MANAGER, HEATHERLEA FARM MARKET
PROUD FARMER, PROUD FARM MARKET-ER, PROUD DAUGHTER-IN-LAW
A family farm is family first and farm second. At least that’s how the McArthurs see it. In the middle of her busy day as a farmer, farm wife and mom of three, Melinda McArthur found the time to share a lot: why they do it, and what it takes to keep it going. But one thing she didn’t share is her mother-in-law’s bison chile recipe. Believe us, we tried.
YOUR farm market is relatively new…
My in-laws Pat and Gord have been raising Black Angus cattle since 1975, and in 2007 they started a B&B out of the farmhouse. People would come from the city, they loved seeing the cattle in the field, and they would sell people steaks to bring back to the city. And they started to realize that they were actually selling more steaks than bringing people to the bed and breakfast.
It started with beef, then people started asking for local chicken and pork and other meats. The demand got so big that we shut down the the B&B so we could concentrate on the market, bring in new foods.
But the farm’s been around for hundreds of years?
Yes, the farm’s been around for ages. Gord’s family has been farming in Peel region for 200 years. When his dad passed away, his mother remarried the gentleman who owned the farm we have now, and when Pat and Gord took it over they went from just doing dairy to doing the Black Angus.
Is Caledon a hub for those cattle?
Well, it has really good farmland, it’s lush and our farm is very much the classic rolling hills of Caledon which makes for good pasture. But a lot of farmers we know have sold in the area. But you know what? A couple of people we know who sold just bought farms farther north.
I guess it’s in your blood?
Once you’re a farmer it’s kind of hard to go back to anything else, there’s a real passion for it.
Was there ever any question you wouldn’t be a part of it? I guess when you marry a guy, you marry his farm.
Actually, Gord encouraged his kids to go off the farm which is good for them. My husband Don went off and did tractor sales for a while and was drawn back to the farm, which is what you want. You don’t want to push the kids into the farm.
What do you think drew him back?
My husband, like any entrepreneur, loves making his own decisions for that day, and being outside working with the cattle is something they really love to do. It’s very different, you’re still working… you work a lot (laughs) … but you get to be with your family, which I think has been very important. And the farm’s had so much history that you just want to keep it going and keep it in the family.
It’s a tough business.
We’re very fortunate that Pat and Gord are in this and very supportive and there. Young farmers getting into it without having something established, it’s very expensive and something you’ve got to build up before you quit your day job. We’re fortunate they’re here to help us, teach us things and show us the way.
But it’s not just the farm you’re busy with…
There’s Heatherlea Farm Market, we also have Caledon Landscaping and Maintenance, and a division of that is McArthur Fence and Construction, so my husband runs that, he does superstructures and he does fencing.
Farmers always have to diversify. A few other farmers told me their kids have come back to the farms, and now they have to figure out how to diversify to be able to pay the kids, have everybody make a proper living.
Do most people realize there have to be other revenue streams coming in?
A lot of farmers diversify to secure themselves. Pat and Gord have been farming for so long that they know the risks, with the weather, how easy it is to lose a crop or an animal, so they’ve been smart.
And you do vegetables and other produce, too.
Yes, it’s all seasonal, right now (spring)… we have organic spinach and tomatoes, but as the season picks up we’ll have more and more. Foods at the farm change with the season.
I saw your prepared foods, how’s that going?
That’s actually grown quite a bit! Everybody wants local food but I think a lot of people don’t have time to cook from scratch. The millenials and the younger generations are not trusting of the big box companies and corporate in general, they’re wanting something that they trust, so what we’re making is made from scratch, made at home… you can recognize all ingredients, no funny additives, plus they’re also supporting local agriculture.
Who does all the cooking? That’s what I want to know.
My mother-in-law, she just loves it, she has a passion for it. Her living room has stacks and stacks of magazines, she reads them at night and does her research.
Is she cooking all day?
We’ve actually hired a couple of great local girls hired on to help us out, but all her recipes.
Are they like secret magic recipes we’ll never get, recipes that’ll go the grave?
We have had people ask for our bison chile recipe, but she hasn’t really shared those, so I guess they’re a secret!
Where are you from?
I’m from Cheltenham, not far from the farm.
So did you meet your husband in school?
Yes… we knew each other before high school but we did start dating in grade nine, went on the same school bus, played baseball together (laughs)… and we’ve been together ever since.
I’m glad we talked about how much work farm life is, because it can be an illusion: you see this farm with this beautiful family and you think it’s the perfect life… but…
For sure. I think some people that may come from the city and elsewhere think, wow, all this beautiful property, but I don’t think they realize that tractors are $300,000 dollars and stuff like that so, yes, it’s tough. Pat and Gord have been through a lot.
You go to Walmart and you wonder, how can they sell five pounds of pickles for $2.99…
You’re very right, I don’t know why people don’t question that.
I mean, your beef isn’t $1.99 a pound and shouldn’t be. Is it an education process to show all the hard work that goes into real, natural, quality food, and what it should cost?
Once people who really care about food see all the work involved, they see Gord in his work clothes in and out all day,how the animals are well cared for, out in the grass roaming, they’re willing to pay for it.
If you’re driving up here from the city, you’re seeing a lot going on when you drive through the Headwaters. You see the farms and everything involved in them, you’re able to visit and actually meet the people making your food… and it makes a real close connection with people. You take away a real experience from it all.
That word “connection”, I’m hearing it all the time up here…
Oh absolutely, you need to connect with the people who come in and the people who come are wanting a story and an experience.
I saw a picture of Gord, he’s pretty rugged… do people ever want a picture of the farmer?
They don’t really take pictures of Gord! (laughs). But I know what you mean, he’s definitely got a farmer look. They do take pictures of the farm and the animals, and right now all the baby calves which people love. The best is when they get to pasture and run. It’s pretty exciting.