Cultivating their history: the region’s farms ready to welcome visitors with open arms again


This year was the first full Easter weekend in the past three years that Chappell Farms has been able to open the farm gates to visitors.

“Last year we bought, prepped and hired and we were open for one day and it was totally closed,” Pauline Chappell said.

Some long family-run farms, like Chappells, where a huge granite sign over its entrance states it was established in 1834, have made a business of welcoming visitors and providing experiences.

Although the pandemic is not yet over, local amusement and experience farms have found ways to welcome visitors back.

Keith Currie, a Collingwood-area farmer who is active with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, says these experiences help connect urban populations to rural land use. They provide this important link, which is also linked to education, while finding new sources of income.

Simcoe County farms offering products and experiences attract businesses from larger local communities, such as Barrie and Orillia, but also attract visitors from the Greater Toronto Area.

“It’s an opportunity to not only entertain the public, but also a really key educational component, because people can come and touch and feel and also can ask questions about what’s going on on the farm,” Currie said. “It gives people the ability to actually see how things work.”

The pandemic, he added, has drawn attention to food security and this has led many people to seek out local produce, connecting with local suppliers. This, in turn, prompted some farms to adapt to new conditions and requirements.

“Farmers are really happy to share their story,” he said.

Nicholyn Farms, which was busy over the weekend with turkey and market sales, is also reopening to visitors in June after a two-year hiatus.

“We like to show people where their food comes from,” owner Lynda Van Casteren said, pointing to the cattle in the pasture, the chickens in their mobile coop and the produce growing in the diverse farm’s geodome on Horseshoe. Valley Road. “And we love having kids here who are really interested in seeing how things grow and learning about the environment.

“And then they come into the market building to see how things move from the fields to the shelves,” she added.

As a farmers market, Nicholyn has seen a change during the pandemic as many have sought to source locally.

And although Nicholyn offered delivery, Van Casteren found many people wanted to go out and collect their own food and curbside sales increased. So the Minesing-area farm adapted to changing demand by moving its ice cream and hot food service to a separate building outside, where it has remained.

“We found that we gained new customers, new ambassadors who follow the local trend,” she said. “I think people support the local and they’re happy to do that. »

Simcoe County is a large area that offers an interesting mix of rural and urban areas. The result is that area farms are, for the most part, within easy driving distance of large pockets of people, said Ruth Walker Scott, experience development coordinator for Tourism Simcoe County.

Many made this discovery during the pandemic when travel was banned and grocery store shelves were emptied.

“People are maybe more aware of what we have to offer,” Walker Scott said. “Consumers’ minds shifted almost immediately, thinking locally about where their food comes from.”

In addition to experiences and sales of farm-grown produce, many provide fresh and other produce that they sell at their farm markets year-round.

And they also partner with community organizations, get involved with various groups, help with fundraisers, and cross-promote with other businesses.

Flowers have proven to be an attraction in recent years with the addition of lavender and wildflower farms. Some of the fun farms have also added sunflowers, providing what Walker Scott calls “instagram-able” moments for visitors.

“Although they have fairly short growing seasons, they tend to welcome people to come picnicking, you can purchase the lavender infused products which have been made in partnership with other growers in the area” , said Walker Scott. “People have recognized that sunflowers are really people-friendly, so you have a number of farms dotted around that plant specifically for that.”

Back at Chappell Farms in Crown Hill, which is highly visible from the southbound lanes of Highway 11 as it merges with Highway 400 north of Barrie, the gates are closed after the Easter event as the family prepares for the sowing season and summer events. This year they are adding sunflowers, hoping for a beautiful sunflower garden this summer.

The farm plans to open its animals, playgrounds and wagon rides to visitors daily from July 2 until the end of Labor Day weekend. The Chappells then close for four days to move into their fall activities which include a large, colorful pumpkin patch, again welcoming visitors until the end of October.


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