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Farm couple creates agro-tourism

John Coté and Barb Stefanyshyn-Coté sold their farm and moved into flowers

When John Coté and Barb Stefanyshyn-Coté sold their 3,000 acre grain farm near Leask, Sask., four years ago, they had several prerequisites in mind for their next endeavour.

“First, we wanted to do something that would get us working directly with the customer. We enjoy that interaction with people. Secondarily, no matter what we did, it had to be fun,” says Barb.

They had options. John and Barb are both professional agrologists. Barb received the Outstanding Young Agrologist award from the Saskatchewan and Canadian Institute of Agrologists. She and John were Saskatchewan and Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers in 2001.

Early in 2010 they sold the farm and in August of that year purchased 80 acres along Valley Road southwest of Saskatoon. The Valley Road area already had a number of established businesses, which were drawing traffic. And they would be close to markets and family in the city.

The first couple of years the Cotés tried growing corn. “In 2012, we planted five acres of corn and got hit with corn borer which made it unsalable. We ended up mowing it down and turning it back into the soil,” says Barb.

The idea for a flower farm dawned on her during the winter. “I started thinking about the fact that there were very few cut flower growers in the province. I knew of only one other grower and they live 40 miles away.”

“Who doesn’t love flowers?” she says.

In the spring, Barb went to a local seed shop and purchased every package of flower seed that would produce flowers taller than 12 inches. “That was all I knew about the cut flower industry — they like long stems.”

The transition from grain to flowers has been a steep learning curve. “When we were grain farming, we had five varieties — wheat, barley, canola, peas, oats and maybe flax. And if you needed help, there’s information that’s been accumulated for years and it’s readily available.

“In the flower industry, I’m now growing close to 200 varieties, and they’re all different.”

The Cotés grow annual and perennial flowers, bulbs, and ornamental grains and grasses on about five acres. They’re building their market and are now supplying some florists and wholesalers.

The challenges

They have faced several challenges. “Much of it was knowledge — learning what works, what doesn’t, such as choosing which varieties are best suited to our climate. Time to experiment was another challenge.

“Locating markets has also been interesting. Florists have their established markets and supply chains. Am I going to be consistent? Consistency is a tough thing for this sort of business because we’re working with Mother Nature.”

Two orchards with approximately 6,000 raspberry and 4,000 haskap bushes will come into production in 2015. The fruit will also be sold fresh directly to consumers with the remainder to be used for liqueurs.

The construction of a distillery (Black Fox Spirits) began in late 2012 and will be open and in production in spring 2015. It will be the third in the province and the only on-farm distillery.

The Cotés will be growing the majority of what goes into producing their whisky, gin, vodka, and liqueurs. They also want to experiment with different fruits, including pumpkins.

“We’re trying to establish an agro-tourism location. We want people to come out and see what it’s like to be out on the farm. With our distillery, we’d love to have people come and help us with the whole process — planting, taking care of the crop, harvesting, help us put the fruit in the mash tanks and bottling it off. Then they’ve had a hand in the entire process and can call it their own,” Barb says.

The couple’s four children have all been involved in the building of Tierra Del Sol. Their oldest, Joshua, is now studying agriculture engineering; Erin is studying agri-business. Morgan and Lyndon are in high school. “The children have been a huge help.”

The Cotés appreciate the support they’ve received from the community, including the Valley Road Association, a group of businesses that recently began working together to promote the area. “We see Valley Road as a destination for people from the city to come and spend some time checking out a variety of attractions.”

For more information about Tierra Del Sol, call 306-955-4645.

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