local product, we can survive.”
Their innovation has been recognized by the Ontario Premier’s Award for Agri-Innovation and the Niagara Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2009.
Vineland Estates Winery
Winery getting better with age: Decades old operation thrives because of its leadership
Vineland Estates was established at the start of the revitalization of the province’s wine industry. Allan Schmidt moved to Ontario from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley wine region in 1987 to become Winemaker and General Manager of Vineland Estates Winery. Today, Allan holds the positions of President and Managing Partner and his brother Brian is the winemaker and manager of farm operations.
Vineland Estates has produced over 30 vintages since their entry into the Ontario wine industry in the 1980s. Their volumes support worldwide sales and innovative marketing programs in the domestic market, as they produce 50,000 cases per year, with 70 per cent from their own grapes and 30 per cent from other Niagara growers. The winery provides 75 jobs in the Niagara Region
They import grape plants, grow grapes, make wine, market in domestic and international wholesale markets, and operate an on-farm wine shop and a four diamond restaurant, along with banquet and wedding facilities. Vineland Estates does it all and does it well, a gem of innovation in the province’s Greenbelt.
Vineland Estates’ many successes are a result of the will and determination of their team. “It’s been the team’s success that has gotten us to where we are today, not just a single person or vintage,” Allan notes.
In Durham Region just outside the permanent boundaries of Ontario’s Greenbelt, Charles and Judi Stevens own and operate Wilmot Orchards—producing high quality apples and blueberries. It’s all in the family, as their daughter Courtney currently works in the business helping to manage the on-farm café and leading social media and marketing efforts.
Shortly after buying the farm in the mid-1970s, Charles and Judi made a commitment to apple production, planting 30 acres of orchard.
With an eye to growing the business, their next important decision was made in 1979 when they added blueberry production to the farm. The Stevens opened their Pick-Your-Own blueberry operation bringing customers directly to them to purchase 1,000 pounds of blueberries per year. They now sell in the range of 110,000 pounds of local blueberries annually from 22 acres. Once the successful Pick-Your-Own business had expanded and their customer base was established, they pursued the next stage in their business development by opening the on-farm Appleberries Café. They most recently increased the café offerings with their branded line of delicious blueberry foods; Wilmot Orchards salsa, jams, mustard, syrup, and BBQ sauce.
Apples remain a major crop for Wilmot Orchards. Knowing where the market is going and what is needed or demanded, has kept the Stevens as leaders in embracing new apple varieties. Keys to achieving leadership in the sector are Charles’ exposure to emerging market trends through his participation in several organizations, his close working relationship with his apple marketer, and his willingness to renovate his orchard to more promising varieties when the signals point in that direction.
Being enthusiastic adapters of new technology and innovations, the Stevens were quick to introduce hail cannons and frost fans to protect their crops from Mother Nature.
Charles and Judi’s goals have changed over time. They explain: “When the farm started the objective was to make a living. Then it became growing the business for the future. Today, it is to pass the farm on as a successful business with continued sustainability.”