Butters Farms: It's a family affair
Butters Farms, the multi generational farm east of St. Thomas supplies grocery stores from coast to coast in Canada, and as far south as Texas. It has specialized in a niche market that has a unique distinction in Canada.
“We are Canada’s only food safety certified company that doesn’t actually produce a food product,” says Patrick Butters, who along with brother Chris, runs the farm in Central Elgin. The ornamental gourds and corn look as though they can be eaten, but that isn’t the intended purpose.
“Everything we do here is ornamental for Thanksgiving and Halloween,” Patrick says. “That being said, you’ll find our stuff in the grocery store. Right next to carrots and celery and every other product out there.”
All of the processes used meet the same standards as any other food producing farms in the country, which is a good thing as some customers have mistakenly eaten the produce.
“Well you can eat anything if you’re brave enough, but don’t eat those though,” Chris says.
Patrick adds, “Our favourite story actually happens to be a lady sent us an email about three years ago, asking us if the gourds were safe to eat, because her neighbour had fed them to their children.”
The brothers took over the farm from their father, a retired St. Thomas firefighter who purchased it over 30 years ago. They’ve grown up in the pumpkin patch.
“I go to bed every night and I dream about pumpkins, and I come to work and I dream about pumpkins,” says Chris.
Working so closely with a sibling can be disastrous, but that isn’t an issue for the Butters according to Chris.
“I can count on one hand how many times we’ve been in a real argument. And that’s something we’ve always had going for us. Our entire life we’ve always gotten along really well.”
That cohesion is well served in a bustling business that has a work force that tops 200 during harvest time.
“That is probably my biggest stress at the same time, is making sure we have enough labour to get everything picked because, again, all picked by hand because we can’t damage it,” says Patrick.
The planning process for this crop begins over a year in advance, with next year's plants already being considered, but Butters Farms uses a staggered planting schedule to stretch out the harvest.
That planting begins in May with harvest lasting until the end of November.