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A local legacy: Andrews Scenic Acres

Profiling the next generation of owners of a well-known pick-your-own operation.


January 27, 2020
By Julienne Isaacs

Topics
The business includes field crops including rhubarb, sweet corn and pumpkins, as well as a farm store. Photos courtesy of Andrews Scenic Acres.

When Bert and Lauraine Andrews bought their farm in Halton Hills, Ont., in 1980, the advertisement noted it was “in need of some repair.”

“The barn fell down before we were able to take it down,” Bert Andrews reminisces.

The duo rolled up their sleeves, rebuilt the barn and added a second – and over the next 37 years they also built a legacy. Forty years after the couple signed the deed on Andrews Scenic Acres, the famous pick-your-own operation is still running.

Fruit & Vegetable magazine profiled Andrews Scenic Acres in 1991. At that time, the business included pick-your-own flowers and berry crops, including strawberries and other berry crops, and field crops including rhubarb, sweet corn and pumpkins, as well as a farm store.

The Andrews family added the Scotch Block winery – now called Andrews’ Winery – in 1999, which produces wines and ciders from the farm’s own berries, grapes, apples and currants.

In 2017, after 37 years, the farm was sold to David and Jenny Tang. The sale was years in the making, Andrews says.

“It’s difficult to buy a farm in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and run a relatively small business, because the business can struggle to pay for the value of the land, so it was a hard sell for a few years.”

“It’s difficult to buy a farm in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and run a relatively small business, because the business can struggle to pay for the value of the land, so it was a hard sell for a few years.”

The Tangs had business rather than farming experience when they bought the farm, says farm manager Matt Setzkorn, so they kept on many of the original staff members to ease the transition and keep the operation running smoothly.

Setzkorn, who has worked at Andrews Scenic Acres for nine years, says the Tangs were a great fit for the operation. “The Andrews family were waiting and waiting for someone who would have the heart, business and passion – as well as the resources – to keep the business going,” he says.

Although the ownership of Andrews Scenic Acres has changed, its focus remains the same – it’s one of few pick-your-own operations in the area, according to store manager Lorraine Fiset. While nearby operations have put a focus on entertainment, adding festival features like rides, Andrews Scenic Acres has kept its focus on the produce itself.

“We really want to keep that family farm feeling,” she says.

Matt Setzkorn, the farm’s manager, says being active on social media is an important way to engage with customers and give them new reasons to come out to the farm.

The farm offers educational tours to school groups and corporate events.

Back to basics

While Andrews Scenic Acres has stayed true to its original vision, regional market demands have shifted, and keeping track of the trends while looking for creative ways to build the operation’s value is a big focus for the farm’s team, Setzkorn says.

“A major change from 1980 is that in the early days, people would come out to the farm and pick buckets and buckets of berries. That’s not the case anymore – people are not in the habit of picking that kind of quantity,” he says.

Around the time the Tangs took over farm ownership, the provincial minimum wage increased, which added to financial pressures for many fruit and vegetable farms in the area, including Andrews Scenic Acres.

To cope, Andrews cut staff by almost half, although the farm retains a core team that includes long-term seasonal workers from Mexico who return every growing season, as well as a small team of year-round staff.

Farm manager Matt Setzkorn and fellow farm workers at Andrews Scenic Acres.

They also eliminated some of their rented acreage and reduced the number of weekly farmers’ markets they participate in from eight to just two.

“We’ve gotten out of wholesale sales entirely, and we’re really pulling everything back to the core of what we do with pick-your-own and the direct market sales,” Setzkorn says. “I think it’s healthy for us as a business to do things more efficiently and get back to basics.”

“I think it’s healthy for us as a business to do things more efficiently and get back to basics.”

The team implemented another change: Bert and Lauraine had begun charging admission during the autumn, but the Andrews team opted to charge admission throughout the picking season.

It was hard for some long-time customers to accept the change, Fiset says, but most eventually came around to the idea.

“It comes back to education, explaining why we do what we do on the farm,” she says. “It’s really important for us to educate the public on how their food is produced. At the same time, we want to be able to keep prices low on the produce and baked goods. People are starting to understand that.”

It’s not just produce that visitors walk away with: Andrews also tries to provide the best experience possible. Guests get free tractor rides to the fields, and the farm is so picturesque that many visitors come for the sole purpose of taking selfies in the sunflowers.

Guests get free tractor rides to the fields.

The farm is quite picturesque that many visitors come for the sole purpose of taking selfies in the sunflowers.

With fewer staff on the ground, there are fewer hands to restore order to the farm after visitors have left, but Setzkorn says this year the admission fees contributed almost a quarter of the farm’s revenue, which will help Andrews improve visitor experience over the long-term.

“If we want to keep farms like this in our communities there is a need to cover the costs associated with that,” he adds.

The business includes pick-your-own flowers and berry crops including strawberries and other berry crops.

Andrews Scenic Acres was first profiled in the March 1991 issue, highlighting the diverse ways the pick-your-own berry operation generates income.

The way forward

While Andrews Scenic Acres looks much the same as it always has, there’s another important way things have changed.

“One thing we’ve learned in the past couple of years is that to get people to get out to the farm, you’ve got to be really active on social media, engage with your customers and supporters and give them new reasons to come out to the farm,” Setzkorn says. “It’s not just strawberry picking, it’s line-dancing on Saturday afternoon.”

“One thing we’ve learned in the past couple of years is that to get people to get out to the farm, you’ve got to be really active on social media, engage with your customers and supporters and give them new reasons to come out to the farm,” Setzkorn says. “It’s not just strawberry picking, it’s line-dancing on Saturday afternoon.”

Fiset says one experiment in social media marketing – drop-in “toddler Tuesdays” for stay-at-home parents looking for kid-friendly social activities in the area – paid off exponentially, with more than 100 toddlers and their parents dropping by one week.

Social media marketing helps Andrews target their ideal audience among millions of potential customers in the GTA. The farm also offers educational tours to school groups and corporate events. Diversification, with all activities rooted in farm production, has helped Andrews raise its bottom line while keeping its focus.

“It’s pretty special being at this farm having such a long history. Every generation is coming back to relive that farming experience or reconnect with the land. It’s nice to be that community hub for so many families and groups in the area,” Setzkorn says.

As Andrews builds equity, the team has big dreams for where they can take the business in the future, he adds. “It’s exciting to be at the early stages of building on what Bert and Lauraine have done, and looking forward to say, ‘This farm has a future – maybe another 40 years!’”

For Bert and Lauraine Andrews, retirement represents a new set of challenges and rewards, but they look back with gratitude on their days on the farm as well as the people who made it possible.

“I feel very humbled to have been able to be a part of a legacy at Andrews Scenic Acres,” Andrews says. “It was a team effort over the years, consisting of high school and university students including our own children, and temporary workers through the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

“Only with our fantastic staff over the years have we been able to provide an ongoing legacy,” he says.