Why intentions matter: or the story of how we now have incredible organic apples from Inisfil.
The dearth of local organic fruit options has long been a sore spot for us. We have incredible local organic produce and go to great lengths to ensure a impressive local offering. Through the summer close to 80% of all the produce we delivered was direct from a local organic farm. We think that’s fantastic, but we want that to be even higher. Fruit has always been the challenge to find locally, and apples especially. There simply aren’t any organic orchards in the local vicinity. We went searching a little bit further afield though and found Avalon Orchards in Innisfil, just south of Barrie. Here’s the story of how we got there, what we found, and why we love cooperation. It’s also a story of why founding principles and intentions matter.
Entrance to Avalon
As we mentioned, there aren’t many organic fruit farmers around. For Gaye Trombley, founder and chief caretaker of Avalon Orchards, it’s all about the foundation. 25 years ago, she set out to be a sustainable orchard. She understood the challenges that face orchards in general: the cyclical nature of fruit production and the vagaries of the weather, the need to see some years with bumper crops to hedge against other years with near crop failure. The prospects of sudden cold snaps in early spring or fall, insect infestations, or hail storms are all things that can quickly ruin any orchard, let alone a small scale sustainable one. The challenges of finding seasonal labour and accessing markets are similarly faced.
To mitigate these challenges, conventional orchards rely on petrochemical inputs to protect their investment. Still, Gaye set out to be a sustainable orchard. She did so by planning to be sustainable. She carefully selected varieties that are naturally disease resistant and scab free and that bear fruit at different times of the year to balance both the income and the workload. With names like Pristine, Liberty, Novaspy and Priscilla, these aren’t the varieties you’ll typically find on the supermarket shelf. By starting with hardier stock, and then applying a whole lot of care (from weekly inspections of each trees bug trap, to careful wrapping the base of each tree in breathable wire mesh to fend off moles and voles, to a very sophisticated weather station that sounds the alarm in Gaye’s house when frost is imminent to allow her to turn on the high speed helicopter turbine-like fans, she has been able to keep her orchard safe organically. That care, coupled with some business savvy in creating multiple revenue streams from her farm, from the u-pick operation, agro tourism, a wholesale stream, pressing cider for commercial clients, and making her own fantastic apple cider vinegar has allowed Avalon Orchards to thrive for 25 years. It all started with the foundation.
Jeff and Gaye enjoying Avalon's newest apple, "George, the pink lady"
It was refreshing chatting with Gaye, listening to her experiences, enjoying the whirlwind tour of her orchard as we bounced down their farm lane in the old pickup, hopping out for quick samples of incredibly delicious apples. There was undoubtedly a kindred spirit there. While operating an orchard is a different business than a home delivery program, or a local organic brewery or restaurant, the similarities were evident. There was the awareness of a triple bottom line, where healthy, financially sustainable businesses are also socially and environmentally sustainable. The importance of principles and the right foundation. In our own operations, we commit to using local first, not just when it’s convenient, which changes how we operate. We commit to always using organic ingredients in our food and boxes, even when the market price is higher. It forces us to be more creative in our work, which brings us to the principle of cooperation that allowed us to meet Gaye Tremblay in the first place.
You see, it wasn’t just a trip for apples. It was also a trip for the London Brewing Cooperative with a stop in Beeton for some used kegs for its upcoming expansion. And, it was also a trip for The Root Cellar with a stop in Mississauga for some used chairs for its new upstairs event space. Three business with similar foundations, cooperating together to make the trip affordable (all the more so as it was a one day rental on a cube truck ;)). There’s the trifecta!
2/3 of the trifecta. Yes, we squeezed 50 chairs in there too :).