Although it’s a quieter time of year for Jamie and Tere who run Wyllie Fox Farm in Cato, they are gearing up for their busy seedling season which kicks off in April. Wyllie Fox Farm has specialized in selling certified organic seedlings since 2012, giving customers the pride of growing their own produce. They offer around 250 varieties of vegetable, plant, and herb seedlings at the farm. For those who would like to get a head start on the gardening season at home, Jamie and Tere are offering a new gardening master class via Zoom on Saturday, February 20! Learn about their other plans and priorities—including scaling up to handle an expected increase in demand this year—by reading on!
EFL: Could you please describe some of the daily tasks involved this time of year in running Wyllie Fox Farm?
Tere: There’s not much in terms of daily tasks on the farm this time of year, aside from taking care of the chickens, feeding wood into the boiler that heats the house, and occasionally knocking snow off the greenhouses. This time of year, we TRY to focus on the work that we didn’t have time to complete during the frenzy of seedling season to the final harvest (April through December). This would be all the not-so-sexy tasks of farming (and owning any business, I suppose) … bookwork, financials, marketing plans, strategizing for the following season, insurance, doing an end-of-year reflect and review, crop planning, seed orders, website updates, etc. We often build a new greenhouse, work on some renovation to the old farmhouse, re-arrange our washroom …. work on the infrastructure in some way.
We also try to have some downtime with our families, and with each other. We run pretty hard for most of the year, so it’s important to us to try to have some downtime to relax and rejuvenate. Being business partners, romantic partners, and parents is a whole heck of a lot too … It’s important to Jamie and me that we take time to enjoy each other outside of those containers, so we try to lock ourselves away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere to just BE. The health of the farm business depends on the health of our relationship, so we try to prioritize that … I do emphasize TRY. We find ourselves getting wrapped up in the “busy” more often than we like to admit.
EFL: Could you please describe the Home Gardening 101 Masterclass coming up on February 20?
Tere: We get a ton of questions from our seedling customers each year about how to garden, and saw the largest influx of first-time gardeners this year. Jamie was going to become a school teacher if he didn’t become a farmer, and those who know him, know he is an endless wealth of information about all things gardening. He is a pretty limited resource when the booth is teaming full of people, so we decided we would find a way to get the information in his head out to a large number of folks at once. We are broadly covering just about everything gardening related … Including planning and ordering seed, starting seeds, how to plant, maintenance, pests and disease, troubleshooting, harvest and closing the garden for the year. There will be time for Q+A at the end of the class. This class is a broad stroke, and we may offer more specific classes on some of those topics as the season progresses. We are offering another hour-long class strictly on seed starting, as that’s the next major task on the upcoming home garden timeline.
EFL: Could you please describe an issue or experience related to the farm that is on the top of your mind right now?
Scaling is likely the top concern at the moment. We need to build another two greenhouses to meet our demands for this year. Finding the balance between staffing, cash flow and both of us not working 80 hour weeks is always a concern. But that is the plight of owning any business, I suppose …. And it’s a good issue to have, with having demand for our product exceeding what we have the capacity for. We are always up for a challenge!
EFL: What are two or three things that you wish more people knew about running a farm?
1. However hard you think it is … It’s about 10 times harder … both physically and mentally
2. Farming is a business, just like any other. You quite literally need to bring in ALL your skillsets to run one properly … You need artistic creativity, grit and hard manual labor, the ability to build or fix EVERYTHING, very analytical thinking, very fluid and adaptable strategizing, sales and marketing, public relations, an HR professional, epicurean flair, the ability to draw on traditions and what is tried and true as well as having your finger on the pulse of the most up and coming trends. You have to know or be ALL THE THINGS.
Jamie: It’s not really a job, but an entire lifestyle … a hobby … a source of income. It’s nothing that you can hang up at the end of the day. Sometimes I walk out the door at 4 a.m. and walk back in the door at 4 a.m. the following day. You have to love what you do, and be completely committed to it.
EFL: Could you please explain how you and Jamie might split up the work of running the farm?
We try not to get ourselves mired into any specific roles, so we share a lot of the workload during the main season, such as greenhouse work, planting, weeding, managing staff etc…There certainly aren’t any gender roles here on the farm!
However … Jamie does tend to do more of the “heavy lifting” in terms of physical labor. He can fix or build anything, and I’m not sure which end of the hammer is the one you hit the nail with … so he takes point on most of those kinds of tasks.
Jamie isn’t the most technology inclined person I’ve ever met (read, can’t manage his own inbox), so I take point on the website, social media, marketing, communications with wholesale clients, spreadsheets, logistics and organizing. The great thing is, we work really well together, both in terms of working side by side, and complimenting what we are not-so-hot at.
EFL: What are some resolutions or priorities you may have for the farm in 2021?
JUST ONE (lol):
Better doors for the greenhouses!!!! (I joke that I’m quitting if we don’t make that a priority)
Where can people find your products/produce?
Tere: The best place to check for our most recent activity is on Facebook or Instagram (@wylliefoxfarm).
You can find tickets to the gardening courses or sign up for “Organic Seedling CSA Shares” through our online farm store, www.wylliefoxfarmstore.com. We started the seedling CSA last year, and expect to see significant growth with it this year. It works the same as a traditional CSA, where folks buy a share early in the year, and receive a farm share when the product is ready. Seed companies are selling out at an alarming rate this year, and folks are getting locked out of their seed orders, so we anticipate folks wanting a little security in pre-purchasing their seedlings as well.
Once seedlings become available, you can purchase those through the farm store as well, and pick them up on the farm. We add produce to the offerings as that becomes available as well.
Generally, you can find us at the CNY Regional Market from about May1st (ish) to mid-December. We start with seedlings, and transition into produce as the season progresses.
Lastly, we don’t hold normal business hours at the farm, but always welcome folks to make an appointment to come see us. We usually host a day or two of on-farm seedling sales, which we will announce via social media.
What are some of the greatest rewards of starting and/or running Wyllie Fox Farm?
We get to live the lives we love. It’s a lot of hard work, but we get to fully express our true, authentic selves in the work we put out into the world … And we just love what we do. I try to live cyclically, in tune with natural cycles, and this is one of many ways I can do so.
We not only get to produce food for people, but give them the tools to produce their own food.
To learn more visit wylliefoxfarmstore.com.