For close to 100 years, the Farrell family has owned and farmed on Concession 12 in Ripley. And now, four generations later, Glen and Sarah Farrell are continuing the family tradition, albeit taking it in a somewhat different direction.
Glen, formerly a cement worker, and Sarah, a personal support worker, bought 121 acres of the farm back in 2017, after renting the property a few years prior. They wanted to find a way to earn a living to support themselves and their growing family, although not in the traditional manner.
“We went around to other farms to see what we wanted to do,” said Sarah. “We needed a product that would bring in a lot of money off a not very big amount of land.”
In 2015, after doing their homework, the couple decided that growing and selling pumpkins would be their best alternative and have been adding additional products every season since.
Glen and Sarah are a team; co-partners in the business of discovering what will work best for them and their two daughters, Paisley, seven, and Nora, four. They exhibit an extraordinary amount of knowledge and good common sense and to their credit, have turned each obstacle into a learning experience, gaining wisdom as they go along. They are straightforward about the challenges they have faced, discussing the successes as well as the errors.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” said Glen, and cautions “not everything you read on YouTube works.”
“There is a lot of trial and error,” said Sarah, “but every year you learn something new.”
Sarah recalls the first year they planted pumpkins, putting in half an acre by hand. The work was back-breaking, and at the end of the season they had few customers to purchase their yield. They realized they needed to advertise more and build their client base.
In just four years, the Farrells have added organic tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and cut flowers to their inventory of products. They sell much of their produce to wholesalers and farmers markets. Glen also offers firewood for sale. Working with Ben’s Bees from Tiverton, they rent bees from Ben’s and use them to pollinate their fields. They now have honey for sale.
This is their first year for sunflowers, thousands of them, planted as far as the eye can see and blending into a breathtaking blanket of yellow. When the cold weather comes, the bright flowers will be used to feed their cows.
As fall approaches, the Farrells, for the second year, have opened a family-oriented agri-tourism shopping and activity experience. On property adjoining the barn, from Sept. 18 to the end of October, they operate a produce stand and sell the pumpkins and vegetables grown on their land, as well as gourds, corn stalks, mums and straw bales. Anyone decorating their home for autumn or searching for the perfect Hallowe’en pumpkin would find everything they need.
Besides produce, activities include a giant sandbox, a castle built from bales and a maze cut through the field of sunflowers. Sarah hopes to introduce Flashlight Fridays this year, welcoming guests to bring their own flashlights and maneuver their way through the maze in the dark. There are animals on site as well – cats, sheep and a donkey – for children to admire, from a distance.
Wagon rides are always a favourite on the farm, but restrictions brought on by the pandemic have made it difficult to keep riders separated and the equipment cleaned. Sarah said she “is sad about the horses but there is no way of doing them right now.” Hopefully the rides will return in 2022.
Like many other business, COVID has negatively affected how they earn their living, but the couple keeps a positive attitude and knows they are better off than most. They keep an eye on the provincial numbers, always living with the uncertainty of “not being sure if we will be open or closed.”
“We are lucky that we are outside,” said Sarah. “We have so much space for people to move around and don’t have to worry about that so much.”
They hope the business will encourage people to create their own family tradition, with a visit to their pumpkin patch marked on the calendar each year. Families are welcome to take photos among the cornstalks and sunflowers and create their own memories.
“I hope that we are busy and lots of people come out,” said Sarah. “We want everyone to love it.
“Our goal for the future is to sell more local products and more of our own products, and that we can grow slowly and sustain it (the business).”
Farrell’s Pick Your Own is located at 1347 Concession 12, Ripley and is open every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. until the end of October. Find them on Facebook or via the website at farrellsfarm.com.
Tammy Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent