Glenna, Doug and Travis Price
Most days you’ll find young Travis Price tending his roadside market at the entrance to the family property. His friendly, upbeat personality can make your day! He’s happy to tell you his is the first farm market you’ll encounter on Highway 3 traveling between Niagara and Norfolk.
Travis has diplomas in International Business, Niagara College, and Small Business Management from Mohawk College in Hamilton, and he has taken a welding course and has his Chemical License that certifies him to handle sprays. But his heart is on the family farm, where he believes he has found his life’s calling growing and selling what he can produce from the soil.
Doug and Glenna Price were already operating a successful business, Quick Stitch Embroidery in Simcoe, when they bought this fifty-acre former fur farm twenty-three years ago. They had two young sons at the time, and wanted to raise their children in a rural setting. Both of them had grown up on or around farms, and in spite of the hard work involved, they were left with many happy memories. Doug’s dad grew cauliflower on their family’s farm, and he helped out from an early age. Glenna’s mom worked on tobacco farms, and when she wasn’t in the fields she cooked for the harvesters. Glenna herself remembers working hard for a quarter a day, but says, “We always had fun”.
Soon after she and Doug moved to their own farm Glenna gave birth to a daughter, Caitlin. Their older son, Jared, now 27, drives transport, but he lives in a nearby farmhouse and is home most weekends. Caitlin, 22, works as a waitress and lives off the farm. She, too, is often at home on the weekends. When they are around they pitch in with whatever needs doing. Doug isn’t complaining when he says there’s usually a “crowd” around the table for weekend meals. He seems to like it that way.
In the early days of owning their current property the Prices experimented with livestock – not too successfully to hear them tell it. They are hilarious when they tell of Glenna’s goose-raising project. She bought a small flock of Egyptian geese from a breeder, but he neglected to tell her these geese could fly – and fly they did! Glenna is convinced they flew right back to the breeder who sold them again (and maybe several times for all she knows). Doug says, “Glenna probably bought the same ones twice”. According to Travis any other animals they tried to raise quickly became “pets”. Now the farm’s “livestock” consists of only the family’s two dogs.
Initially Doug and Glenna grew a vegetable garden only to supply the needs of the family. But, as a “hobby”, Doug and a friend decided to plant an extra acre in vegetables and sell the produce on Saturdays at the Silver Lake Market in Port Dover. From the age of twelve, Travis eagerly helped out. At the age of sixteen, when he could drive himself there, he took over the market stall completely. By that time, their friend was no longer involved and it had become strictly a family enterprise. Three years ago they gave up their stall at Silver Lake and established their own roadside operation, which is run pretty much exclusively by Travis. It’s his pride and joy.
At the present time, forty-five of the Prices’ fifty acres are rented out. Of the remaining five, three acres are currently in production to supply the market and the needs of the family. Their crops are: onions, garlic, leeks, zucchini, beans, winter squashes, cucumbers, beets, peppers, dill, basil and tomatoes. Glenna’s particular interest is heirloom tomatoes, and she grows ten varieties. This year Travis grew flower and vegetable plants to sell as well. Doug has put in solar panels on some of their property, and he is happy with that experiment so far.
Prices’ regular customers come from as far as Kitchener, Niagara and Hamilton to buy their fresh Norfolk County produce. A dealer from the Niagara area comes to them to supply her own market stall, and many of their customers buy things like tomatoes and cucumbers by the bushel for home canning. Anything on offer at their market they don’t grown themselves – mainly fruit and potatoes – they source from other local farmers.
In addition to fresh produce, Travis sells his mother’s delicious pickles and other preserves. The pickles are so good some folks buy them by the case. Lately Glenna has been experimenting with various gourmet combinations for her jams and has come up with some delicious blends. She makes them with natural pectin, so they contain much less sugar than ordinary jam. There is a fully-equipped kitchen in one of their outbuildings which is used for all the preserving. Excess bounty from the garden is also cooked and processed here for family needs and goes into one of their three large freezers.
Most of the work of the farm is handled by Travis and his mom and dad. On weekends they are happy to enlist the help of Jared, Caitlin or whoever else is around. When they talk about their marathon preserving, cooking and freezer-packing sessions, they sound as though they manage to make it all great fun. Glenna and Doug say they are both happy that “nothing goes to waste; it all gets used”.
Even after thirty years as owners of a thriving small business, when asked about their most memorable successes their thoughts go immediately to the farm. Travis and his dad say success for them was when they sold their first tomatoes and beets. “We were so excited. We made some money, and that convinced us to keep going”, they say. Glenna agrees, but for her, having raised three kids and only once having had to resort to antibiotics is a success in itself, a fact which she attributes to good wholesome food, and the healthy farm environment.
The challenges the Prices face are those of any farmer. There’s no controlling the weather, and they, too, have to struggle with extremes of wet and dry. Their soil is clay, which means in wet weather they must deal with mud – thick, sticky, sink-to-the-boot-tops gumbo – which sometimes makes it impossible to get onto the fields. The last three summers have been exceptionally dry. This year Travis has lost the whole quarter-acre of corn he put in due to drought. Theirs is a small operation, so improvements when they come have to be made slowly. Travis dreams of being able to install tiling to drain the soil and eventually digging a pond for irrigation during dry spells. Of course, there are insect issues as well. Doug reports they have begun using parasitic wasps as a solution to the tomato hornworm problem, but they still must spray their other crops to ensure their yield. A lot of what they’ve learned has been by trial and error. This tried and true technique leads to losses sometimes, but “every loss is a learning opportunity”, they say.
In spite of all difficulties they seem exceptionally content with life as it is. For Travis, it’s all about the people. “I love dealing with people”, he says enthusiastically. “Some days you only have two customers, others, a hundred. Some customers are difficult, but most aren’t. It makes me happy when my customers are happy.” He says he loves the fact that “I’m learning all the time”. He has been with the same young woman for four years, and in spite of his relatively young age he says, “As long as I’m alive I’ll be farming this land and, I hope, so will my children and my children’s children” – a positive message for those worried about young farmers staying on the land and the implications for future food security.
As for their vision of the future of farming here in Norfolk, Travis puts it well when he says, “Small farming is going to be a big thing”. Like other farmers, the Prices worry about competition from cheap imports, but Travis is convinced consumer awareness of the benefits of local, seasonal, healthy food is growing and he believes it will continue to grow. He clearly intends to be positioned to supply some of this growing demand.
Besides possibly dealing with the issue of cheap imports, Doug hopes the Ministry of Agriculture will step up inspection of imported produce. Scares concerning contaminated fruits and vegetables, especially ‘organic’ fruits and vegetables, causing food-borne illnesses, make consumers rightfully wary of what they are buying.
Farming may not be an easy way of life, but meeting and talking with Travis Price and his parents could easily convince a person it’s the best way of life. These folks embrace hard work and tackle it with enviable enthusiasm and energy. They meet the inevitable challenges with a wonderful sense of humour and optimism. Overall, they love their life and it shows. If they could only bottle these qualities and sell them at their roadside market just about everyone would want some.