When Erin was five years old, her parents made a decision that had a profound impact on her and her brother Ben’s future. They bought a farm.
They didn’t have much experience as a nurse and wood-worker, and they certainly didn’t buy it for its’ esthetics. It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest farm, just a pretty part of Ontario and a strawberry patch that needed so much love it had already changed hands several times before becoming McLean Berry Farm. It wasn’t easy either, for two people with two energetic toddlers. Erin thinks back to some of her first memories, heading off in a pick-up truck with her father down the dirt road to an empty church parking lot. “We didn’t have any other way to sell our strawberries, except for the bed of that pick-up in that parking lot beside the red-bricked country church or the dark green picnic table on our front lawn”, recalls Erin. “My first sale of strawberries was on that picnic table. “I’ll never forget how proud I was to have helped picked that and then sell it.”
From those early days, McLean Berry Farm grew along with Erin and Ben. Besides strawberries, the offering expanded to dozens of products from peas to raspberries, squash to potatoes, maple syrup to jams and so much more in between. From that church parking lot, they expanded to local farmers markets and their own two stores. They can even be found in dozen’s of grocery stores with familiar names like Foodland and Sobeys. “We take a lot of pride in how fresh our high-quality products are,” says Erin. “So much so, that many of the grocery stores we sell at can bring in cheaper, foreign product that stays on the shelf while ours is the first to go home with a happy customer.”
But while farming was always something Erin enjoyed, it wasn’t something she thought about as she headed off to University. “My friends all applied to post-secondary schools, so I did too. They all got accepted and left home, and I did too.” With a degree, Erin’s next step was teachers college. “I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, so it was something I thought I would really enjoy.” And she did, but the kind of passion she was looking for couldn’t be found in a teachers lounge and so after working in and travelling around Europe, a sudden Skype with her Dad turned into the statement that she too might be interested in coming home to help the family continue it’s constant improvement and growth. “Dad always told Ben and I that we had to be passionate and really enjoy what we did, otherwise it wasn’t worth doing. Farming is that to me.”
Today, beyond the planting and picking, Erin loves to spend time talking with curious customers and excitable children. “Helping people make that connection between a quart of fruit and the berry patch is something that never gets old. Seeing them realize the work and love that goes into each berry to make it as fresh and juicy as possible is something that I couldn’t be happier helping with.” Erin even likes going to online tools like Twitter to share their family’s progress on the farm. “Sharing that story both close to home and around the world is very powerful.”
While Erin continues to talk about the work side, she continues to be thankful her parents made that life-altering decision of moving from the city to rural Ontario. “Life here on the farm is hard to explain, except to say it’s always exciting and always drives me to be as passionate about our product as possible.”