Many years ago I met Jentje Steenbeek when he was a talented young student in Stephen Oliver’s digital media course at Central Huron Secondary School. We worked together on a website for the Blyth Business Association.
Since that time, Jentje has gone off to University to get a degree in Political Science before returning home to purchase forty acres and begin his career as owner/operator of Stonefield Garden Centre & Market near Bayfield. Jentje had worked at this site, as a student, for the previous owner and jumped at the opportunity to build his own business here.
Stonefield Garden Centre has 1 acre of greenhouse and fifteen field crops including asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, cucumbers and tomatoes. He sells his produce at the Clinton Farmers Market and at the Produce and Flea Market in Bayfield each Sunday. In Spring he employs 5-6 people full-time which is reduced to 2-3 in the greenhouse during summer months.
I asked Jentje what he enjoys most about his business. He grew up on a nearby dairy farm and shared that he enjoyed the farming lifestyle. He told us that growing things was rewarding and that this business also meets another need of his – that to be social as he enjoys the customer interactions too. He finds there is a lot of competition, specifically the big box stores that can undercut local farm prices so deeply. He wants consumers to really think about their food sources. For example, sweet corn is now ready … buying it from a local producer you’ll find it is not only fresher and will last longer, but it much tastier. Sweet corn purchased off the grocery shelf is not as sweet as it has lost its natural sugar content through time (shipping and packaging).
Staff recruitment is a challenge for Stonefield. Harvesting fruits and vegetables requires manual labour – a less than attractive job for most. Jentje mentioned that he will likely drop raspberries from his offerings as maintenance schedules don’t fit with the other product cycles of this business.
Keeping ahead of the trends is an important aspect of the business as we, as consumers, demand new options in plants and/or colours each season. Colours are apparently inspired by the fashion world. This year, dark blue and greens were most requested.
Geraniums are not quite as popular as in the past, but remain a strong choice. Jentje finds the tropical plants like diplademia and mandevilla are growing in popularity. He is constantly looking for new varieties and improvements and depends on his female staff to help guide his purchasing decisions. Large contracts, like the Town of Clinton and or Goderich are important for this local business too.
In February, the cycle begins when bedding plants are started at the greenhouse. In April and May the asparagus is being harvested. Then this business is super-intense in May and June as bedding plants are in high demand. And, as our season winds down, in early Fall, plants brokers in the NIagara Region host open houses where this young entrepreneur gets a chance to see new plants and network with peers about opportunities for the following season.
Jentje Steenbeek is working on a new Canadian product. He is growing rhubarb plants he imported from Holland. After two to three years in the field, he’ll force winter rhubarb in the greenhouse to be able to offer this specialty product year-round
Stonefield Garden Centre also carries river rock, top soil, three way mix and mulch.
Stonefield Garden Centre
77688 Orchard Line
Central Huron (Bayfield), ON N0M 1G0