By Tom Collins
LAKEFIELD — A Peterborough farm family says word of mouth has done amazing things to promote their farm and their events.
Sam and Jane McLean, and their two adult children, Ben and Erin, run an almost 300-acre fruit and vegetable farm at two farms at Lakefield, just north of Peterborough. They grow strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, snap peas, beans, asparagus, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, pumpkins and tap for maple syrup. They also run an annual maple syrup festival and pumpkin festival, the latter drew 13,000 visitors last year.
While the farm — which was named Peterborough County Farm Family of the Year late last year — advertises on social media, newspapers, TV and radio, many of those 13,000 customers discovered the farm through word of mouth, Erin said. Customers return because they want to connect to their farming roots, she said.
“People are just so disconnected with farming and where their food comes from, that they want that experience of being able to pick your own,” she said. “That’s the driving force behind the local food movement: The quality is amazing and the taste is amazing but that connection is something that a lot of people crave.”
To build on this, one of the key themes in advertising is to focus on the stories behind the food, such as how strawberries are grown. The pumpkin fest includes a corn maze, haunted corn maze, straw bale maze, haunted forest, graveyard, pumpkin cannon, haunted hallways, obstacle course, play areas, bouncy castle, pumpkin bowling, live entertainment and wagon rides to the pumpkin patch.
At last year’s pumpkin fest, the farm charged $9 per person or $32 for a family of four (cheaper than the price of a movie, Erin pointed out). After that, activities are free, and there is enough going on that some families spend the whole day on the farm. The biggest attraction is the pumpkin cannon. “People really love to see pumpkins explode out of a cannon,” she said.
The pumpkin festival is at their Buckhorn farm location, about 30 minutes north of Peterborough and off Hwy 23. Their other farm is three minutes south of the Buckhorn Farm.
One of the farm’s unofficial philosophies is to face challenges head on. In 2018, the McLeans and four other vendors were kicked out of the Peterborough farmers’ market when they protested that some vendors were selling produce from the Toronto Food Terminal. Within a few months, those five vendors opened their own downtown farmers’ market that now has 50 vendors and uses a third party to verify that all food vendors produce the food they sell.
“We’ve always faced every obstacle as though it has to have a solution,” said Erin. “We don’t really have any other option but to find that solution and to keep moving forward. That’s just always been the way my dad has operated, and that’s really what he’s instilled in us. We just keep trying to do the best job we can do and find creative solutions to make things end the best way they can.”
The McLean family also volunteer with the Haliburton Kawartha Maple Syrup Producers Association, Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development, Farmers’ Market Ontario, and the Lakefield Farmers’ Market.
Peterborough farm family of 2019 brought 13,000 out to annual pumpkin fest
By Tom Collins