What was the catalyst for starting your business?
I ran off from Toronto in high spirits, in love, and with child, to start farming in Caledon in 2009. Gail was born and raised here, and it was the perfect place to establish a small specialty crop farm.
We decided to focus on organic hops during our first winter in our 1890 farmhouse and set out to learn everything we could from Canadian and American growers at the time.
We established our first hop yard that next year and undertook a significant (for us, we are pretty small) expansion in 2013.
As we began to sell hops to local brewers, there was a common remark that our Cascade hops were particularly beautiful, with one brewer exclaiming that they were the best Cascade hops he’d ever brewed with.
This set us off on a journey towards beer terroir – to create and brew beer with ingredients from our farm, and those of neighbouring farms, using our water as the base ingredient to create truly local flavours.
How long have you been in business?
We established GoodLot Farm in 2009 and started growing in 2010. Our first hop sale was in 2012 to the Granite Brewery in Toronto (they rock), and we produced our first beer for sale in 2017.
What were the most challenging aspects of starting a business?
The learning curve. We are both smart people and were experienced with growing plants, flowers and food. But commercial-scale hops are a totally different thing, requiring total dedication to bringing in a great crop. The Ministry of Ag has told us that growing organic hops are the hardest crop to be successful at in this Province. The amount of detail from total focus on soil health, treatment of issues, pest, diseases, etc. It has been fascinating to learn and see the results over the years. Those early years, when you calculate your hourly wage for breaking your back in the field for around $0.19 per hour, well that can be a challenge of the heart.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to start their own business?
Just do it. Plan first. Be smart. Seek advice. Don’t be in a rush. If what you are doing feels right and is bringing results, then step forward. If it is not working, take a step back and evaluate.
The world needs entrepreneurs and small business people to build local, sustainable companies that help provide a dynamic and resilient local economic system.
And before you start, account for your carbon footprint and ensure to offset it directly or through partnering with someone who can help (like a Bullfrog Power), because any business that is launched in the 21st century, needs to be carbon-free. Click To Tweet
What advice do you wish someone had shared with you?
Start earlier… Kind of kidding, but Gail and I do wish we’d started GoodLot Farm when we were in our mid-twenties instead of our mid-thirties.
New questions emerge every day which requires advice. Thankfully we have surrounded ourselves with fellow farmers and brewers who are more than willing to share their experience and insight into our queries.
How do you think you have grown as a person through the experience of starting and maintaining a business?
That’s a good question. We’ve definitely aged a lot through the process 😉
Discovering, financing, planning and running a business requires serious focus. When you work for someone else, there is a good chance you don’t have to worry about a high percentage of what goes on around you. However, when you start and maintain a business, you are responsible, especially at our size, for everything. And I mean everything, from cleaning the bathroom to ensuring you make payroll, to making long term strategic decisions and everything in between.
What do you do when you need a little inspiration?
Go for a walk in the woods or our fields. Go visit other farms and breweries, talk to our friends and bounce ideas around. Practice yoga. Go cross-country skiing. Have date nights!
What is the difference between your business and others like it?
There are a few things that set us apart from our awesome fellow Ontario breweries.
We are a farm-based brewery, which there is a handful of in Canada.
We grow ingredients for our beer, and only use 100% Ontario hops in every batch – that is very unique.
We have a zero-carbon mandate – we have renovated our brewing space to net-zero, air-tight standards for maximum energy efficiency, and designed our brewing system to recapture energy in the brewing process for use in the next brew. We installed 20 kW of solar PV to power our operation and will add more as we determine exactly how much energy we use. We do not directly combust any fossil fuels to make our beer, and we are very committed to the idea that 21st-century businesses must not add to the carbon equation.