Besley Country Market

Smaller Scale Reaps Big Rewards

For some time, jobs have been hard to find.  Employers are more and more specific in their demands, and competition – particularly among people fresh from school – has been overwhelming.  Entrepreneurs, however, can skip the lines and create income unaffected by the vagaries of the job market.

Evan Besley was in the midst of his post secondary education, looking at the rapidly shrinking need for teachers and decided to change direction, going forward, in a sense, by going back.

For generations, the Besley family has worked the farm just south of Shelburne and Evan decided to carry on in his own way.  “I’d like to farm,” he told his dad, Brian, “but I don’t want to milk cows.  I’ve done that all my life.”  Brian had always liked the idea of a market garden and had already decided to switch from dairy to cash crop.  “(The market garden) was one of those things we kind-a thought would work. We’re the first farm outside of town on a paved road.”  So Evan took it on.

“The first year, we planted everything by hand,” said Evan, sweet corn, peas, beans, and pumpkins. “We put up a little tent at the road.  It kept blowing over but the community supported it.  We’ve pretty well doubled sales every year.”  Now the challenge is to keep up with the demand.

Today outdoor crops include strawberries, raspberries and squash, with smaller volumes of beans, zucchini and beets. Tomatoes grow in 6500 square feet of greenhouse – 2000 plants encompassing Roma, beefsteak, red cluster, low-acid yellow and cherry varieties. As well as keeping the farm gate shed stocked with produce, Evan has a booth in the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market in downtown Orangeville and they have started a Shelburne Farmers’ Market, Thursday afternoons, right at the farm. “Sales are the least of my problems,” he said. There is a growing demand in the community for local produce and a waiting list of restaurants that want to serve this produce.

“Unfortunately, I’m not getting what I expected from the tomatoes yet,” said Evan, “but every year is a learning experience.  I’m growing on coco slabs but I’m going to switch next year.  Ideally, I’d like a pound of fruit per plant per week.” He’ll find out soon enough if the change is going to work.  Greenhouse planting is in February.  The harvest begins on the May long weekend and continues to the first week in November.

Although the crop is not, strictly speaking, organic, there are no pesticides in the greenhouse.  Bumblebees from two indoor hives pollinate the flowers and on the rare occasions when any pests appear, Evan brings in ladybugs or wasps to take care of them.  “Bugs have not been an issue at all,” he said.

The operation is a family affair.  Evan’s mother, Debbie quit her job after 24 years.  “It’s interesting to have Evan as a boss,” she laughs. “I’ll go into the greenhouse to find out what my job is today and sometimes he’ll ask me to work overtime.  I love this.  I enjoy being at home and I’ve always liked gardening and working outdoors.”  Debbie often sets up the market booths and although his focus is more on the 1200 acres of cash crops, Brian keeps his oar in, picking corn or berries, working at the market, whatever is needed.  “Along with mom and dad I’ve got as many as eight part time students working for me, a really good corps of kids who have been with me for a couple of years,” said Evan.

So rather than look for a job in a difficult market, Evan has created his own and is now hiring others to keep his success going.