Rex and Carol Sugrim, Summerside Farm
By Lisa McLean
Ontario farmers access markets for vegetables not native to Ontario
Holland Landing – Rex and Carol Sugrim, like many Ontario farm families, can trace their agricultural roots back several generations. However, unlike many Ontario farm families, their agricultural roots originated a continent away – in their native South America, where they were raised on farms that grew a mix of vegetables, including okra, bitter melon, squash and spinach.
Today, the Sugrims grow some of the vegetables from their youth alongside more traditional local fare near Bradford, Ontario. Their farm is located on some of the most productive soil in Canada, in the region known as Ontario’s Holland Marsh. The marsh’s fertile “mucklands” have proven a good location to grow more exotic crops such as anise, purple kale, rainbow carrots, eggplant, okra and collard greens. The couple also grows lettuce, dandelion, radishes, sweet peppers, swiss chard and spinach, as well as herbs such as cilantro, dill and parsley.
“It helps to be from away,” Rex says. “We have some knowledge about food and working a farm from Guyana, but many things are completely different in Ontario. We have a short growing season.”
The Sugrims started their own farm in 1998, along with their three children, Alexander, Nicholas and Caroline (ages, 14, 12 and 11 respectively). They have recently changed the crops they grow after attending a seminar at nearby Vineland Research & Innovation Centre where they heard there was a growing market for common Oriental and West Indian crops.
“There is a market for the crops because there are plenty of new Canadians, especially in the city,” Rex says. “The challenge is getting into the chain stores where we can reach the market.”
Currently the Sugrims sell their produce to a local shipper. They hope, after they build a new barn with wash stations and cold storage capacity, to add a chain grocery store to their customer list.
Rex and Carol are also a fixture at three farmer’s markets each week in Newmarket, Aurora and Beeton, Ontario. Carol hopes to incorporate value-added products, such as kale chips, into her market stand once they can build an on-farm facility to produce them.
“Customers are very happy to see some of the different vegetables we have for sale,” Carol says. “Whatever I take with me is always gone by the end of the day.”Carol makes it a point to have sample recipes handy in case customers are unsure of how to cook some of the products she has on offer, and she says in some cases, the vegetables she has for sale are an improvement on what was grown in a customer’s native country.
“There are many different varieties of vegetables like okra, but many people know it to be slimy,” Carol says. “Not ours – some customers say it’s better than they remember.”
The Sugrims have recently purchased some of the land that they farm, allowing them to make firmer plans for their farm’s future. “Farming is hard work, but at the end of the day we accomplished what we set out to do,” says Carol. “It shows that patience and hard work pay off.”
This article is one in a series of profiles on Ontario farmers and farm businesses produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario.