Philippe Quinn’s great-great-great
grandfather arrived from Ireland in 1843 and started a subsistence
farm to feed his family and start a new life in eastern Canada.
Today, Philippe (Phil) is the 6th generation to take the helm of his
family’s farm and, along with his wife, Stephanie Maynard, they are
intent on creating the same opportunity for their two sons, Keith
(8) and Alexandre (4), to be the 7th generation if that’s what they choose.
Phil’s father and mother, Elwood Quinn and Marie Gourley, started at the current location for Quinn Farm in 1982. Notre-Dame-de-l’Ile-Perrot was a rural village surrounded by farmland just beginning the transition to a bedroom community for commuters into Montreal. While some traditional mixed acreage farms were selling off for housing developments, Quinn Farm became one of the early pioneers for selling produce direct to the burgeoning suburban population surrounding the farm. The Local Food movement started a lot earlier than many of us think.
Phil and Stephanie not only inherited responsibility for the farm’s land & buildings, but also the approach to being a successful farm: quality and seizing opportunities. “We firmly believe that farms must be profitable to be sustainable and that simply can’t be left to chance or just counting on good weather,” says Phil, who manages all the crop work.
Quality at Quinn Farm is not just about growing the perfect strawberry, it’s also about customer satisfaction. People can buy the fruits and vegetables that Quinn Farm grows at any store, they have to have a reason to take that extra step and come out to the farm. That reason is a full value proposition.
The produce at the farm, whether U-pick or in the store, is always top notch and picked fresh: the plumpest strawberries, the sweetest corn, the crispiest apples. “We can do this because lower quality and unsold fruits and vegetables are all processed into jams, jellies, relishes, muffins and pies which are then sold in the farm store,” says Stephanie, who manages the farm store. They never have to compromise the quality of fresh produce yet still add value to a portion of the harvest that, for many farms, is underused.
Customer satisfaction is also about the farm experience. Not only does the farm offer U-pick for most of its produce, they have a small animal barn, a hay bale castle, wagon rides out to the orchard and much more. Families are encouraged to come out and make a day of the farm experience, and they can bring a picnic lunch, hold a birthday party for one of the kids or indulge in an ‘apple blossom’ pastry from the kitchen.
The emergence of the Local Food movement has certainly been a timely macro trend that has favoured the type of operation embodied by Quinn Farm. The volume of visitors coming to the farm has been rising incrementally for the last five or so years, helping to boost gross sales substantially.
But Phil and Stephanie haven’t left that to chance. They’ve capitalized on the opportunity of websites and social media for promotion and consumer engagement. “By looking at the Google and Facebook analytics from Friday night, I have a pretty good idea of how busy our Saturday is going to be,” notes Stephanie.
They purchased a corn roaster which steams cobs of sweet corn in the husk in 27 minutes before being dipped in butter. The 50 cents they get when selling a fresh cob of sweet corn is turned into a $2.50 premium with a minimum of effort and the future potential to supply events and festivals with a seasonal treat. And they seized the opportunity to generate much needed cash flow before the cropping season when they realized no one else in the area was doing an Easter egg hunt. Now they get several thousand paying customers over the Easter holiday at a time when the farm store was traditionally closed.
Phil and Stephanie know all too well that despite their best attempts to ensure quality and continue seizing opportunities, when it comes down it, the farm is entirely dependant on the weather. “An early frost can break our strawberry season, a rainy weekend at peak season for apples can mean the difference between 4,000 and 400 customers,” notes Phil.
So they’re doubling the size of their store and processing facilities, and planning for as much added value on their produce as they can so that a diversified range of produce and products will ensure profitability even if one crop is sub-par. For them, it’s the only way to ensure that the farm will be able to support a 7th generation.