Andrew and Jennifer Lovell have a flair for marketing, and it’s helped them diversify and grow their first generation farm at Keswick Bridge, N.B. And it also helped them achieve the title of 2016 Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) for the Atlantic Region.
The Lovells own and operate River View Orchards, which includes a U-pick operation for apples, pears, plums, strawberries, raspberries, pumpkins and other vegetables, as well as commercial apple orchards, and a fence and orchard trellis construction company. And for education, awareness and entertainment they also host school tours, farm-themed birthday parties, and offer wagon rides and operate a corn maze. Last year the farm hosted 1,400 kids. In 2016 they expected the numbers to top 2,000.
The expansion of the U-pick from its original 37 acres has contributed the most to the growth and success of the farm, says Andrew. “Growing the U-pick has allowed us to maintain stability and maximize revenue,” he says. “Margin is significantly higher for fruit that is picked in comparison to fruit that is sold to packers. It’s cut our cost of production because there is no labour expense or freight costs. It’s also lengthened our season, and people are now coming several times a year when the different fruits and vegetables are ready.” The farm sells the same amount of U-pick product in one day that it sold in a whole season when the Lovells purchased it in 2012.
In 2014, the Lovells experienced extreme damage from deer in their orchard, which caused them to lose 50 per cent of their commercial apple revenue for the last two seasons. 2016 marks the year that the orchard is back to full production and will allow them to recover from a significant hit so early in their agriculture careers.
Neither Andrew nor Jennifer — who still works as a nurse full-time — grew up on a farm, but Andrew had wanted to be a farmer from the age of five. He began working on farms at age 12 and was a herdsman by age 18. After completing the Agriculture Technician program at New Brunswick Community College, Andrew ran his own landscaping and cabinet making businesses, until he finally got the opportunity to buy a farm.
Effective marketing, social media
The Lovells use various marketing strategies, and have found that paid advertising on Facebook is among the most cost effective and successful.”We wanted to provide families with a farm experience and our target market is women between the ages of 27 and 45, many of whom are moms with kids between the ages of two to 12. Those are the ages that love to come to our farm,” says Andrew. “Our Facebook page allows us to target those demographics and pick which communities we want to boost our posts to. It’s worked huge for us.” The farm gets as many as 140,000 page views per week and has 5,700 followers.
The Lovells plan to continue to grow and prepare for the next generation — Robert, 11 and Elise, four — who they hope will want to take over the farm one day. Over the next five years they want to expand their commercial orchards by 10 acres a year, and double pumpkin and squash production in 2017. They’ll continue to enhance the farm experience for kids and families with maybe a play structure or bouncy castles.
Winning OYF was a huge and unexpected honour, says Andrew and is a rewarding experience largely because of the new friends they have made. “You are in the company of a group of producers that are your peers but at the same time they can become your mentors and the camaraderie is quite unbelievable,” he says. “The people are definitely the best part.”