Diverse Prince Edward County Farm Featured as September Faces of Farming

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care 

If there’s one example of a diversified farm business, Sandy Vader and her family are it. From their farm near Picton, they grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other crops for a local farmers’ market, raise sheep for wool and meat, and have even diversified into seasonal decorative arrangements.

Sandy Vader's page is sponsored by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. She is joined in the photo by daughters Kelsey and Kaitlyn

Sandy Vader’s page is sponsored by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. She is joined in the photo by daughters Kelsey and Kaitlyn

Sandy and her daughters are the faces for September in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario.

“We are always trying to diversify,” says Sandy Vader, mother of three and avid market gardener. “I like the animals, and the people from the market. It’s a very family oriented business.”

Sandy started farming with her father-in-law in 1987. At that time, she says, they were growing about 180 acres of crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat, and producing vegetables and fruits for canning companies, “but those companies eventually left Prince Edward County,” she says. The loss of the local processing meant she had to make some major changes to the family business.

Since taking over most of the market-garden side of the farm in 2000, Sandy has expanded her crop portfolio to include — take a deep breath — asparagus, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, beets, and various varieties of flowers, among other crops. All the produce generated by Sandy and her family is sold at the Belleville farmers’ market.

“We used to go to more farmers’ markets, but it can be pretty tiring. We like to stick with one that we enjoy and works for us best,” she says.

Sandy’s youngest daughter, Kaitlyn, has been actively helping run the business since she was five years old. She helps Sandy on a regular basis, and in addition, keeps a small number of sheep and goats. Sandy’s other daughter, Kelsey, has also been involved on the farm from a very early age, and continues to help on occasion despite working full-time at an off-farm job.

Kaitlyn and Kelsey’s brother, Cody, has a farm of his own where he keeps 200 ewes. When required, though, he does help in the day-to-day operations of the farm, the market, as well as any other task that “needs to be done.”

Several years ago, Sandy also began creating a kind of value-added product for sale at her market stand. Using some of the flowers produced in her greenhouse, she creates centre pieces and other seasonal decorative arrangements for Thanksgiving and other occasions. So far, she says, they have proven to be quite popular, and have done a lot for the business when vegetables and fruits are not in season. Consequently, she plans on expanding that side of her business.

“The decorations help make going to market in the winter useful, plus there’s something about working in a greenhouse that makes the winter shorter,” she says.

With the exception of flowers and a select few others, says Sandy, all their crops are started in a greenhouse before being moved to a field to finish growing. Lettuce and sweet corn, she says, are their most popular crops, with fresh-cut lettuce being available from April to December. That two-step process works well for them, but it is labour intensive and one of the reasons Sandy values the help she receives from her family.

In her limited spare time – and she does emphasize limited – Sandy enjoys sports of all kinds, but says she is particularly happy that she had the privilege of playing hockey with her girls when they were younger. She was also an active volunteer when Cody, Kelsey, and Kaitlyn were still in school.

Whether sports or farming, though, the key theme that repeatedly crops up in Sandy’s mind is her family. For her, working with her son, two daughters is the most rewarding career she could have, and it’s the cornerstone of their success.

“The farm is a team effort,” she says. “That’s a farm family – we’re always helping each other out.”

Four Ways Farmers Promote Pollinator Health

By Mel Luymes, environmental coordinator, Farm & Food Care Ontario

This week is pollinator week, and all across Ontario insects are briskly buzzing about their business. Pollinators play an important role in agriculture and, in turn, Ontario farmers play an important role in protecting and feeding them.

Sam McLean farms in Peterborough County, and grows 175 acres of strawberries, raspberries, pumpkins, and other crops that rely on pollination. McLean is careful in his application rates and timing of pesticides, and understands that farming is all about creating balance. “We have a lot of hedgerows here, a lot of natural habitat for bees and other pollinators, so we don’t even need to bring in honeybees to pollinate our crops,” he says. 

Video Resource: Fruit farms and pollinators work together  

Sue Chan is a pollination biologist with Farms at Work and she has been working with McLean for years. “What I’m seeing is many, many species of native pollinators here, so he is obviously doing something right,” says Chan. She points to the plants in the hedgerows: basswood, sumac, elderberry, wild raspberry, even burdock and dandelions are great food and habitat for native pollinators, she says.

On the other end of the province is Mary Ellen King, a fourth-generation farmer in Lambton County who operates several hundred acres of wheat, corn and beans. “Ten to fifteen years ago we started to enhance our farms with trees, hedgerows, wetlands and native tallgrass prairie,” she says. “We need the birds and the bugs and the bees, it all works together to make a healthy farm. I like to walk around the farm in the evenings, it just sings!”

Video resource: Farmers plant cover crops for pollinators 

Kathleen Law is a master’s student at the University of Guelph and studied the ways farmers can and do promote pollinator habitat on their properties.  Farms have historically been great habitat for bees, she says. “As farming has changed and field sizes have gotten bigger, it means that farmers need to be intentional about enhancing pollinator habitat. Instead of having fencerows play that role, they can create habitat around buildings, ditches or woodlots,” she says.

“As an environmental researcher, it was really heartening to see how much cash croppers care about pollinators,” continues Law.  “Often the missing link was having the necessary information and support to go ahead with pollinator projects on farmland.”

Video resource: Riparian areas & Hedgerow Management for Pollinator Promotion

In Ontario, there are many resources for farmers interested in enhancing pollinator habitat. The Environmental Farm Plan addresses pollinators and the Ontario Soil & Crop Improvement Association supports projects through cost-share programs like the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) and the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative (GLASI). In certain areas, farmers may have access to the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program or Farms at Work.  Local Conservation Authorities can also be a great resource as well.

Law recommends that when farmers plant pollinator habitat, they should be more proactive in letting people know. “Put up a sign up that says who you are, what you’re doing and why,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate Ontario farm stewardship to your community and to society.”

A 50 year journey

By Lisa McLean and Kelly Daynard

The Heeman family

The Heeman family

London – It’s been a long journey from their homeland in Holland to a successful three-generation family farming business in London for the Heemans.

That journey started more than 50 years ago for Bill and Susan Heeman. Bill said that he was looking for new opportunities. “I was in love. I wanted to get married,” he recalls with a smile. Both Bill and Susan had family that had already moved to Canada so when a recruiter offered to sell them tickets to Canada, they decided that the time was right. Continue reading

Merry Christmas!

Here are a few fun facts about Christmas and Ontario’s farms. Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas and all the best in 2015.



Christmas on Ontario farms

New irrigation system protects local watershed, reduces water and fertilizer use

By: Lilian Schaer for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

A new automated irrigation system is yielding some big savings for an Elgin County nursery – and paying off with environmental benefits too.

Since the system became fully functional this spring, Canadale Nurseries’ water consumption has dropped by 40 per cent, their fertilizer use is down 25 per cent, and they’re using less electricity because their water pumps don’t have to run as many hours each day.

“We are surrounded by residential areas and we wanted to minimize our environmental footprint and maximize irrigation efficiency,” explains nursery manager Robb Parmeter. “We want the water that crosses our property to be the same quality or better when it leaves our property.”

Canadale Nurseries Ltd. is a family-owned business on 110 acres in St. Thomas. They grow and supply a wide variety of plants including ornamental trees, flowering shrubs, evergreens, and perennials to retail customers, independent retail garden centers, and wholesale nurseries across southwestern Ontario.

To improve watering efficiency, they needed to increase their system’s capacity and capability. At the same time, says Robb, they also wanted to reduce production costs, improve the health of their irrigation pond, and better manage their nutrients so they could contribute to the protection of the local Kettle Creek watershed and the surrounding environment.

The solution was the installation of a new automated pumping system that can be controlled electronically – and even remotely via smartphone. That means if it rains during non-work hours, for example, the irrigation system can be turned off without staff having to go to the nursery.

Canadale now has the ability to direct its irrigation to a single zone or multiple zones in the nursery depending on the requirements of each crop. This flexibility in watering, something that wasn’t possible with the previous system, has greatly increased water conservation and efficient water use.

The system can track the amount of rain, sunshine, and outside temperature and adjust irrigation levels accordingly. It is now also possible to water using a method called pulse or cyclical irrigation.

“We have more capacity now so we’re watering faster. The leaf wetness period is shorter, so there is less risk for fungal disease, which equates to a reduction in fungicide use” explains Robb. “And because we now have the ability to pulse water, the growing media absorbs and holds more moisture. This reduces the amount of water running out of the pot, so we have little to no fertilizer leachate, which is another environmental benefit.”

They have also seen improvements in their irrigation pond and their plants are healthier, showing better rooting and better growth than before.

To help make the project a reality, Canadale turned to the Implementation funding assistance program under Growing Forward 2 (GF2), which Robb says was a tremendous help to the nursery.

To prepare for the application process, senior Canadale staff attended numerous seminars on environmental stewardship for nurseries and Great Lakes water quality, completed an Environmental Farm Plan and attended a workshop where they learned about GF2 funding assistance.

“We have wanted to do this for a long time and we’ve been going to seminars about water for four to five years,” explains Robb. “It’s a huge expense from a business standpoint, so we wanted to make sure it was well-researched.”

Doing the necessary research and planning homework is Robb’s key tip for other farm businesses thinking about applying for GF2 cost-share funding through the Implementation program.

Knowing what you’re eligible to apply for will help ensure you can take full advantage of available opportunities and creating a plan with detailed timelines will help make sure a project stays on track, he adds.

“It takes a bit of time to learn the process, but it is definitely worth it,” he says. “This is a great program, so we’ll be applying for other projects as they come up.”

Growing Forward 2 cost-share of up to 35 per cent is available for farm businesses under the Implementation program in six key areas: Environment and Climate Change, Assurance Systems, Market Development, Animal and Plant Health, Labour Productivity Enhancement, and Business and Leadership Development. Implementation uses a merit-based competitive application process.

Cost-share opportunities are also available under the Capacity Building program of GF2 to help off-set expenses related to audits, plans, work shop participation, training costs or consulting work.

Much of the research and preparatory work needed for successful Implementation applications can come out of this step. Capacity Building cost-share is available at 50 per cent and is determined based on set eligibility criteria; there is no merit component to this level of funding.

GF2 is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative aimed at encouraging innovation, competitiveness, market development, adaptability and industry capacity in Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sector. The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association delivers educational workshops and funding assistance supported by GF2 to producers.

More information about GF2 funding opportunities for farmers is available at http://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/en/programs/growing_forward_2.htm or by contacting the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association’s regional program leads at http://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/en/programs/workshop_leaders.htm.

Tips for cost-share funding success:

  • Read the program guide carefully. The Focus Area Project Information Form must also be completed and submitted with the application for Implementation funding assistance. It provides an understanding of risks with the farm operation and the proposed project and supports the evaluation of merit for each project based on set criteria for each BMP.
  • Take time to complete your application; projects are not evaluated on a first come, first serve basis. It can be helpful to fill out an application first in writing before submitting it online.
  • Do the capacity building work to have plans and assessments in place and make sure you submit the relevant documentation with your project application as required.
  • Get the quotes you need or collect invoices – you can still apply for funding for a project that has already been completed as long as the work has been done in the current program year. Each program year ends on March 31.
  • Summarize expected expenses and milestones for the project and provide a concise, clearly written project description that outlines what you’d like to do and how the project will benefit your operation and address identified risk areas.

Celebrating Ontario’s flower growers on Valentine’s Day

In honour of Valentine’s Day, we’re going to do a shout-out to Ontario’s flower growers and the work they do. Here are some funky facts about floriculture in Ontario and Canada.

  • Ontario represents 52.5% of Canada’s floriculture with over 220 growers and $726.3 million in annual sales.
  • Floriculture is fifth in farm cash receipts for all crops nationally, generating $1.36 billion.

    Gerbera daisy bouquets ready for delivery in a Niagara area greenhouse

  • Floriculture employs over 20,000 workers in Canada.
  • There are over 1,900 flower growers across Canada.
  • 99% of Canada’s floral industry exports go to the United States.
  • The greenhouse floriculture industry is considered one of the fastest growing areas of Canadian horticulture.
  • Tulips, gerbera, lilies, daffodils and roses are among the most produced cut flowers in Canada.
  • Many growers sell their product through a special Dutch-style auction to florists.
  • Most of Ontario’s greenhouses are located in the Niagara Region.
  • Floriculture greenhouses employ foreign workers during their busy seasons.
  • Most greenhouse flower operations are still family owned and run.
  • Ontario flower growers produce over 75 varieties of cut flowers and 120 varieties of indoor potted plants.
  • 220 greenhouses in Ontario making up 50% of Canada’s floriculture producers with a total of 30 million square feet!
  • Ontario has the fourth largest floral production area in North America, following Florida and California and Michigan.
  • 9,500 people are employed by Ontario’s greenhouses.
  • Ontario’s greenhouses account for sales of $709 million

To learn more about flowers in Ontario, check out Farm & Food Care’s handy fact sheet with facts provided by Flowers Canada Growers http://www.farmfoodcare.org/farm-fact-sheets or visit the Pick Ontario website – http://www.po.flowerscanadagrowers.com/


Christmas starts in July for Ontario flower grower

By Lilian Schaer

(St. Catharines, Ontario) – July means the start of the Christmas season for Ron van der Zalm. He’s a greenhouse flower grower in St. Catharines and the height of summer is when he starts growing popular Christmas plants in his greenhouse, like Poinsettias, Cyclamen and Frosty Ferns.

Together with his brother and two cousins, Ron runs Colonial Florists, a second generation family wholesale flower business with 11 acres of greenhouses that was started by his father and three uncles more than 50 years ago. The Frosty Fern is a fairly recent addition to their Christmas line up and it’s one that is growing in popularity. Continue reading

Lavender grower is the face of July in the 2013 Faces of Farming calendar

By Patricia Grotenhuis

The end of the ability to be a successful farmer growing tobacco in Ontario left Anita Buehner and her husband Steve looking for an alternate crop to grow on their Waterford-area farm.  They began experimenting with lavender and have also re-purposed some of their land for environmental projects.

The Buehners have transformed the farm since they first had lavender recommended to them in about 2003.  In addition to the aromatic crop, they also grow grapes and are working towards establishing a winery.

Anita Buehner, Lavender grower

Some of the fields on the farm have been used for alternative land use projects where native grasses and flowers are grown, and a wetland is established.  Because of Anita’s commitment to the environment and public outreach, she is featured in the 2013 Faces of Farming Calendar in the month of July – a page sponsored by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. The calendar is produced annually by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Continue reading

Exotic houseplant turns heads and opens new markets for Ontario flower grower

By Lilian Schaer

There’s a new star in the world of potted houseplants – an exotic beauty with pink flowers that is turning heads across North America. She’s also creating Ontario jobs in the process. The plant, named Medinilla Magnifica, is in high demand, which has helped expand operations and open up new markets for Niagara Region flower grower Ted Oorsprong.

Carrie and Ted Oorsprong with a selection of the Medinilla Magnifica flowers

“We are always looking for different flowers that we can bring to market and Medinilla Magnifica really is magnificent,” says Oorsprong, owner of Northend Gardens, who first noticed the plant while in the Netherlands four years ago. “It’s easy to care for and the large cascading blooms last for a long time. It’s been a hit everywhere we’ve taken it.” Continue reading