Greg and Tania Mac–Kenzie, owners and operators of MacKenzie Produce in Stratford, P. E. I., are Atlantic Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2009. The young farm couple, who won the Atlantic region’s competition during the Atlantic Farm Mechanization Show in Moncton, N. B., will be competing with six other regional finalists at the national awards program in Ottawa in early December.
On their 100-acre farm, the MacKenzie’s grow cabbage for both the fresh market and processing market, as well as broccoli, turnips, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, cucumber, pumpkins and gourds.
Their cabbage is sold to restaurants and grocery stores throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. They also have a thriving delivery service to niche markets in the Charlottetown area, such as Chinese food and fine dining restaurants.
Greg grew up on a mixed farm in Prince Edward Island and always helped with chores. However, it was a neighbouring farm that eventually turned into The MacKenzie’s current business. Greg worked at the nearby farm in the early 1990s, starting out as extra help at harvest and evolving into an unofficial role of manager. During his time as an employee, Greg developed a close working rapport with the farm owner.
In the early 2000s when Greg’s employer was ready for retirement, the MacKenzie’s took the opportunity to take over the farm. Even though the farm now had a new owner, the close connection between Greg and the original farm owners is maintained. Greg knew advice was only a phone call away or a walk across the yard, and he appreciates the respect and autonomy they gave him. Suppliers liked the sale too since they had been dealing with Greg as for some time prior to the change of ownership.
So what changes have the MacKenzie’s made that have made the most difference in the success of their farming business?
Greg and Tania recently expanded their warehouse. They renovated and joined two existing warehouses, then added a new grading room, installed new refrigeration units for the existing cooler, built a staff lunch room, new loading docks and added a new piece onto the warehouse— a 48 x 84 foot refrigeration cooler.
The benefits are numerous, Tania says. Now, vegetables are not exposed to the cold P. E. I. winter temperatures when moving from one warehouse to another. As well, the new refrigeration units are energy efficient and have minimized electricity bills.
The renovations also mean employees have a spot for a hot lunch before going back to the field, while the new loading docks have improved accessibility. The new cooler saves on freight costs, since cabbage can be stored onsite, rather than shipped to a rented warehouse about 30 kilo-metres away.
Greg and Tania are members of the Future Farmer Program and are past hosts of the annual Future Farmer barbeque. Greg is treasurer of the PEI Horticulture Association. On their farm, they have completed an Environmental Farm Plan.
Their three children Austin, 12, Haley, 11, and Gracie, 4, are actively involved in sports activities and they are parent volunteers for those activities. Tania also volunteers at their church.
Allison Finnamore is a freelance writer based in Moncton, N. B.