Last month, we introduced you to four small business owners in Troy/Lynden/Copetown who appreciate mutuality – giving back to the community that supports them. This month, we visit Cambridge/Branchton/Troy/St. George where we spent time with five policyholders who also focus on making a difference in their communities and beyond. Enjoy reading about Marcy’s Berries, Village Flower Farm, Brantview Apples and Cider, Troy Veterinary Services and Troy Equine Services and Lady Cone Hop Yard!
This year marks Keith and Nora Marcy’s 30th strawberry harvest. A business that successful can only come from hard work and care. And it shows! They’ve been tending the same brandywine raspberry plants since 1993. Marcy’s Berries offers several varieties of raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, haskaps, currants, and gooseberries. They also grow sunflowers and soy on the farm.
Keith and Nora enjoy chatting with customers who come onto their farm to buy berries. With the farm to table movement, they have noticed an increase in people picking direct from the farm. Plants are clearly labelled and flags are placed in the fields to indicate where good picking is each day. They have grown their operation by listening to their customers. British customers requested red and black currants and some Russian customers were thrilled to find haskaps, a fruit native to Siberia, growing in their fields. Keith particularly enjoys when customers bring their children to the berry farm so that future generations understand how their food is grown and where it comes from.
Keith and Nora themselves never stop learning. Nora’s father planted five rows of berries when she was just 6 years old and it has been a continuous learning experience. They have a berry specialist who walk the rows once a week and makes suggestions for the health of the plants. New pests and insects find their way to the sweet berries each year, attempting to wreak havoc.
Community has always been very important to Keith. His father, who owned the farm before him, understood the importance of community when farmers still participated in threshing and wood cutting bees, a value that he instilled in his son. Keith, a natural-born educator, is cognisant that their business relies on community support. He explains that neighbours tolerate the traffic during berry picking season and come by to get their berries. As much as possible, they hire local teenagers to work for them picking berries, weeding and serving U-pick customers.
Staff supervisors, Toni and Carina, are neighbours themselves. Toni’s husband was a picker on the farm as a teenager, making her children second generation pickers. Toni and Carina are assuming more of the responsibility of daily operations allowing Nora a bit more time to converse with customers and to do paperwork. This also allows Keith more time to nurture the new plantings for next year’s harvest.
Nora’s favourite berry are blueberries, while Keith’s favourite are strawberries. Be sure to add an outing to Marcy’s Berries to next summer’s bucket list!
Village Flower Farm
When Jan Donkers returned to the family farm in Branchton after spending ten years in Alberta, the operation had changed from dairy farming to cash crop. This somewhat less time intensive work meant that beyond grain farming, Jan had some free hours to start an endeavour of her own. After taking some floral arrangement courses in Toronto, she established the Village Flower Farm with a vision to offer field to bouquet experiences. Her pretty shop sits right off Branchton Road on the family farm property!
Jan offers a number of products and services at Village Flower Farm. She operates the storefront Fridays and Saturdays during the growing season, where she sells her fresh cut bouquets as well as other carefully curated products from other vendors. She also offers a monthly bouquet subscription and leads floral arrangement workshops.
As a farmer-florist, Jan grows most of the flowers she uses and is passionate about sustainable growing practices for pollinators, people and the planet. The fresh cut bouquets she sells in her store and by subscription are always seasonal flowers – she does not import out-of-season flowers from the global flower market, which relies heavily on air freight and floral foam, a microplastic. This reduces the carbon footprint of her business.
Jan encourages her customers to embrace the seasonality of our local flora and our local community of flower vendors. And they seem to be responding enthusiastically! She has been able to grow her business as her customer base grows and recognizes that she wouldn’t be able to do what she does without the support of her returning and local clients. Community connection and education is Jan’s vision.
Beyond the support of her customers, Jan is most thankful for the love and support of her family. She works alongside her father on the family grain farm and her mother helps her with gardening and the shop. Funny enough, Jan compares flower farming to dairy farming – there is very little downtime – she begins growing flowers from seed in January in order to offer flowers of her own choosing in her preferred colour palettes and at a reasonable price point for her customers. The delicate seedlings need attention everyday.
But Jan’s hard work is more than paying off! She was nominated by a fellow florist as one of Florists’ Review’s 35 Under 35 as one of the floral industry’s best millennial and Gen Z florists. We highly recommend you visit Jan at the Village Flower Farm. Her enthusiasm is contagious – you can’t help but leave smiling with an armful of gorgeous flowers! And check out her Instagram account @village.flowerfarm for instant cheer – her photos are stunning!
Brantview Apples and Cider
The Howell family has been farming apples for two hundred years! Jay Howell is a 7th generation apple farmer while Melissa, Jen, and Dan Howell make up the 8th generation of apple farmers. Each member of the Howell family has an important part to play in the apple business which has come a long way from “just apples”. Jay and his wife, Linda, a retired teacher, manage the orchard and storefront respectively for Brantview Apples & Cider, while Linda also bakes for the shop. Melissa, also an elementary school teacher, is the Events Manager for all manner of events, including weddings, at the Brantview Events Pavilion. Jen is the hard cider maker for 6 year-old, award-winning Howell Road Cider Co., and Dan has put his architecture degree to good use on the farm – he designed their events pavilion, complete with a neighbour’s 200 year old barn beams, as his thesis.
The Howell family takes a lot of pride in their business and that all starts with a great beginning product – high quality apples. Each apple is hand-picked and vetted to ensure top quality. They grow twenty-two varieties of apples, including newer Evercrisp and Golden Gala varieties. Their homegrown apples are used in all of Brantview Apples’ products – fresh cider, hard cider, all manner of condiments, and fresh baking. Products can be purchased at the on-site storefront and at some local markets. Seasonally pick-your-own is also available.
The Howell family has deep roots in their community. They are regular participants and volunteers at the St. George Apple Fest and the Paris Fair. You can find products from their friends and neighbours, Rock Maple Lodge and Henderson Apiaries, at their store. Jen is a volunteer firefighter with the St. George Fire Department. Linda and Jay, affectionately known as “the apple guy”, are actively involved in Farm Fresh Ontario and have coached countless sports teams, from hockey to baseball to soccer. And community loves what they are doing – the Howells were honoured with an Ontario Farm Family Award in 2019 for their community involvement, land stewardship and adaptability.
The Howells have earned a devoted following. One of their regular customers, who comes every week to buy a fresh baked apple pie, uses gift cards that his daughter in Australia buys online. One of Melissa’s favourite things is chatting with people she encounters wearing Howell Road Cider Co. apparel out and about. She’s even come across people sporting their merch in international airports!
With the help of their community, the Howell family has been a mainstay for local apples for two hundred years and counting! Be sure to sample the products from their 201st harvest.
Troy Veterinary Services and Troy Equine Services
Dr. Paula Dupuy is the practice owner of both Troy Equine Services and Troy Animal Hospital in Flamborough. Both practices feature a host of highly trained veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and support staff, available at all times to offer the best possible care for their patients.
Troy Equine Services is a mobile equine female-led clinic that treats horses, donkeys, ponies, and mules. It’s a purely mobile clinic working within a 60km radius to best serve their clients, providing on-site exams, ultrasounds, surgeries, etc., to eliminate the stress and potential harm of transporting the animals.
Troy Animal Hospital is an animal clinic that provides preventative, medical, surgical, and emergency veterinary care to its patients.
Compassionate personalized service is the focus of both practices. Paula and her staff are passionate about taking care of their community. They share on-call veterinary services with other practices in the wider area, working with other vets rather than competing against, and offer their mobile services for horse shows, competitions, and local parades. They have been long-time supporters of the Rockton Saddle Club as well as The Ancaster Saddle Club, and Hamilton-Wentworth 4-H Association. They also support local humane societies with pet memorial donations. Over the years, the community has recognized the practices for their exceptional care and service; they are multiple year first and second place winners in the best veterinary clinic and best veterinarian categories from the Hamilton Spectator’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
The staff recognize that horses and pets are family members and make it their mission to provide the best possible care at all times to ensure the health and happiness of their patients. Mick, pictured above, with vet techs Taylor, Olivia, Dr. Cristina, and office admin Madeleine seems to agree.
Lady Cone Hop Yard
Chris Kelland and Alison Olver traded in their 9-5 office jobs for 5-9 farm life in 2018 and haven’t looked back. Starting with hops the first year, their farm has grown to include thirty types of market garden vegetables, ten varieties of garlic, ninety-nine chickens, many ducks, three sheep, and two goats, as well as beehives. They sell their produce, as well as heritage-breed, pasture-raised eggs and their homemade hot sauces and honey, at GTHA farmers’ markets and their wide variety of hops to local and home brewers as well as herbalists. Their hops are used in beer, cider, and kombucha.
Chris and Alison follow regenerative and organic practices to bring the best produce to their customers – all of their farm animals are pasture-raised roaming freely around the farm, eating the weeds that grow in the hop yard and the produce that can’t be sold at markets, eliminating the need for chemical pesticides and reducing waste. They keep bees, with the help of a former OMAFRA apiculturist, to help pollinate their crops.
How do two city girls become farmers? Prior to buying the farm, Chris volunteered on other similar farms. Since then, they have learned a lot through trial and error and YouTube! They have gotten to know other farmers who frequent the same markets and are benefitting from the expertise of their shared community.
To Chris and Alison, community means supporting one another. They buy chicken feed from their neighbours. They regularly donate food to both St. Matthew’s House and Neighbour to Neighbour, both in Hamilton. Additionally, some of the markets they attend have food donation boxes where they will leave the produce they didn’t sell on that day. As their community supports them by buying their produce and hops, Chris and Alison support their community wherever possible, strengthening connections.
Check out what Lady Cone Hop Yard has to offer here!
A special thank you to our amazing policyholders who share our vision. We wouldn’t be the company that we are without you.
Stay tuned for next month’s blog when we feature more of our amazing policyholders!