KAWARTHA LAKES-John Stinson used to spend his days behind a computer screen as a software engineer. Now he spends much of his time toiling in the fields of his family farm and loves every minute of it.
“I finish a day of work and wow my body aches, whether I was digging ditches for irrigation or pulling weeds, I love it, I’m in better shape and I spend more time outside.” Stinson explains.
Brandeston Farm has been in the Stinson Family for 155 years. John Stinson says as times changed so did the farm and his parent’s generation did not work the land. He had no intention of doing so either until 2017 when he began doing some research on farming.
“My schooling was different. I went to post-secondary school for math and computer science. I was a software engineer for ten years when in 2019 I took a leave of absence for 7 months from my job to focus on this.”
John and his parents, who are now retired, decided to give a large scale garden a shot. The farm is 100 acres located on County Road 8 between Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon.
“My mom is more into gardening than my dad, they both definitely see the productive use of the land as a net positive, it feels good.”
The Stinsons decided on the Community Supported Agriculture model. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way to support your local farmers by purchasing a share of the harvest at the beginning of the growing season. This program spreads the risk more evenly between farmers and consumers and helps farmers plan for the growing season. For Stinson and his parents, it also means they can give back to the community.
“Our intent was to overproduce so we could give a substantial amount of fresh produce to local food banks,” Stinson told Kawartha 411 News. “In a nutshell, we strive to sell produce to those who can afford it, so we can give it to those who can’t.”
In 2019 Brandeston Farm donated about 1,500lbs of fresh produce to our local food banks, in 2020 their donations reached 2,400lbs, and in 2021 they donated 4,000lbs of fresh produce to Kawartha Lakes Food Source.(KLFS)
“KLFS greatly appreciates the fresh produce donated by Brandeston Farm!” said Heather Kirby, KLFS. “Their donations are the largest fresh produce we receive! They are consistent each week during the growing season and provide a variety of vegetables for our food bank member clients to enjoy. With the high price of fresh food, this donation helps ensure that everyone has something fresh to eat. KLFS truly appreciates their continued support.”
Stinson says it is a lot of extra work but worth it to see the difference it makes.
“It feels great, even better when you are the one to drive it to the foodbank and see people who need it, it’s very important to see”.
Their produce is sold at the Kinmount Farmers Market and through the CSA subscription program. You can sign up for weekly or biweekly deliveries of fresh, in-season produce for ten or twenty weeks. Items include lettuce, carrots, radish, herbs, microgreens, squash, onion, tomato, swiss chard, pumpkins and more.
This year the hope is to finally be able to hire some staff and expand the operation.
“If this year goes according to our model we plan to expand, taking what we are doing now and scaling it out in all directions. We also want to provide meaningful, dignified employment, we are committed to providing a living wage. Creating a good place to work is important to me.” Stinson says.
Stinson is thankful he is able to continue to work part-time as a software engineer in order to provide a source of income to keep the farm growing. Having to take out a loan to get things going would make it substantially more challenging he says.
Another strong suit that’s kept them going is planning ahead.
“This fertilizer shortage we are seeing now was anticipated last year. The war in Ukraine has added a new dimension but there was anticipation that there would be a shortage last year.”
Stinson says they don’t use those types of fertilizer, they use compost, but with a lack of traditional fertilizer, compost could become more in demand and thus more expensive.
“Anticipating that means we ordered for this year, trying to get ahead of the challenges.”
According to Stats Canada there are a lot of challenges. In 2016 Statscan found the median sales for farms reporting direct marketing (CSA model)was $20,000, as farms with lower sales sold directly to consumers more often than farms with higher sales.
12.7% of all farms reported selling directly to consumers. Of the 24,510 farms that sold directly to consumers, 96.1% sold unprocessed food products like fruits and eggs, and 14.4% sold value-added products like wine and cheese. The most commonly reported methods of direct marketing were farm gate sales, stands, kiosks, or U-pick, which accounted for 89.4% of farms reporting. Farmers’ markets were reported by 22.0% of those with direct marketing, while 5.2% used Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives and 3.8% used other methods.
For more information on Brandeston Farm or for a subscription for this year click here:https://www.brandestonfarm.ca