The carrots you bought at the grocery store could have come from a farm around the corner.
Gwillimdale Farms may be located on 11th Line, east of County Road 4, in Bradford West Gwillimbury, but the business runs its operations on about 1,600 hectares of land at 56 farms around BWG, Innisfil and King Township.
It supplies local grocery stories, such as No Frills, Food Basics and Metro, but it also ships its carrots, onions, beets, potatoes, and other produce around the world — as far as California, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Owner John Hambly just smiles when he is asked what he gets out of running such a large and busy operation.
“Satisfaction,” he said, standing next to a field of onions. “It’s an industry where there’s a satisfaction of supplying a good product.”
Gwillimdale began at its current main location in 1903.
Hambly is a fourth-generation farmer. His kids, John, Christopher and Alexa, are also involved in the business, and his dad retired a couple years ago in his 70s.
It is a family business that has really grown, pun intended.
Quinton Woods, Gwillimdale’s sales and operations manager, recently took this city girl on a tour of the main facility and some of the nearby farming operations for an inside look at how the business runs.
While no stranger to the outdoors, I do have a definite lack of a green thumb. Most of my plants do better fending for themselves than to depend on my ability to get them enough water and pruning on a consistent basis.
But standing in front of a 15-hectare field of red and yellow onions, seeing hundreds of their little green sprouts growing just fine, I could tell this farm did not need my poor gardening skills to be successful.
This particular field started in a Leamington greenhouse in February and planted in BWG in early May. It should be ready for harvesting by the second week of August, said Hambly.
“It brings us an earlier harvest for our customer — a three- to four-week advantage over direct seeded onions,” he said. “We increase probably 10 per cent a year in acreage.”
For the time period before harvest, Gwillimdale has a family farm in Mexico supply its carrots and beets, and family farms in California send onions, Hambly said.
Gwillimdale, which has 47 employees, uses the latest technologies to get its local planting and harvesting just how it wants.
“We’re 100-per-cent mechanized. All we do by hand is pick weeds and pick out stones,” Woods said.
Ever wonder how some farms get their rows so straight?
Each Gwillimdale tractor has GPS so each row is exactly the width it needs to be from the row beside it.
“We’re always investing in new technology,” Hambly said, noting a new $2-million, 4,200-square-metre refrigerated building is currently under construction there.
The new facility will be able to hold up to eight million two-pound bags of carrots, he said.
All the company’s buildings are also run by solar power, it recycles leftover packaging, and it bought a new harvesting machine last year to help leave more dirt in the field, Woods said.
The company has also been composting for the last 10 to 15 years, he said.
Gwillimdale produces nearly 11,000 linear metres of compost every year, and it puts back up to 7,300 kilograms of compost — a mix of cow manure and vegetable waste — on up to 324 hectares of land a year, he said.
“That gives a lot of organic matter back to the soil,” Woods said. “We see ourselves as a very sustainable organization.”
Gwillimdale grows several different types of crops on its grounds — carrots, onions, beets, potatoes, parsnips and cash crops.
It grows wheat on rotation to break up the life cycles of pests and weeds in its fields, and it has a fully functioning grain elevator.
It also grows cover crops, such as oats, peas and barley, to protect the soil from wind and water erosion, Woods said.
“It ties the soil to the ground” so it does not wash away, he explained, adding the cover crops get worked back into the soil for the next year.
Part of what sets Gwillimdale apart from other farms is it has its own truck fleet, including one refrigerated truck that makes local deliveries, four refrigerated tractor-trailers and four highway tractor-trailers for longer deliveries.
Inside Gwillimdale’s main facility is equipment from Denmark and New Zealand.
Each have different jobs, such as removing dirt from the vegetables in a “vegetable jacuzzi tub,” said Woods.
Another machine acts as a giant toothbrush bristle to polish the vegetables.
Then they are sorted by hand for length and diameter — the bigger ones go to wholesalers and food service providers, the smaller ones to retail stores — and are put in bags, and then through automatic weighing and packaging machines before they are shipped.
“We virtually start from seed and deliver to the customer,” Woods said. “We’ve become a name consumers can trust.”
RECIPE: Gwillimdale Farms carrot cake (with vegan options)
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup vegetable oil*
½ cup unsweetened apple sauce*
1 ½ cups white sugar
4 tbsp flax meal + ¾ cup warm water. NOTE: You can replace this with 4 eggs instead.
2 ½ cups grated Gwillimdale Farms carrots
Option: ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Use one 9x13 pan or two, 9-inch cake pans.
Prepare pan(s); spray with no-stick cooking spray or grease pans and line bottoms with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine ground flax seed with water (if using this option) and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cinnamon.
Then add vanilla, vegetable oil, flax seed combination (or eggs), applesauce, sugar, and beat until well combined. Blend in carrots and nuts if desired.
Pour batter equally into prepared pan(s) and bake for 50-60 minutes until done when tested. The top should spring back when touched and an inserted toothpick in the center will come out clean.
Remove from oven and let stand for approx. 10 minutes. Then remove from pan and let cool on rack before icing if desired.
Tip: Make this perfect for packed lunches! Just omit the nuts, skip the icing and cut into snack-sized pieces!
*Option: If you do not have any applesauce, you can increase the oil to 1 cup instead.
110 grams (Vegan) Cream cheese
1/3 cup (Vegan) Butter or margarine
2 ½ cups Icing sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
Using an electric mixer, blend until smooth. Add icing sugar slowly to prevent it spraying out of the bowl.