The federal government is investing in local apples. To the tune of $1.5 million, as Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Member of Parliament for Kitchener-Conestoga Harold Albrecht announced Wednesday afternoon at the Martin’s Family Fruit Farm southwest of St. Jacobs.
The money will help fund a new facility and processing line for apple crisps and cider.
Construction has already begun on the 17,000-square-foot apple-processing facility being built on Donway Court in Elmira’s south field industrial park. The facility is expected to create 30 new full-time positions in the township when the company has the plant in full production by mid-November.
The Martins considered locating the new facility on the home-farm on Lobsinger Line, but soon recognized that the project was larger than what the existing site could accommodate. At that point, they started looking around the region for a suitable site. The Martins were encouraged to locate their new facility in Elmira by township officials.
Company president Kevin Martin understands the risks that come with their business and the need to anticipate future trends and opportunities.
“To make it in our industry, you also really have to be passionate about what you do,” he said. “Elmira is the perfect spot for this facility. It has the land available, we have a very short timeline and we needed something that was ready to go as far as a fully-serviced property – staying within the region was attractive as we could keep on our good source of employment.”
The Martin family has had a passion for apples for more than 40 years when Martin’s father, Leighton, planted 100 apple trees on the farm. Since then the family has been establishing and expanding the fruit business.
The operation now has more than 750 acres of orchard in production and a packing plant that handles and markets fruit from some 40 additional growers across Ontario.
Keeping the business a family operation is important, as three Martins actively run the company. Steve Martin manages the on-farm retail operations; Ken Martin is the operations manager; and Kevin acts as president.
While passion is important, the steady growth of the business has come as a direct result of understanding market trends and making key investments at the right times.
“We have been investing in new technology, new plantings and new apple varieties to help provide Ontario with the safest, healthiest apples in the world,” said Martin. “Our new line of apple crisps and slices is a demand we have found for healthy options and an opportunity to provide extra value to our products.”
Over the last decade there have been additional orchard acquisitions and plantings by the farm as well as the construction of a state-of-the-art cold storage facility, upgraded packing lines and a series of plant expansions.
The Elmira the plant will be a production line that will slice apples into rings, with the skins left on, then dehydrate and package them without any additives or preservatives. The byproduct from the apple crisp line will be used to produce apple cider. The facility will use less-than-perfect apples while adding to the ability of the farm to use the full crop.
The mass production and processing capacity for this type of crisps does not currently exist in the sector, said Martin.
“It is because of the government’s support through the Agricultural Innovation Program that we were able to establish our new venture,” he explained, adding the partnership will be creating new opportunities to contribute to the growth and sustainability of the Ontario apple industry.
The Agricultural Innovation Program is a $50 million initiative announced as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan. The program boosts the development and commercialization of innovative products, technologies and processes in the agricultural sector.
“The Martin Family Fruit Farm provides jobs for Waterloo and markets for Ontario apple producers and is an excellent example of powerful and effective branding, marketing and growing a farm business. Their success lies in their customer focus and their innovative approach in business,” said Albrecht.
According to the Canadian produce marketing association Canada’s fresh fruit and vegetables market contributes approximately $5 billion to the economy and provides direct employment to more than 90,000 Canadians.
“The Martins exemplify the modern state-of-the-art family-run operation and their success has provided nearly 200 jobs to the community and income to the farmers who supplement the food supply,” said Ritz. “The Martin line of apple crisps is an excellent example of how Canada’s agriculture sector is innovating to meet the growing demand for healthier, more natural foods.”
The $1.5-million investment is a loan from the government and the repayment schedules will be worked out through the contribution agreement and based on profitability, added the minister.
For more information about the Agricultural Innovation Program and other Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada programs, visit www.agr.gc.ca.