FoodGrads Podcast Ep 29: Why you need a solution based mindset when growing asparagus with Marc Wall VP of Sales at Sandy Shore Farms Ltd.
On episode 29 of the FoodGrads podcast Veronica interviewed Marc Wall, VP of Sales and Co-owner of Sandy Shore Farms Limited, Canada’s largest grower and shipper of fresh asparagus. Though they also grow cherries and green peppers! In this episode Marc spoke to me about the history of Sandy Shore Farms, how his family immigrated to Canada and their story of perseverance.
I learned more about what Marc does as a VP sales and why he decided to come back to the family farm despite going out of province for university. In addition, the story of growing asparagus farm to fork, unlike ready to consume goods farmers have to work fast with produce because it has a very short shelf life in comparison.
Marc has a great attitude things and you really feel his advice that he gives in this episode is advice he lives by. You can really brings to light the current landscape of agriculture in that it really is starting to feel like a tech industry
[3:00] Can you tell me more about Sandy Shore Farms and what you do?
- Marc’s great-great grandfather originally from Holland immigrated to Canada in the 1920s they started mainly farming orchard fruit in the Niagara region. In the 1940s they moved to Norfolk. Over time, they figured out that Norfolk has great soil. Norfolk is referred to “Ontario’s Garden.” In the 1950’s Marc’s grandfather grew asparagus and eventually his father and uncle started to take over the business. Now it’s Marc’s cousin and himself taking the reigns.
- Sandy Shore’s is a grower, packer, processor and shipper of asparagus, onions and peppers. They like to create products they can add value to.
- Marc’s job is VP of sales. Though he wears a lot of hats because things are unpredictable. There are issues like logistics, sales arrangements. He grew up on the farm and always wanted to move to out to the city because that is where all the action was. He went to the University of Waterloo and eventually Concordia where he got a degree in political science. Marc feels that university teaches you how to analyze and think. You don’t have to go into the field you went to school for.
- Afterwards, the farm called him back and he started to enjoy the agriculture again. It is so much about working in a team and being apart of a greater purpose. Agriculture forces you to problem solve which Marc loves.
[7:42] Veronica reflecting on how people who are from the suburbs are considering going into agriculture
- Marc has noticed that when they post jobs that there are a lot of people applying from the city. There is a new interest especially big city because people want to get involved
[9:20] What sparked their interest in seeking these jobs?
- It has to do with the pandemic and people want to have careers outside of the city. They want to get in areas which are not so condensed and this provides them with that opportunity
[9:50] Sandy Shore Farms is a family business. What does that feel like? How is the atmosphere?
- Working with family is difficult but also rewarding. No matter if you fight you are always going to be family and that creates a unique bond. If you fail, you fail together. If you succeed, you succeed together.
[10:53] What does your job actually look like?
- It is a constantly changing environment. One day you land that contract and you have to figure out the logistics. Those are the good problems. Though there are bad days like you have to figure out what to do with late deliveries or off-spec products. For example, a customer reduced their order size but they already shipped the product. It is about thinking on the fly and problem solving.
- In raw produce you are constantly racing against the clock because it has a shelf life. Asparagus only has a two week shelf life. It is challenging but with the right team and systems you can get it is manageable.
[13:44] How does shipping actually happen with asparagus? Does an outside company pick up the the order or do you have dedicated shippers yourself?
- They will load a truck with asparagus where till will be picked up by a distributor where they accept the product. Than the distributor will send it out to their retailers with their own trucks. Which than will put it out on their store shelves.
[14:30] Veronica talking about how much she loves Ontario asparagus
- Asparagus has such a short shelf life and that is why asparagus from Peru or Mexico doesn’t taste as good because it has taken so much time to travel
[16:15] How is asparagus grown?
- The “viral” asparagus photo where there was half a foot of snow in April
- They grow the seeds into crown which are then transported and grown in rows. It takes three years before you harvest. Within those years you take care of them as much as you can because they are essential in the later years. In Ontario and most of Canada is May and June. If treated correctly the life span in 20 years
[18:55] Why should young people consider a career in agriculture even if they don’t have a background in it?
- It is such a rewarding industry to be in. You are giving people to access to healthy food and feeding them.
- You can get into the industry by getting a degree in anything like agronomy, food safety, food science. Farmers are looking for food safety coordinators, scouts on the field even engineers for the robotics. These pieces of equipment are about highly advanced and there is so much technology right now in agriculture. Don’t think that agriculture isn’t exciting because there is so much new and exciting stuff happening right now. Anyone with the right attitude can work.
[22:00] How is the best way to eat asparagus?
- Find the biggest asparagus you can find than throw it on the grill with olive oil and garlic
[23:19] What piece of advice would you give to a young person wanting to go into the agricultural industry or general life advice?
- Don’t give up.
- There is always a way to figure out a problem and have a solution mind-set.
[24:42] Where can we find you and Sandy Shore Farms produce?
- They ship into all the major retailers in Canada. So in May and June look for that local produce