Ontario women give up office life to help save 115-year-old family farm

Ontario women give up office life to help save 115-year-old family farm


When Jenn Schooley worked in the orchard on her family farm, it was surrounded by short fruit trees and bright, fragrant lavender fields—her mother’s “dream land”—she knew it was her belonging.

“When you are in the middle of the orchard where your great-grandfather worked, you will feel your roots for generations,” she said.

“It’s just that there is something that attracts you. This drive alone is enough to keep me going for a long time.”

After working at a children’s mental health agency for 20 years, Scully is embarking on her new career and passion as a farmer on Apple Hill’s lavender farm in Norfolk County, Ontario.

Her photos and videos on social media documented her learning experience-farming the fields, figuring out the irrigation system, and disposing of broken machines.

This is the transition from office life to the world of “dirt, diesel, grease, and hydraulic oil”.

Her sister Melissa is in charge of the business. They will become the fourth generation leader of the 115-year-old farm.

Jenn has worked as a children’s mental health agency for 20 years. She traded it for tractors, diesel, grease and family. (Submitted by Jenn Schooley)

As her parents grew older, Jane decided to sit behind the wheel of the family tractor, where her father was sitting.

Jenn said: “The COVID is one of the events that opened my eyes. It really made me see the importance of family.” “This is the most important thing.”

learning curve

Melissa is a potter. In 2002, she seized the opportunity to build a studio in the farm barn. The younger sister said that she was “physically impossible” to manage the farm alone.

“This is such a beautiful land, you just want to stay here and raise it,” she said. “Knowing that Jennifer is about to join is a great sense of relief for me, because it means we can move on.”

Jenn said that this is a steep learning curve, but she likes challenges. Knowing that her sister is by her side and her father is snuggling on her hips, she hopes to absorb as much knowledge as possible.

In a video, Jenn shows how to connect an irrigation line to water elderberry plants in hot and dry weather.

She made a hole in the line and connected the transmitter to the tube. The transmitter was inserted into the line, and the other end was driven into a piece of soil exposed from under the landscape cloth.

Large staples prevent the thread from moving.

The sisters said that part of the learning is to know that the farm itself is an entity-an elastic force at the mercy of nature, an “unstoppable snowball”, rolling down the mountain.

“Whether you like it or not, the farm will move on,” Melissa said.

The two are pairing to ensure that Apple Hill Lavender Farm stays in the family. (Submitted by Jenn Schooley)

Their father returned to his childhood home to run the farm in the late 1970s. He was an apple grower with an incredible talent for reading orchards. He is also committed to exploring science and agricultural practices, and was one of the first farmers in Ontario to plant dwarf fruit trees and develop an integrated pest management plan.

He met their mother-an expert in ginseng and herbs in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food-in the master’s program of botany. She dreams of planting lavender fields and running a boutique on the farm.

Jenn Schooley said that she has been clinging to the ropes of her father’s hip to learn how to run a farm, and the farm itself is an entity. (Submitted by Jenn Schooley)

Sisters say that changing hands to a new generation is not easy, especially when you have been responsible for life on this land for 45 years.

They say that a “point of contention” is painting the barn purple.

Although this sparked a lively discussion with their father—and some complaints—the white decoration now pops up from the stunning purple wall.

“Everyone who comes here will have their jaw dropped. This is the first thing they say:’Oh my God, this place is so beautiful,” Melissa said with a smile.

This purple and white barn is one of the focal points of this Norfolk County farm. (Submitted by Jenn Schooley)

Melissa said that the most amazing thing is the continuous evolution of the farm. She would dig through the photos, showing trees that are no longer standing and different landscapes from what she sees now. This made her “goose bumps.”

“The only guarantee in our life is change.”

They are diversifying their crops, adding elderberries and herbs-chamomile, arnica and marigolds. The farm is currently open to the public, and people can walk in the fields “barrier-free” and prepare lunches for picnics.

The sisters said that they hope to introduce people to the plants and wild animals on the farm by answering questions about plants or birds on the land informally. The farm also holds seminars, such as lavender distillation seminars.

“We have more ideas than we know,” Melissa said.

Melissa Schooley said that the farm taught her the value of opportunity, where she can become a potter and her mother can see her lavender “land of dreams” become a reality. (Submitted by Jenn Schooley)

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