As a pilot working in Manitoba, Robbie Coles would often fly over the vast expanses of farmland and wonder what it would be like to have his own agricultural operation.
Growing up in Parsons Pond, growing food was a fact of life for families to sustain themselves.
It was also a big part of his wife Chantille’s family in Kippens. They grew many crops for their own use.
Coles helped out a lot on his family’s plot in his younger years and with his wife’s family garden in Kippens in more recent years.
When the couple moved to Cormack a few years ago, Coles got involved with a farm operated by a friend.
Needless to say, he’s been developing his green thumb for quite some time now.
On Thursday, the Coles were welcomed into the Newfoundland and Labrador farming industry during a press conference to announce details of programming under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to support growth in the agriculture and agrifoods sector in the province.
The Coles were successful applicants to the provincial government’s request for proposals to lease property for commercial fruit and vegetable production. They plan to develop 71.66 acres on Rocky Brook Road in Reidville.
The plan is to start off with fields of strawberries this year.
The land, considered some of the most fertile in all of Newfoundland, was a private farm in years gone by. It was purchased by the province a few years ago with the goal of keeping it for agricultural production.
Coles has some 4,000 strawberry plants on order and plans to develop a u-pick operation on the land, which is already divided by an access road. He hopes to expand each year and has plans to grow other food items such as broccoli, cauliflower, onions and green beans in future seasons.
“There is quite a bit of land to bring into production,” said Coles. “Like anything, you work on it and you grow it.”
The big picture goal, he said, is to help reduce the island’s dependence on imported produce. Coles said he will collaborate with others in the industry to figure out what needs to be produced to alleviate some of that outside food imports that can grow locally.
“We are looking forward to helping provide Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond with access to affordable and nutritious food, and safe food,” he said. “Doing that will be deeply gratifying.”
What others are saying
Under the the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the federal government has committed $22.2 million and the provincial government $14.8 million over the next five years to support growth in the agriculture and agrifoods sector in Newfoundland and Labrador.
What others had to say about the partnership and the new farm being started in Reidville by Robbie and Chantille Coles.
Premier Dwight Ball:
“Building on the momentum we’re seeing, it’s important we attract new people to the industry … Here in Reidville, you will see there is clear evidence that our plan is working and that our partnerships are working and that Newfoundlander and Labradorians will be working as a result.”
Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne
“You could not think of a better place to be able to do this … We are targetting growth and one of the growth areas is the incredibly beautiful district of Humber –Gros Morne, but the Humber Valley in particular.”
Keith Deering, assistant deputy minister for agriculture and lands:
“They have framed up a very aggressive and innovative plan to put every inch of this land into production.”
Gudie Hutchings, Liberal Commons member for Long Range Mountains:
“We know that land is the single largest capital expense for new farmers in pursuing their dream to go forward in this industry. It was a delight to see the land they’re going to be expanding and growing and we are all looking forward to the before and after pictures. … That’s what this program is all about. It will drive our economy and it will create jobs and it will grow.
Merv Wiseman, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture
“The voice of farmers in this province is here to tell you we accept the torch and look forward with great anticipation and excitement in doing our part to make this a full and complete partnership …. It’s going to be a ride, but it’s going to be fun. We see you as the face of a lot more to come: we see a lot of new entrants coming forward all the time.”