Kim Perry: Local Family Farms

Angela Saxe

[This article ran in the April/May 2014 issue of The SCOOP.]

Much has been written about success and the qualities required to attaining it: dedication, hard work, perseverance and confidence in one’s vision. People who have these qualities are an asset to their community and inspire others to join them in working towards the realization of that vision. Years ago Kim Perry decided that in order to help farming families like her own she had to be proactive, reach out to her community and get involved. Today, she is the owner of the Local Family Farms store in Verona which is anything but simply another grocery store.

“What my store is about is simple: It is a community farm store opening up markets for local farmers. I want people in the community to buy local produce from farms in the area, but if the food is not available year round, I will source it from other family farms across the country or from the United States. The important thing is that by coming in and shopping here, we are helping farmers increase their capacity and expand their markets.”

Kim is very passionate and very clear about her vision. “I am a farmer and I sell some of my products in the store but I’m selling other farmers’ products — that’s the innovation. Local Family Farms helps local food producers distribute their products to their community.”

Some local farms who have benefitted from Local Family Farms are Patchwork Gardens which provides fresh, local organic produce and root vegetables on a seasonal basis. Limestone Creamery now has a market in the Verona and southern part of Frontenac County for their organic milk. Deodato’s & Sons from Kingston provide Kim’s store with fresh local produce and are great supporters of local. Another local family farm, The Blueberry Patch in Picton, sells their various berries, apples, plums, and green beans right into late fall.

“We are helping to create farmers, by that I mean is that a new farmer is willing to grow more produce if they know they will have a market. People who have grown small amounts are willing to expand. Ron Whan’s garlic operation was a farm-gate business and has started to sell more through the Frontenac Farmers Market and our store. His business has now grown into a retail operation. That’s growth of family farms.”

Since local farmers are unable to produce food all year round Kim can’t just sell local food, but there’s a good reason why she imports American, broccoli, mixed lettuce and spinach; she wants to be able to provide her customers with fresh greens until her local supplier is available to her. By creating a market for greens using an imported producer, she creates a market for local products. “We are realistic. We can’t get food locally all year round. I look at what is reasonable for our country to grow — which means that I sometimes have to buy from Quebec or BC, because I can’t buy local.”

Apart from fresh produce Kim also sell a variety of protein. Since poultry is a regulated industry she has to buy from a distributor, but she knows where her chickens come from. The distributor can tell her if the product is from Ontario or Quebec and if it’s air-chilled and antibiotic free. “There’s no such thing as free-range chickens unless you buy them from a farm-gate operation. Farmers are allowed to sell up to 300 chickens from their farm-gate as long as they’ve been processed at a licensed abattoir. And they are allowed to sell fifty turkeys. We take orders at the store for our farm-gate turkeys thus helping a local farm expand its market.

“We also buy our lamb from two local farms. We order the meat straight from the slaughter house where the farms have sent their lambs to be processed. We also sell fish from Findlay Foods, a family business who has made a concerted effort to buy fish from local, small businesses. The yellow perch I get from them comes from a third-generation family business in Ontario. By buying from them we in turn support small scale Ontario fisheries.”

Kim’s store also supports family initiatives that sell value-added products such as jams, pickles, and skin products. LavenderHill in Brighton grows all the lavender that goes into their products, while Topsy Farms on Amherst Island send the wool to be processed at a co-operative that buys wool from family farms and turns it into yarn or into products like blankets.

The Local Family Farms store will have been open for seven years this coming June, but this initiative is part of a vision Kim has had from the time she married into the Perry family from Harrowsmith. Kim, who is originally from New Brunswick, moved to Ontario as a young woman, where she met and married Dave Perry from Harrowsmith. The Perrys have been a farming family for generations. Kim and Dave and their three children currently live in the farm house where Dave grew up. His grandparents' farm was typical of the times: it was a diversified farm. They grew vegetables which they took to market in Kingston, had a small herd of cattle and poultry to provide them with eggs and meat. Farmers of small farms often have another job to help support their family. Grandfather Howard Perry was the clerk at the sales barn at Selby and today Dave works with Corrections Canada.

“Along with Dave, my step-son Justin is heavily involved with our farm business on a daily basis. Since we raise Maine-Anjou cattle, poultry and pigs, there’s a lot of work to do. Meanwhile, I concentrate on the marketing our farm products and educating another generation of Perrys about the farm business.”

Kim is an intelligent, energetic woman who is very clear about what she believes in and is deeply committed to achieving her goals, but she’s not been content to merely farm and sell her products — she’s also been a very powerful activist in the farm community.

Starting in 2004, Kim helped to organize the Feast of Fields events. The intention was to celebrate local, seasonal food, fresh from the family farm. The first of three yearly events was held at Sonset Farm, an organic dairy farm north of Kingston in Inverary. Visitors not only tasted fresh, locally grown food prepared by chefs, but they met local growers.
“The beef industry was in a real slump at the time and when BSE hit at the same time, beef producers saw prices hit rock bottom. They either couldn’t sell their beef or if they did it was at a loss. Local area farmers belong to Local 316 of the National Farmers Union, and we decided to put together a project that would bring attention to and educate people about the farming community in their area. Most people didn’t realize that they could buy beef, lamb, poultry, eggs and fresh produce from the farmer’s gate that they drove by every day on their way to work. We wanted to tell them that people living in our rural area and in towns and cities could go directly to the farm and buy locally.

“It was a great success. People were interested in going to a farm and seeing what farmers were doing. Feast of Fields gave people access to a farm and while they were there, they discovered where they could buy tomatoes or eggs or beef right from the farm. It was very exciting.”

After three years, the awareness was there; people knew that if they wanted local food, they could get it even though it meant spending some time looking for it. But the NFU’s mandate was to increase capacity and to help farmers produce more. When people realized that there was a niche market to be filled, they moved to fill it.

“Ten years ago people were asking why they should buy locally. But today they are focused on where they can buy healthy, sustainable food that supports small farmers. So the next initiative was a three-fold strategy to increase capacity. We wanted to help people get into farming; we wanted to encourage existing farmers to increase their production, and we wanted to help them market their food directly to customers.

“We applied for and received funding for several projects from a variety of sources: Creating a lending library for farmers, not of books but equipment, such as a bush hog, a chicken plucker, a trailer, tiller and a feeder wagon — equipment that a union member could borrow because they are too expensive for a small farmer to buy for a limited use. Applications for funding from Heifer International were available for farmers and The Food Down the Road: Toward a Sustainable Local food System for Kingston and Countryside generates awareness and encourages farmers to expand their operations.

Kim worked to build up her farm’s capacity by increasing farm-gate sales and selling directly to restaurants. Around 2005, Kim established the Frontenac Farmers Market, now located in the Prince Charles Public School in Verona. As the founding president, her energy and experience went into creating a cooperative where members could only sell what they grew, not other people’s products, a mandate that was strict in order to ensure that everyone knew who was growing the food and where it was coming from. After two years, Kim left the Frontenac Farmers Market to open her store.

“I couldn’t continue to sell our farm produce, raise my young children, and work at the market, so I ended my involvement. I’m still involved in the NFU but I have to dedicate most of my time to my family and business. I believe that I’m still focused on the same goal as when I first started. I want to increase the variety of products available to my customers and I want to increase the number of local family farms who can sell their products in our community.”

Shopping at a grocery store is not just a matter of finding the cheapest price for goods or the most convenient location; it can also be a community effort to support farmers who are an integral and important part of our heritage and our food supply. Drop by and check out Kim’s store; the food less travelled is worth the trip.