The Produce Made Simple Ambassadors headed north in October! This time they took a trip to the Holland Marsh, the largest area of organic (muck) soil developed for agriculture in the province and one of the most intensive areas of agricultural production in the country. The day consisted of touring three facilities – Muck Crops Research Station, University of Guelph; Springh Farms; and Gwillimdale Farms – followed by a delicious vegan/vegetarian meal enjoyed in a restored 100-year-old barn on the Gwillimdale Farms property.
Located near Bradford, ON, and within one hour’s drive to Canada’s largest metropolitan area, this incredibly unique location was well worth the visit. Here’s a little more about what we learned:
Why does the Holland Marsh Matter to Me?
It may surprise many Canadians to learn that we are net importers of food*, making us reliant on global supply chains. The Holland Marsh is of vital importance to Ontario’s food security and economy because it supplies us with a vast quantity of high-quality vegetables, almost year-round. In the Holland Marsh, there are over 200 farms, including an emerging greenhouse sector. Agriculture from the Holland Marsh accounted for $306.5 million in 2016 (farm cash receipts).
What is grown in the Holland Marsh?
The rich muck soil of the area is well suited to growing root vegetables including carrots, onions, beets and parsnips. Additional greens including celery, cabbage, lettuces, kale and Chinese vegetables grow successfully in the Holland Marsh, as well as other products.
It is amazing that within the area of the Holland Marsh, over 56% of Canada’s requirement for carrots is produced each year, and over 60% of Ontario’s onion crop. This equates to almost $30 million dollars’ worth of carrots and almost $21 million dollars’ worth of onions – at farm gate, not retail! Consumers can buy these locally grown vegetables at large grocery store chains, independent grocers, foodservice establishments and a small amount is also distributed through farmer’s markets and community food box programs. Some of the crops grown are also processed, into products like soups, stews and baked goods, and others are exported.
Ontario grown root vegetables from the Holland Marsh are available for about 8 months of each year, and greenhouse grown vegetables for about 10 months of each year.
Where is the Holland Marsh?
Many Canadians think of the Holland Marsh as the area they can see when they drive through Highway 400, but much of the area lies beyond what you can see from the road. The farmland that makes up the Holland Marsh is located across two counties and among five townships: King, East Gwillimbury and Georgina in York Region and Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil in Simcoe County.
Impact on our Economy
Farms, and the upstream and downstream businesses associated with them through the value chain are major employers in the Holland Marsh. In the area, total agricultural employment grew 7% from 2011 to 2016, accounting for over 2,800 jobs.
Get to know the Growers
Many farms are managed by 2nd and 3rd generation families who have developed sophisticated businesses with diverse technical skills and significant capital investment over the years.
Increasingly, more women are becoming farm operators in the Holland Marsh. While men still make up the majority of farm operators, the ratio has decreased over the last ten years from 8:1 to 5:1. And while the census may assign the role to a male operator, in reality many businesses are jointly managed by female and male partners.
The business of food extends to research before anything is planted, and extends past harvest into storage, packing, processing and shipping. The Holland Marsh benefits from enablers including the Muck Crops Research Station operated by the University of Guelph, as well as services supplied by The Bradford Co-op which provides centralized warehouse and shipping for over 75 years. Partnerships with government also have a role; for example, the Holland Marsh Drainage System is a public-private collaboration to effectively maintain and manage the Holland Marsh drainage system sustainably.
A unique location!
The relationship between the lowlands of the Holland Marsh and nearby Lake Simcoe is unique and mutually beneficial. Plus, Holland Marsh is within one hour’s drive to Canada’s largest metropolitan area and the greatest concentration of affluent consumers for products. While this is an asset to the industry, it also means that urban encroachment will continue to be a challenge. The population in the Holland Marsh area grew by almost 13% from 2011 to 2016. This is significantly more than the 4% average growth rate across Ontario in the same period. Preserving the rich farmland for high value crop production while allowing communities to grow and flourish will be a challenge. Communities need to share the roads with farmers who require timely access to fields, staff and equipment to ensure quality is maintained for perishable crops.
Thank you again to our industry partners who shared their time and knowledge with us, and who welcomed us into their businesses!
- Muck Crops Research Station, University of Guelph
- Springh Farms
- Gwillimdale Farms
- Holland Marsh Growers Association