Toth trades in business suit for jeans and a hoe

Braemar Hills Farm adds CSA option for 2021 season

By JEFF TRIBE,

The Woodstock Local

A shared family decision has shifted Jeremy Toth’s focus from MBA to CSA and altered his former practice of meeting clients in an immaculate business suit.

“As opposed to covered in dirt in a field,” laughed the banker turned Embro-area produce farmer.

When Toth and wife Angela Langlois purchased their five-acre Braemar Hills Farm northeast of Embro (just east of Stonehaven Golf Course) six years ago, Toth was unknowingly on the back end of a 20-year banking career. His transition from boardroom to broader backyard came in conjunction with assessment of child-care costs for their four children, in part combined with a planned exit from the city back to shared rural roots and values.

“We made the decision this is where we wanted our kids to grow up.”

Three of the property’s five acres were workable, giving rise to the possibility of renting those out to a neighbour.

“Or do we want to do something with it?” Toth asked rhetorically.

The response was more complex than three acres of tillage opportunity, ultimately coming down to the shared lifestyle choice of having one parent continue their career, the other staying home to both make use of their land, and provide more direct parental support and presence.

“They know I’m working, but at least I’m here,” explained Toth, who as a bonus, has been able to provide home-schooling coordination during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three acres essentially eliminated the mainline cash crops of Toth’s childhood from their equation, and in that first year, the plant of choice was garlic, which remains the couple’s No. 1 emphasis.

“And every year since, it’s grown,” said Toth, who joined a tradition established by a “lot of great producers” in Oxford. “And the community really seems to support local agriculture.”

Braemar Hills Farm utilizes non-certified but practically organic practices eschewing sprays and chemical fertilizer in favour of compost, crop rotation and ploughed cover crops. Toth has essentially divided his productive land into six large plots, three of which are in production at any one time. The balance is covered with options including clover, oats, peas or sunflowers.

Raised beds help with weed control, which is still an ongoing issue Toth approaches strategically. Drip irrigation is in place to help plant establishment, following which Mother Nature’s timely benevolence is welcomed.

The whole family is involved in the operation, their labour supported by a summer student from a local dairy farm, whose responsibility and work ethic is highly valued.

“Having good help is a game-changer,” Toth credits.

Progression has included sales through electronic order or a roadside stand featuring a selection of eight to 10 Braemar core vegetable varieties, including salad greens, onions, carrots, peppers and garlic, enhanced by offerings such as Fleming sweet corn or Glenisla honey.

Braemar Hills Farm has also announced a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) option for 2021, consistent with what Toth suspects is a COVID-driven inversion from two-thirds cash, to three-quarters electronic sales. Dedicated CRM (customer relationship management) software is contributing to a website-driven ordering emphasis coordinating disparate streams including email, text and Facebook messages.

“It gives me a little more time to play in the dirt,” explained Toth, who is expanding his vegetable variety from the existing core, to close to 25 this summer.

Essentially speaking, CSA offers patrons the opportunity to purchase a share of the harvest, up-front investment resulting in a weekly fresh produce box across an extended harvest period Toth expects to cover 10 to 12 weeks through July, August and September.

Braemar Hills Farm is offering the ability to tweak the standard box, as well as a 10 percent store credit bulk bonus.

“The reception has been fantastic,” says Toth of a concept providing consistent access for clients, and some prediction of direction, demand and volume for the producer. “It gives you an idea of what you need to forecast toward.”

Further information on Braemar Hills Farms, including details on the CSA option, are available through the website: Braemar Hills Farm

A ‘farm kid’ who migrated to banking after finding himself handy with numbers, Toth admittedly misses portions of his past career, most notably interaction with clients.

“It’s just different,” he summed up. “It’s worked so far, we’re going to keep on with it.”