By Rebecca Fitzsimmons
While much of Halton’s rich farmland has been taken up for development, there are a few hearty landowners that have stayed true to their roots. Springridge Farm is one of the few remaining south of Hwy. 401 — a vibrant property alongside the Niagara Escarpment in Milton that draws visitors from far and wide for some farmyard fun.
John Hughes’ parents bought the property in 1960 and grew sour cherries, with John and wife Laura coming on board the family business in 1971 after they were married. The farm has evolved since then, and thankfully, the family legacy continues: two of the Hughes’ children have transitioned into the business, solidifying the sixth generation of farmers.
What is a typical day at work like for each of you?
John: We enjoy being involved in all sorts of aspects of the business. We always have breakfast together, we check the morning paper and then we’re down to the barn. I’ll organize the harvesting crew, do some weeding, check in on the Fun Farm Yard area where the public wagon rides are, check the animals and discuss what other tasks should be done with my son, Tom.
Laura: We don’t want to miss anything! John and I come to work because we really enjoy it. We want to support our kids, we love meeting the people, seeing what the crops are doing and seeing what’s going on. My favourite place to be is in the barn, checking what’s selling and hearing some of the good news stories employees have had for the day. I love to take my camera and go out for a walk around the farm. I do that probably every weekend.
Besides being a family homestead, the farm is a destination for the community, where generations of families have created fond memories. Is this an important factor in your business?
Laura: It’s made us very happy. We see lots and lots of three-generation families visit. It’s a perfect way to bring them all together, talk, look and remember things (the older generation experienced) and learn. It’s about being together and enjoying something that they all value that doesn’t involve a screen or lots of money to go somewhere far.
Your bakery items are extremely popular. Do you use traditional family recipes?
Laura: I was so fortunate when John and I got married; I was a city girl so John’s mother, being on a farm, she used every item that she could seasonally. She taught me to make the very first pies that were made: cherry. It’s the exact same recipe we’re using now for our pastries, and the same with the cherry pie filling and strawberry custard tarts and butter tarts, which John’s aunt taught me. We’re very proud of that and our family is too; they can say it’s from their great grandmother’s recipes, using the products that either we grow or other farms grow locally.
Nature and farming are universal experiences everyone can understand. Are new generations and new residents of Canada visiting?
Laura: One of the really interesting things for John and I is that we have a lot of new Canadians in Milton who really embrace the farm. I think part of that is they can relate to the open spaces — even though they may not understand the language, they understand the language of the farm and the fields.
The local food movement remains strong. How do you continue to embrace local in your on-farm business?
Laura: We’ve always been very supportive of doing whatever we can locally and to provide local food, and the really nice part for us is that our customers look for it; that’s why so many of them make the effort to come and visit the farm. They’ll come not only for what’s grown locally, but what’s also made locally.
How do you enjoy sharing the farm for the hours it’s open to the public? Do you get enough downtime?
John: That has evolved nicely over the last 10 years. For the first 40 years we didn’t have much time, but with Tom and Amy so transitioned into the business we can sneak away and travel or go to the cottage.
Laura: Every spring for the last 10 years I’ve taken our two daughters on a European trip. I tell them it hopefully makes up for all the weekends they had to help us on the farm and missed out on some of the activities that their friends did. Our weekends are big for us, but it’s the nature of the beast.