Thursday, 11 June 2009

21st century farming

I've mentioned before that I grew up on a farm.

It was a fairly standard western-Canadian farm, as far as I could tell. We grew stuff; we shipped it out to customers by rail or truck; we grew more stuff. (And by "we", I mean my dad, his dad, and his dad before him - a real family farm. I helped out, but was never farmer material.)

And, from fairly early, it was clear that my little* brother was the most likely successor. Mom and Dad never put any expectations on us to become farmers - it's not the kind of business that anybody should be pressured into. But John was such a natural.

Four or five years ago, after studying various farming techniques at college, he returned to the farm to practice his trade. I remember hearing from Mom and Dad that John had some interesting ideas. I remember hearing that things were a little different on the farm.

But it wasn't until last year, when Deena, Kaia, and I were in Canada for several months over the summer, that I realized how much John had done.

He started growing flowers. And rather than bringing his product to the customers, like 99% of farmers do, he set up a U-pick business to bring customers to the product.

He created mazes to attract people out to the site. He started holding festivals - Lily Festivals and Pumpkin Festivals - to promote the farm.

Last summer, over the weekend of the Lily Festival, there were more people visited the farm than the entire population of Bowden, the nearest town. Several times over.

People hear John on the radio and see him in the paper - he's always promoting the farm.

He's joined local and regional farm tourism groups to further promote his operation and that of other local producers.

He's cranked up the farm's web presence with a major website, Google ads, and now a blog.

He's even getting his family in on the operation. I helped out at the Lily Festival last year. And here I am, giving him a big plug on my blog. I do this in full appreciation of the fact that he gets more people visiting him in person than I get visiting this blog in a whole year. I'm not going to swamp him with extra visitors.

But that's okay. I'm basically just doing this to brag about my brother. Farming these days isn't what it used to be, and isn't that grand!

Just in case it begins to sound like John is the only innovator on the farm, I'd like to point out that it was Dad who, not long ago, shifted the focus of the potato-growing operation from a more conventional bulk business to a mail-order, internet-driven operation catering to gardeners across Canada who want to grow specialty varieties of potatoes. John is an amazing entrepreneur, and he comes from a generations-long tradition of business-savvy and adaptable folks.

* Little as in younger. It has been several years since I, at 6'3" (191cm), was taller than either of my younger brothers.

Photo credits:

All photos from the Eagle Creek Farms website. I'm assuming I have permission to reproduce them for the purposes of bragging about the farm.

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