WHO: Gregory & Victoria Boyd
WHERE: Southeast of Langton
Gregory Boyd has always wanted to be a farmer. As the sixth generation of Boyds to live and work there since 1873, he returned to his family’s Century Farm from the University of Guelph with his BSc degree and a dream. Unwilling to grow tobacco as his grandfather had done, and not seeing a sustainable future in the grain crops the farm currently produces, Greg researched the viability of growing fresh fruits and vegetables without the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides, and selling them directly to local consumers . Three years ago he carved six and a half acres for himself from the farm’s two hundred and fifty, and began to plant the first of the twenty-eight varieties he now grows.
Aware of the popularity of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in other areas, he decided to offer this option to local consumers in 2010. His weekly boxes, packed with the help of his wife Victoria (and anyone else on the farm he can conscript), and brimming with the best of the week’s harvest, are delivered to subscribers in the immediate vicinity of the farm or taken to the Simcoe market for pick-up. The immediate success of the program, doubling from 20 customers in the first year to 40 this season, has come as a pleasant surprise even to Greg, who hopes to expand his customer base to 75 or even 100 boxes each week within five years. Although the boxes are a priority, he attends the Simcoe Farmers Market each Thursday, and the Tillsonburg Farmers Market Saturday mornings, to sell the rest of his fresh produce. He hopes to extend his delivery area to other areas in Norfolk eventually, but his over-riding goal is to “stay as local as we can”.
Greg acknowledges the help he received from his family in getting his operation off the ground. The free labour and steadfast support of his wife and parents have been crucial to what has essentially been a one-man effort. Victoria, his wife of three years, has been especially instrumental in growing his business. She has assumed responsibility for the customer relations aspect, producing a newsletter, e-mailing their client list each week, handling the telephone and making deliveries. Twelve-hour days and seven-day weeks are the norm this time of year, as it takes constant vigilance to tend the plants and stay ahead of the weeds and pests, so Greg has little time to spend with his young family. This summer Greg is delighted to have been able to hire a summer student through the aid of a federal government employment program. The extra pair of hands in the field has been invaluable.
While pleased with his success thus far, Greg has faced many challenges establishing his business. In addition to the constant battle with weeds, bugs and raccoons, he has had to learn the intricacies of promotion, direct-to-consumer marketing and the fair and adequate pricing of his product. What crops to plant, which varieties, in what quantity, and the vagaries of consumer taste – all have contributed to what has been a steep learning curve in three short years. Farming so intensively in such a relatively small area is a challenge in itself, but Greg believes it is possible to produce a lot of food on little land if the operation is ‘hands-on’ and you are able to sell directly to your clientele.
Although he is young and quiet-spoken, Greg is seriously passionate about what he does. He gets up every morning convinced that his hard work is worthwhile and that he is building a business with a future. Not strictly an organic farmer, Greg nonetheless believes in producing food as naturally as he can. Unfortunately, the manure and compost he uses is not yet sufficient to provide his sandy Norfolk County soil with the nutrients necessary to grow a satisfactory crop, so he must still supplement with chemical fertilizers. Overall, though, his goal is to build a clientele based upon trust that he is providing them with the healthiest product possible, consistent with, in his words “the way I want to eat and live myself”.
Somewhat frustrating for Greg is the lack of sufficient time in which to further his continuing study into natural, sustainable methods of growing food, to research available varieties or do the advance planning he feels is necessary for the continued improvement of his operation. In time, he hopes to be able to employ two or three people. The time left after hiring, training and supervision would leave him freer to focus on the bigger picture. In the meantime, his ingenuity stands him in good stead. As an example, because he has yet to come up with a better method, he has devised his own way of getting rid of the potato beetles eager to decimate his crop. “I use a leaf blower to get them to the end of the row and then hit them with the propane torch”. Unconventional maybe, but it does the job.
For his vision of the future of agriculture in Norfolk County, Greg looks to the past. The emphasis on tobacco, a “chemically intense” crop, has had ramifications for the health of the soil. The current prevalence of grain crops, which require large open fields, has led to the elimination of many of the hedgerows that used to preserve the light, sandy soil from erosion. If our future food security is important, and Greg believes it is, Norfolk has the potential to be a significant resource. “The climate here is conducive to growing food crops”, Greg says, but “we have to think about going back to the way things used to be”. The old mixed farming model is the key to sustainability, he believes. The symbiosis of livestock and food crops, in regular rotation, keeps the soil nourished and healthy and leads to optimum yields. He says “raising consumer awareness is an ongoing challenge”, but clearly believes it will ultimately lead to increased demand for healthy, sustainable, fresh –and therefore local – food, the kind he is happy to supply.
When asked, Greg has no suggestions to make about current agricultural policy. He is grateful for the federal program that has provided him with his student helper, and hopes the program will continue to be there for small operators like him who otherwise would not be able to afford to employ help.
Greg says he “likes growing stuff” and finds it “rewarding to grow things to eat for satisfied customers”. He believes in a “prudent, constructive approach” to his business. Since it is not at present his only source of income, (he shares in the work and proceeds of the larger farm) he can afford to continue the “slow and steady growth” that was his vision, but he hopes that eventually Heritage Lane Produce can become his primary focus and provide a living for him and his growing family. Last fall Gregory and Victoria became the proud parents of a son, Connor. Perhaps a seventh generation of Boyd farmers is in the making. Meanwhile, Gregory will continue to offer his Norfolk County customers the best fresh food he can produce.
More Information: Heritage Lane Produce (link to partner listing)