Jenny Spring, owner of The Spring Farmer, is on a mission to bring healthy, organic, local food to Huntsville residents.
In its second season of growing, The Spring Farmer already has a loyal following. Its stand at the Huntsville Farmers’ Market sells out every week. Its CSA (community-supported agriculture) program sold out for the season with 30 families – who bought shares in the spring – collecting a weekly basket of produce. And there is strong demand from local restaurants and retailers – including Steamers Steakhouse at Deerhurst Resort, Café Wilgress, The Great Vine, Totem Juice Company, Farmer’s Daughter, Bartlett Lodge and Arowhon Pines – for daily fresh produce. All from a 1.5-acre leased farm, five downtown plots, and a 2,280-square-foot greenhouse. Jenny and her small team can barely keep up with demand.
Most of the long hours spent planting, harvesting, washing and selling is done by Jenny, her partner Oliver Wolfe and a summer intern – this year, Valentine from Toulouse, France joined them – with help from Jenny’s mom Mary, short-term staff in the spring, and volunteers. On the day that I spoke with Jenny and Oliver, Andrew Bridle, owner of the Pita Pit in Huntsville, was spending a day volunteering to learn more about their operations.
“It’s important for young people to run businesses. So many leave here and never come back. There’s lots of attention directed at tourism but that just creates a fake identity here. The reality is that locals can’t afford that lifestyle. We need to support year-round businesses that can employ people.”Jenny Spring
“People want to talk to their farmer,” said Spring. “It’s refreshing and we’re happy to educate people.” But like everything else in the life of an entrepreneur, it takes time. Time that they don’t have. Spring and Wolfe don’t just work the land. They do the books, make deliveries, and keep customers updated via social media and newsletters. “How can we do it all and be healthy ourselves? We need to grow to hire employees and be sustainable.” But that requires infrastructure. And infrastructure requires capital.
Efficient systems would have the largest impact on their growth. “With a good irrigation system, our crops would grow better and we wouldn’t have to water by hand. A greens harvester costs $2500 but it would save hours of work. So would a better seeder,” she said.
There’s also the issue of land. “I lease land because I can’t afford to buy it,” said Spring. “Locally, it can cost more than a million for decent-sized, ready-to-farm land. We are very lucky that a local man offered his farm for us to use. But we need to get infrastructure in place so we can make a profit to buy our own land.”
And that won’t just be good for them. “As soon as we can get to a sustainable point, we could provide income for several workers,” added Wolfe. “We just need a kickstart to get to a point where we aren’t scraping together money to get through the season.”
They’re modeling their plans in part on a similar-sized farming operation in Quebec, one that produces ten times what The Spring Farm is able to. “They are a 1.5-acre, intensive, organic farm. They have a 300-person CSA program – they feed a lot of people. But they got a big federal grant to help them get started.”
It’s at that level – local and federal government – where they’ve run into roadblocks. “As a young person, I don’t know how to access help,” said Spring. She contacted Muskoka Parry Sound MP Tony Clement’s office several times but it wasn’t until she called him out on social media platform Instagram that she got a reply and a meeting. “His first suggestion was that we try a bank loan. But I know there are federal grants for farmers, funding for agriculture. That’s the advice I was looking for.”
The Spring Farm also encountered roadblocks with local permits. “It took a really long time to get the permits needed to build the greenhouse. The town is very strict with policy and we felt like they tried to make it even harder.”
Spring doesn’t understand why young entrepreneurs in general and young farmers in particular don’t get more help from all levels of government. “It’s important for young people to run businesses. So many leave here and never come back. There’s lots of attention directed at tourism but that just creates a fake identity here. The reality is that locals can’t afford that lifestyle. We need to support year-round businesses that can employ people.”
The farm could run year-round, said Wolfe. “We don’t have to be seasonal. The greenhouse can grow crops from March through November and then we could grow microgreens and start seeds through the winter.” But that would require heating infrastructure to ward off the cold of a Muskoka winter.
They’re not complaining about their plight, though. They’ve chosen this lifestyle and recognize that all entrepreneurs face an uphill climb to success. “But we’re feeding people and keeping money local,” said Spring. “And we’re cutting down on food transportation costs. Those are all positive things for our local economy. Plus, the organic movement is growing – other young farmers contact us for advice so we know there are more coming. We just need support.”
We contacted the Muskoka-Parry Sound candidates for their responses to two questions: How do you think young entrepreneurs benefit the area? What is your party’s stance on helping young entrepreneurs, particularly those engaged in agriculture? Those who responded said:
Tony Clement, Conservative Party
I had the pleasure of meeting with The Spring Farmer while going door-to-door in Huntsville in mid-August. She explained her concerns, and I gave her some advice on where she could look for assistance, including talking with the Business Development Bank of Canada about possible funding. I know that the Conservative Government helped fund a Sustainable New Agri-Food Products program, which I understand The Spring Farmer was able to access last year to construct a new greenhouse. I also let her know that if I am re-elected, I would be more than pleased to help her find other opportunities to grow her business. And that goes for all our hard-working entrepreneurs, of any age, in any field. I know they are the backbone of our local economy. They will always have my full attention and support.
Trisha Cowie, Liberal Party
The story of The Spring Farm in providing produce that is nutritious, accessible and flavourful within North Muskoka is an excellent example of the importance of the efforts of young entrepreneurs such as Jenny Spring, both in fulfilling a dream and contributing to a vibrant economy.
So too is the support for her efforts shown by her business partners, volunteers, and other community organizations such as local farmers’ markets and the Muskoka North Good Food Co-op. Strong and sustainable communities are built on the combined efforts of entrepreneurs of all ages and from all sectors, and partnerships of volunteers and effective community organizations.
Entrepreneurs both young and old often require financial support when building or expanding their ventures. Jenny Spring’s initiative in accessing existing government programs for needed support for expansion speaks to the importance of such programs, as well as the need for both provincial and federal governments to continue them.
What is also essential to the success of entrepreneurs of all ages is a strong and vibrant economy in which start-up business can thrive and grow. Past experience shows that such an economy requires a strong middle class and opportunities for those who aspire to join that group.
That is why Justin Trudeau and a Liberal government will invest in families, so Canadians can make ends meet; and in infrastructure such as roads and bridges, so our commutes are faster and safer; and in clean energy, so we can ensure a sustainable environment for our children and grandchildren.
To achieve those goals, a Liberal government will:
Provide a $3 billion tax cut for the people who need it most by cutting the middle class tax rate by seven percent from 22 to 20.5% ;
Create a new Canada Child Benefit – one that’s simple, meaningful, monthly, tax-free, and fair. For example, a typical family of four, earning $90,000, will get a tax-free payment of $490 every month─ more than $2500 a year to that middle class family ─ tax-free.
A strong middle class is essential to a robust economy in which entrepreneurs of all ages and from all sectors can prosper.
Glen Hodgson, Green Party
The Green Party is the party for small business and new entrepreneurs. Small businesses employ most Canadians, and the economic impact of their success primarily remains in Canada – circulating dollars in the local economy.
An easily-accessible and integrated system for business development and growth must be made available in cities of all sizes in Canada to create the business climate that will entice home-grown entrepreneurs to stay.
The Green Party would establish a federally-funded Green Venture Capital Fund to support viable small local green business start-ups and set up a Green Venture Capital Funding Program providing matching federal funds for locally-raised venture capital upto a set limit per community.
We are particularly proud to be the one party that has always supported and encouraged local agriculture and we have a whole section of our platform devoted to reinvigorating and supporting local and small farmers in communities across this country.
For centuries, family farms were the foundation of our society and economy. Over the last five decades, federal policies, subsidies, and changing technologies have shifted food production from small ecologically-sustainable family farms to giant agribusinesses. This shift has given multinational corporations control over our food supply. Meanwhile, farmers increasingly rely on off-farm income to survive.
People need healthy food and the healthiest food choices are local. With growing concerns over economic and climatic instability, a reliable domestic food supply is essential. Family-owned and operated farms of small to medium size constitute the most reliable, high quality, and economical food production system, now and into our uncertain future.
Green Party MPs will develop a National Agricultural and Food Policy which will support the ‘200 kilometre diet’ and locally grown food through expansion of farmers’ markets and local culinary tourism activities. We will enable local areas without industrial-scale agriculture to develop area-specific food safety regulations meeting national standards without placing undue financial burdens on local farmers and food processors and assist in re-establishing the architecture of local food production in canneries, slaughterhouses, and other value-added food processing.
We would also encourage and support the consumption of locally-grown food by promoting adequate shelf space in grocery chains for products from local farms and local food processors.