Courtland, Ontario NOJ 1EO
Canada Crescent, IA
Country Herbs, a company owned and operated by the Proven family, has supplied fresh-cut herbs to major supermarkets and food service companies throughout eastern Canada since 1989. This organic farm is located south of Tillsonburg, Ontario, on the Norfolk Sand Plain. Through the growing season, they supply all their varieties of herbs, edible flowers, and shallots from their fields and greenhouses. During the winter, they import directly from growers all over the world, guaranteeing a consistent supply of fresh-cut herbs year round.
Co-owner Garry Proven shares more about their farming operation.
Would you describe your farm as a family farm?
Yes, we are a family farm. I love living here and walking the farm at the end of the day. When we started in 1999, I did the field work as well as the packaging along with three other people while my wife, Debra, looked after the office. Now that the business has grown, we have hired more people from the area.
Who works with you on your farm?
We have a total of 25 people working our farm. There are two supervisors, one who looks after the bunching room and cooler; she has 13 crew members. The field supervisor has four crewmembers. We also have three delivery drivers, plus our family. Many of our crew are related to one another, so it is a very family-oriented group.
How long have you been farming?
We bought the farm in January 1999.
What do you grow on your farm?
We grow and sell fresh-cut culinary herbs, including opal basil, Thai basil, sweet basil, bay leaf, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, edible flowers, lime leaf, lemongrass, marjoram, mint, oregano, curly parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, sorrel, tarragon, thyme, and French shallots. We plant in the greenhouse beginning in January. The plugs are transplanted into the field starting in May. We begin harvesting in May and finish in late November. We harvest some herbs in the greenhouse year round. I lived on my parents’ farm from age 12 until I was 17.
How did you get into farming?
We left the printing industry after 15 years and looked for a small business to run. This business had great potential, and we liked the area close to Lake Erie. I had grown up on a farm in Manitoba and I enjoyed gardening, so I felt at home in this very small niche market. It has been a wonderful learning experience.
What do you enjoy most about farming?
I enjoy hard work and a challenge, and learning to farm organically meets both of these needs. Debra values accuracy and quality, attributes that help serve our customers well since she sets the standards for our products. We both derive much satisfaction from delivering what we believe to be the best and healthiest culinary herbs available. We enjoy having customers who appreciate our efforts and are loyal to us because of the quality of our products.
What makes your farm special?
We are unique because of our product and because we market directly to the retailers. When you add in the fact that we grow organically and locally, we are virtually like no other.
What do you envision for the future of your farm?
On the farm, you learn to work one season at a time. I am working on soil improvement right now. We hope to bring our soil into balance so that we can grow crops with the same mineral content as was present in crops from the 1940s. Debra is exploring ways to reduce the number of hours we spend working on the farm so that we can work “smarter” in the future. Our overall goal is to be recognized as the market leader in our niche farming business.
Are you an organic grower?
Yes, the farm has been certified organic since 2004.
Why is organic farming a priority for your business?
It’s a priority for me because I did not like using chemicals, and they didn’t work in any event. As I studied and watched the changes to the farm and product, I became convinced that this food will help people maintain their good health. Organic farming is also sustainable. In addition, we enjoy the type of enlightened customers we have met as we market organic as a larger percentage of our business.
Why should people buy organic products?
People can change the world with their buying decisions. Buying locally grown organic products will improve consumers’ lives, reduce health costs, reduce pollution, support local rural communities, and promote a sustainable, healthy, and secure food system.