When an unrelated search for a lost dog brought Victoria Spencer onto the property of Bluegroves Farm in West Lorne, Ont., two years ago, she didn’t anticipate that not only would she find the dog but would also walk away as the farm’s new owner.
Now, she runs the largest organic blueberry farm in southwestern Ontario with her partner, Michael St. Jermaine. Located 45 kilometres west of London, the 63-acre farm is a one-stop shop for all things blueberries.
“We see upwards of 300 customers a day. Many come with their families. It’s one of those things where you come out and enjoy yourselves while picking your blueberries,” Spencer said.
Customers can handpick from six different varieties of blueberries during the prime season, which runs from late July to the end of August. The farm also has a bakery which runs until Christmas time that carries items like blueberry pies, ice cream, juice, syrups, jam, and plenty more.
“Each one of these berries have a little bit more tartness, and sweetness, some are bigger, some are smaller,” Spencer said.
“Everybody comes at different times [in the season] because they like different berries.”
Environment and tourism challenges
For Spencer, the biggest challenges in sustaining her farm have been environmental. With fluctuating water and heat levels, harvesting crops hasn’t been the easiest.
“Last year, it was a wet season which isn’t very good for blueberries. It makes them expand and act like balloons, so they pop when you pick them,” she said.
“This year, there’s not enough water. It’s been a nice cool summer, but that’s also not good for blueberries. They need a lot of heat and a lot of water, so the yield on the crop hasn’t been great this year.”
Along with climate woes, Spencer says more tourism is needed in the West Elgin municipality to boost local businesses in the area because, as supportive as her community is, the town just doesn’t have the population base to support a you-pick farm, she said.
From a pie recipe to an Instagram shout-out
When she took over the farm, Spencer had never baked a pie in her life. Being a chocolatier in her past, she thought, ‘how hard can it be?’ Turns out, it was very hard, she said, describing her first pie as an “epic failure.”
That’s when she came across cookbook author Erin McDowell on social media, whose recipes taught Spencer how to bake a pie. “After the 500th pie, I think I got it,” she said.
After seeing how helpful McDowell’s recipe was for the farm’s business, Spencer’s mom wrote McDowell an email, showing her gratitude. To their surprise, McDowell not only responded but gave them a shout-out on Instagram as well, making it her most watched video on the platform.
Spencer is optimistic about her plans to grow the farm’s sales.
“We’re hoping eventually down the road to be able to build a building to hold events, have a bigger bakery and cafe on the farm. All that takes time and money, so we’ll see what the next five years bring.”