Nipissing farm thrives on local model: Leisure Farms has drawn clients for more than 30 years.

Author:Kelly, Lindsay

Mitch Deschatelets scans the field before him, his attention coming to rest on a row of bulbous, orange globes waiting to be loaded onto the farm truck.

The pumpkin crop is the last to be harvested before this growing season draws to a close at Leisure Farms, and it's easily the busiest time of the year.

From late September through October, thousands of visitors will descend on the Sturgeon Falls farm to pick out their future jack-o'-lanterns, navigate their way through the corn maze, and scoop up the last of the fresh produce and baked goods that fill the shelves of the farmgate store and bakery.

"During pumpkin season, maybe on a good day, we get up to 6,000 people per day," said Deschatelets, who manages the family-owned and -operated acreage. "So sometimes they need to control traffic on the road; it gets really busy."

Fall family visits are just one aspect of the business. The farm, which has been in operation since 1981, grows and sells a variety of fruits and vegetables, building its reputation as the largest pick-your-own strawberry farm in Ontario.

Deschatelets is the third generation to run the operation, which began with his paternal grandparents, who "had a little bit of corn, a little bit of dairy" on the farm where his father was raised.

When his parents, Mike and Diane, purchased the farm in 1981, they began to expand its offerings, cultivating the first strawberry plants and slowly adding new crops.

As the farm grew and took up more of the family's time, Mike struggled to run the farm while working full-time at the nearby Weyerhaeuser corrugated paper mill.

"It was getting to be too much to do both, so he had to make a decision: either cut back on the farming, or increase it and quit the other job," Deschatelets said.

"He decided to just go all out and quit his other job."

It was a prescient choice. By 2002, Weyerhaeuser closed the plant permanently, leaving all 150 mill workers unemployed.

But agriculture is far from a sure thing, and so the Deschatelets buckled down, working hard to keep the farm running.

In the last three decades, the owners have acquired six contiguous farms, bringing the total land package to 600 acres.

"We start the season with haskap berries and then follows the strawberries, which overlaps at the end with the raspberries," Deschatelets said.

"At the same time, all the vegetables kick in, so carrots, onions, potatoes, kale, beans, beets--I'm probably forgetting something --but a variety of vegetables...

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