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Holland Marsh farmers ready to 'wake up the land' after long winter

'I love the feeling of a new season because I can help provide food for my community and know that the work we are doing is helping the community eat healthy,' says local farmer

Bradford West Gwillimbury is commonly referred to as ‘’the salad bowl of Canada" for its rich, fertile soil that produces some of the county’s freshest produce.

Home to many hard-working farmers, the Holland Marsh has 7,000 acres of prime agricultural land, with more than 125 farms and 60 crops grown every season that supplies most of Simcoe County.

Avia Eek of Eek Farms is passionate about the specialty crop area. With spring now here, she hopes this upcoming season’s weather is not too hot or too dry, that the windy conditions co-operate with temperatures, and that the weather works in their favour.

"Past seasons have been moderately challenging, but that is farming — one year is never the same as the last," she said. 

Avia said a standard growing season takes four to six months to prepare.

"We start the process in the fall for next year’s crops, with ordering the seed varieties, fertilizer, obtaining soil samples necessary for the upcoming season," she explained. "Farmers are amazing, we work hard to get the crops seeded, transplanted, then nurture those crops all season so we can harvest them for your plate.”

She says she's most looking forward to growing season because she loves the aroma of the soil as you wake up the land after a long winter.  

“I love the feeling of a new season because I can help provide food for my community and know that the work we are doing is helping the community eat healthy and supports our local agricultural businesses."

Farmer and owner of Holland Marsh Food Market, Liz Toffelmire, was born and raised in the marsh on Canal Road. She says she's hoping for "less heat this season to help the fruits and vegetables grow to their fullest potential."

Along with its own veggies, Holland Marsh Food Market sells Ontario-grown fruit, produce, meat, dairy, preserves and baked goods.

Toffelmire says her favourite part of being a farmer is being able to go in her yard and pick whatever she wants for dinner.

"And when I am selling my products, I know what I am giving my customers is always fresh right from farm to table," she said.

Also on Canal Road is Springh Farms. Owner Shane Singh says his in-laws immigrated to Canada more than 30 years ago from Guyana, they purchased a farm in the Holland Marsh, and have been growing vegetable ever since.

"We started off with five acres and now we’re at over 30 acres of the most fertile growing land in Ontario," he said proudly. "I do seeding, plowing, delivering and some of the packing, and I deliver to the food terminal three nights a week."

Springh Farms employs seven migrant workers who come to the farm from various parts of Mexico and Jamaica.

"Many of the workers have been working alongside us for over ten years," explained Singh. "I love supporting the community and getting to see everyone’s smiling faces when they buy from my farm and or my farmers market stand."

According to the Holland Marsh Grower's Association, produce is not only grown within the marsh, but stored, processed and packaged as well, shortening the entire distribution chain and strengthening the local economy. The annual value of the carrots grown in the marsh is estimated at $130 million, the onions are worth $160 million, and the salad greens are worth $160 million. 

It’s estimated that the marsh has a total economic impact of over $1 billion each year between the farm-gate value of the vegetables, packaging, processing, and transportation.