Variety keeps grower
With a kaleidoscope of berries and
vegetables, the fields at Sovereign Farms are a contrast to the
blue-green sea of cabbage, tobacco and ginseng that surround them in
the heart of Norfolk County in southern Ontario.
August 11, 2009 Waterford, Ont. – With a kaleidoscope of berries and vegetables, the fields at Sovereign Farms are a contrast to the blue-green sea of cabbage, tobacco and ginseng that surround them in the heart of Norfolk County in southern Ontario.
“Part of the trick to being a small producer,” instructs Brenda Sovereign, “is to find things to grow that are different.”
Over 15 years, they have built up a small greenhouse operation – currently a little under a half a hectare – where they grow several varieties of tomatoes. About three-quarters of them are sold wholesale, but Sovereign would like to see that change, keeping more of the money in their own pockets and cultivating face-to-face relationships with customers.
“The more you can sell direct to the public, the better off you are.”
She is a straight-talking businesswoman: matter-of-fact about the ups and downs of financing a small, multi-faceted operation. Pragmatic and upbeat, her sense of humour follows us through the Waterford, Ont., farm as I scramble to keep pace with her long-legged stride.
“We tried strawberries for five years,” she says of a bare, low-lying patch of ground between the raspberries and the vegetable fields. “We lost money three or four years in a row.”
With the field under water last year, she looked at the cost of production and decided to pull the berries out. “They just weren’t pulling their weight.”
She points out poblano peppers, grown at the request of a chocolatier in Toronto. Another chef customer saved seeds from espelette hot peppers, now growing here amid other varieties. “He wanted just five or six bushels, but he gave me enough seed for a few acres,” she says with a laugh.
Stepping over the rows, she identifies the unusual and the benign: bird peppers that turn from black to red when they mature and are hot enough to ward off all but the most cavalier of capsicum lovers; variegated fish peppers with their mottled leaves and fruit; fiery cherry bombs, jalapenos and habaneros, alongside a range of sweet peppers that are still waiting for the heat of summer to give them a burst of growth.
Black, red, yellow, pink and striped green heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries, yellow, green and purple beans, yellow and green zucchini, and a spherical eight-ball zucchini, squash, watermelon and gourds – the Sovereigns have planted most of these weekly in this sandy soil, relying on composted manure from a neighbouring horse farm for nutrients, and black plastic mulch to help retain precious water in the soil.
Last year, they had a hard time keeping up with the demand for their vegetables. This year, they planted more, taking them to three markets in Toronto and sending them with other vendors to three more in Cambridge, Kitchener and Hamilton.
Each wave of vegetables will introduce an unusual and colourful spectrum of produce to their market tables, and create more dialogue between the farmers and the increasing number of people who want to support local farms.
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