Many family farms owe their heritage or inheritance to the Grandfather. They ventured to another country and wanted to live on the land with their families and be self sufficient. Self sufficiency means one pig to sell and one pig for the family table; one cow for milk and chickens for eggs and meat and meat for the market. Such was the case for Francis (Frank) Warner when he emigrated to Beamsville from England in 1919. He wanted to live on a fruit farm. And so he did. The Warner Fruit Farm can be found on John Street in Beamsville where today grandson Torrie Warner and his father Fred can be found managing the thirty acres that is part of the Grandfathers proud estate and the twenty six acres that have been added on to the farm over the years.
Fred had two sisters, the youngest helping out on the farm for awhile but really with no interest in the family farm. Today at eighty six, you can still find him helping to prune the trees. Taking a walk would just have no meaning to him, he would much rather do something useful. There is always something to do on a farm so the orchard is the perfect place for him.
When Fred was ready to become a full time fruit farmer his Dad was still quite young. Purchasing his own eight acres to cultivate and sharing tractors and the barn space worked well for the two of them. When Torrie was ready to take over the family farm his Dad was ready for someone to step into the farm shoes and so it was a good fit.
Torrie has one brother, presently he is doing post doctoral work in research at the University of Michigan in Molecular Biology in Genetics; Cancer Research. Neil and his wife and four children “aren’t likely to be back helping on the farm any time soon,” smiles Torrie. “When we were kids and we came home from school, we came into the house and changed our clothes, Neil stayed in the house and I always would go into the barn and help out. Apparently I was often covered in red clay.” It seems that is one way to tell an upcoming young farmer, how much dirt they can find to stick on to their clothes. “I always thought that fruit farming is what I would do,” says Torrie, “and so when I went to the University of Guelph I studied Horticulture Science and Business. Today when asked, what you do for fun, he replies, “My fun involves things around the farm, growing different things, trying new things, such as paw paws, figs, pomegranates and nut trees. I like to see if they will sell and my successes have been greater than my failures. My Dad also sees that new things have been successful so he encourages me to keep on trying different things.
What is on this family farm? No pigs or cows or chickens but many varieties of apples, sixteen to twenty varieties, both old and new favourites, Golden Delicious, Gala, Mutzu, Fiji, Empire, Ida Red, Red Delicious, Cortland, McIntosh, Honey Crisp, Ambrosia, Russets and Spy and more. There are also plums, pears, peaches, grapes, grape juice and apple cider and some garlic! “You have to have a lot of varieties to take to the market,” shares Torrie. “If you take six varieties rather than one you will double your sales. Customers like both eating and cooking apples. It also establishes your place in the market, ‘he is the apple guy, and we will buy from him’.” Much of Warner’s Fruit is sold at farm markets in large cities where there are many different ethnic groups; different cultures enjoy different flavours of the apples.
What do the people ask you at the market? “People like the idea that the fruit comes from my farm, even at the Farmer’s Market in Ottawa, they feel it is local because it is grown in my backyard. Customers want to know when the fruit was picked, how fresh it is, where is it from and is it from my own farm not purchased and resold.”
Ottawa? That is a long way to travel to sell your wares. Torrie was encouraged by his Aunt and Uncle in Ottawa to come to the Ottawa Farmers Market. The President of the market himself gave Torrie a call to ask him to come. Two days a week he takes his produce to sell. He is in fact the only vendor selling peaches. While there is some competition from local stores there are no vendors who are re-sellers and his fruit and wares are well received. “The customers in Ottawa like to know if it is sprayed, they want their fruit perfect.”
Customers in Toronto tolerate a bit more imperfections in their fruit and always bring their baskets back to be refilled. Warner Fruit Farms can be found in Toronto six days a week. Tuesdays at Stonegate, Wednesdays at Nathan Phillips Square, Thursdays at Metro Hall, Fridays at Square One and Saturdays in Etobicoke. Saturdays also finds their products and fruit at the Ottawa Street Market in Hamilton and Saturdays and Sundays in Ottawa. Torrie and Fred’s fruit can also be ordered by email and is sold to area restaurants, bake shops and local fruit market shops.
What all farmers say when asked what are the advantages of the family farm. “Being your own boss,” but that also means working very hard 365 days of the week. Even on Christmas, customers often stop by to pick up a bushel of apples if they see Torrie outside.
Torrie likes to give back to the industry and can be found on many local association boards. He gives of his time to the Niagara North Federation of Agriculture, the Stakeholders Committee of Vineland Research Station and the Ontario Fruit Testing Association. Does he have any time for a vacation? Well he has jetted off to Florida and Cuba and visits his brother in Michigan. What does he do while on vacation? Torrie always stops in at local farm markets.
What is the future of the Warner Fruit farms? “Well I think I have a few years left to farm,” he says, at only 43, he still has plans to try a few new things and as it says on the website, “We work hard all season ensuring our fruit is not only juicy and delicious, but also sustainable. We strive to keep our operation sustainable and good for all of our customers.”
For more information on Warner’s Farm visit www.warnersfarm.ca