A diverse group of farmers live in Niagara, growing and raising food and creatures from Ambrosia Apples to Zinnia Grandiflora, from Alpacas to Zebras. Some farmers live here traditionally as their families settled on land they were given from the crown. Some came from the United States and settled near waterways; many in Niagara came from the Netherlands to farm. Their ancestors have stayed to seed the land, take care of livestock or work in the many towns and cities. The make up of the soil as diverse as the many cultures who farm this area; West Lincoln known for its solid clay, Niagara on the Lake for its glacial and interglacial events that have eroded and shaped the layers of sedimentary rock area between the Escarpment and Lake Ontario, where thick layers of clay are permeated with silts and sands, perfect for growing grapes.
All types of soil in our area known as North Niagara. All types of people known as farmers. “A farmer is a person engaged in agriculture, raising living organisms for food or raw materials. The term usually applies to people who do some combination of raising field crops, orchards, vineyards, poultry, or other livestock.”
Peter Bosman is a farmer. What kind of farmer would you call him? Typically a farmer is given a title: fruit farmer, dairy man, cash cropper. He could answer to all of those. In Orangeville, where Peter was born and raised he was a dairy man, and poultry producer. In 1999 he sold his quota and began to think what would be best for his family. “I wanted my kids to be part of farming. I wanted to work as a family and raise my children on a family farm,” he said. And so Mary and Peter looked to the Niagara area where the Christian Schools and Churches were conservative and the people were very hospitable. “I knew fruit farming would be a lot of work,” he continued, “but all of us can help out on an apple farm.” “I didn’t know a lot about trees but I did know about field work. While cash cropping is a little bit different, you use the same management of your crops. I had to learn from the ground up. While dairy and poultry producers don’t compete for their market, fruit farmers help out with advice for growing but they don’t want to reveal their contacts for selling.”
The orchard the Bosman family found to purchase was that of Ron Young, an apple grower for fifty years. Today on the sixty five acres over 17,000 trees are planted. “It was a great location, on a busy highway and close to Hamilton. Still today Marty Young, Ron’s brother and Peter’s neighbour helps with the pruning and picking. Marty has seen a lot of changes to the orchard.
They have planted a lot of trees, invested a lot of money, and added pears to the operation. “Apple varieties have changed a lot; at one time everyone had Macintosh. Now the customers want a sweeter variety.” The orchard is filled with over fifteen varieties including the desirable Courtland, Ginger Gold, Ambrosia and Honey Crisp.
Growing is one stage of fruit farming, selling is another. Mary grew up with a Dad who was a butcher and ran a Dutch Deli. “My father was very good at chatting with all the customers, she laughs.” Today in their store they like to take time with the customers and offer service together with all the preserves, pickles, apples, pears and squash they have to offer. Customers come for the pies that are made by a brother in law in Woodstock and their apples are pressed at Bennett’s in Hamilton into apple cider.
The store was not there when they started out; it was just a storage building. “You need to find your own niche market, some fruit farmers have stores, some sell to the wholesale crowd and some provide entertainment,” explains Peter. A building right on the main road presented itself to being renovated to become a country store.
“Mary using her skills is dedicated to it,’ says Peter. “I do all the presentation of the produce, the signage, the displays and the decorating,” said Mary. I really like to keep it all very neat and appealing to our customers. And I have help. Our children, a friend and some part time help make our store successful.” Many of their customers have been coming to this orchard for years. They come from Hamilton and Stoney Creek, a lot of them of Serbian, Croatian and Italian Heritage. “We are lucky, that on our road we have a cheese shop, Highland Packers for meat and our fruit,” explains Peter.
More than their charming shop, Peter and his children truck off to the Weston Farmers Market, Toronto Food Share and sell their apples to local schools for healthy snacks. Recently their son has started taking their wares to the Binbrook Farmers Market.
How do they like Fruit Farming? “The one drawback,” says Mary, “is you are always cold.” And the children, “well they don’t like getting up that early in the morning to go to the Farmer’s Markets.” “We are building up relationships with our customers and they are becoming our friends, and that is nice to see, the same people come into the store and to our stand at the market each week,” say the Bosmans.
The future? “The future will see us with wind machines, to help eliminate the frost and save our crops.” And the family? Ron, their son is studying Horticulture, so perhaps the Apple Business will stay a family farm. Their daughter is studying graphic arts and one day when she is not too busy perhaps she will have to time to help them progress with social media, update their web page, post on face book and twitter. Their daughter Melissa comes one day a week from Binbrook to work in the family store. They hope that in the future her son Mitchell (4 months) will also be seen in the orchards. For now, this fall is great picking weather.
What do they do for Fun? Peter and Mary look at each other. They love to go to the Horticulture show in Michigan, attend farm tours, visit other markets, sit in on apple sessions and learn about marketing. And they like to do a little camping.
How do they like living in Niagara? “Niagara is beautiful, we have a mountain, beautiful scenery, close to cities and everything you need and the winters are milder than Orangeville,” they laugh. Niagara where the trees grow in clay; clay soil that grows ‘tasty apples.’
Mary’s Dutch Apple Pie
4 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cps melted margarine
6 cups apples, peeled and sliced
2 cups sugar
2 cups cold water
6 Tb cornstarch
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp margarine.
Combine flour, brown sugar, oatmeal, salt and melted margarine and mix in bowl. Press half of the mixture into a 9 by 13 pan. Place sliced apples on top. Combine in saucepan sugar, cornstarch, cold water, cinnamon and margarine. Cook until just boiling and thickens. Pour sauce over apples. Place remaining crumbs on top. Bake at 325 for 50 to 60 minutes.