Challenge: Expanding a greenhouse business unique to the region
Solution: Ensuring the expertise you need is homegrown
Business was booming for Marc and Krista Schurman, owners of Atlantic Grown Organics Inc., the label for their family farm in Kensington, PEI. To meet that demand, they realized their greenhouse production would need to be year-round.
Most greenhouses can grow from the early spring into the late fall, but Atlantic Grown Organics is now in production 12 months of the year. At any given time, there are approximately 2,000 tomato plants and 1,400 English cucumbers on the vine. Green and red peppers, eggplants, grape tomatoes, beans, spinach, lettuce, kale, melons, herbs, and radishes are also sprouting up.
Expanding their greenhouse operations required a steep learning curve, says Marc. “The greenhouse industry is small and new in Atlantic Canada. There are no greenhouse manufacturers or consultants in the region.”
Marc visited southern Ontario to see new technology firsthand and how it could be applied to their operations in PEI. Ultimately, however, the company worked with suppliers in Holland and had material shipped by container. “It was about continuously being able to supply our two biggest customers, Sobeys and Atlantic Superstore,” says Krista.
The first two expansions in 2015 doubled the acreage under production. In 2017, the greenhouse acreage doubled again. The Schurmans have also enlisted help from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) to maximize their packaging efficiency. “There was room in the market for product,” says Marc. “There was a hole in the market. Someone was going to fill it. If it wasn’t us, it would be someone else.”
Anticipating and meeting market needs is what prompted the Schurmans to build their first greenhouse in 2001 as a way to diversify their farm operation. Building on that business, however, required greater expertise. In 2008 the family left the farm and headed to Mexico where Marc managed a 25-acre greenhouse. Three years later they moved back to PEI and introduced the brand Atlantic Grown Organics to the Maritimes.
Doing your homework is critical to success, says Marc. “If you build it, they will not always come. You need to understand the market and your cost structures.”
Accessing financial capital is something the Government of Canada recognizes as critical to building, growing and scaling a business. With support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the government is helping Atlantic Grown Organics to maximize its efficiency. An investment of over $200,000 will assist the company in expanding their packaging area, as well as adding equipment to automate grading and packaging of produce.
Atlantic Grown Organics is a prime example of how innovation and resourcefulness fuel Atlantic Canada’s economy, at home and beyond.
For more information on programs and services available to businesses in Atlantic Canada call 1-800-561-7862 or go to canada.ca/acoa.