Every summer — in Norfolk County and most other rural communities — economic development staff schedule a tour of farms and agribusinesses for Mayor and Council.
You can set your watch by it. Harvest is on. Councillors want to pat our farmers on the back. We all want to show how much we care about agriculture.
The tours inevitably showcase new technologies, innovative business processes and the successes that our farmers have earned with so much hard work, stress and sleepless nights.
Agriculture brings in $400 million annually for Norfolk County farmers, who grow more asparagus, blueberries, cabbage, ginseng, peppers, pumpkin, rye, strawberries, sweet corn and sweet potatoes than any other comparable region of Ontario. That’s why we call ourselves “Ontario’s Garden”.
This year’s tour in Norfolk County took us to successful farms such as Procyk and Shabatura, both of whom supply major grocery retail chains with varieties of peppers and tomatoes. We saw fantastic grading and packing lines bustling with local employees as well as migrant workers.
Mayor and Council — plus our agricultural advisory board — got a first hand look at the sweet corn operation of Welsh Bros, as well as a sneak peak of John Picard’s Ramblin Road Brewery Farm, which will produce beer influenced by Norfolk County potatoes in the kettle chip line nearby.
Our mouths were watering. The Mayor was beaming. Councillors and staff were abuzz. We were all getting high over all the success.
Then we visited Casey Greenhouses. It’s a small operation run by Case Van Schaik and his wife Yvonne. They grow anthurium — the flower with the big red leaf with the spiky yellow frond sticking out of the middle. They supply florists across Ontario and Quebec. You can read about their success in an article by Greehouse Canada magazine.
Yes, a greenhouse full of red and pink anthurium is very pretty, and again we were present to hear of the farmer’s success.
But Case treated us to something a little different. He showed us how vulnerable the farm sector can be, and he wasn’t afraid to admit he learned his lesson.
In another greenhouse nearby, Case marched Mayor and Council into a sweltering atmosphere of bushy greenery topped by puffs of white. These were the flowers he planted to pursue a new market, and he is still paying the royalities to the bulb company.
The blooms were not of any interest to flower buyers. The colours weren’t right or didn’t appeal to a big enough market. A $30,000 investment by Case and his wife just quietly sits there. He will eventually rip them out and plant something else.
Case reminded us that, in farming, being risk averse will get you nowhere. Farmers take huge leaps of faith every day, battle the elements and the markets, and risk their life savings to get ahead.
He wasn’t afraid to remind us of that. Success means you have to fail once in a while, so you learn and move on.
So the next time you plan a tour of businesses to make your elected officials happy, don’t forget to program in a failure. It will give them a reality check that we can all learn from.
There are photographs of the Norfolk County Agriculture Tour on our ag facebook page at www.facebook.com/norfolk.farms.
(c) Clark Hoskin