Farm to Table - All about Pfenning's Organic Vegetable Farm
Pfenning’s Organic Vegetable Farm stretches over 700 acres in New Hamburg, ON. We grow a variety of delicious veggies including brassicas, leafy greens and root vegetables. We are proud to act as a hub for a wide network of Ontario local farmers, providing smaller growers with access to a wider market. We also run an import program when items are out of season or not available locally. This allows us to provide our customers with a complete selection of organic fruits and vegetables year-round.
Our focus has always been local first, and we are committed to offering 100% certified organic produce.
We are best known for our super-sweet, flavourful carrots!
Other popular crops of ours include spinach, broccoli, kales, chards, lettuces, cilantro, rutabaga and parsnips.
We have been proudly supplying Goodness Me! stores with fresh organic produce since 2005. Long-lasting, supportive business relationships like this matter so much to us, not only in local season, but in the off-season as well. Support of our import program is essential for us to operate at the scale we do when our growing season comes around! We’re not only local, we’re neighbours. Each spring we start the season with our overwintered crops. Planted in the fall and left dormant throughout the winter, these select crops have a head start in the growing season. In the spring, the plants send forth new growth. When they reach maturity, rough outer leaves are discarded and new leaves are harvested, bunched and packed to be sent to stores like Goodness Me!. This year, we expect overwintered spinach or cilantro to be our first crop of the season.
In anticipation of planting season, around mid-March we start growing seedlings in greenhouses. When it’s warm enough, we transplant those seedlings into our fields. This allows us to begin harvesting as early as possible, in order to make the most of the Ontario growing season. We also plant directly from seed, and plan for a steady supply of each crop. Of course, Mother Nature sometimes has other ideas! When we experience a gap, we turn to our network of local growers first.
Last year, we were very excited to offer home-grown Ontario organic strawberries for the first time! This program was created by Tristan Pfenning and he is hoping to expand it in the future. So far, two acres have been dedicated to a few different varieties of strawberries. Tristan has chosen early-ripening varieties for earlier in the season, and day-neutral (“ever-bearing”) varieties for later in the summer. These varieties are less sensitive to the length of the days, and can thus be grown and harvested later into the summer. All have the extra-sweet flavour we know and love from Ontario strawberries. Compared to California fruit, Ontario strawberries can ripen naturally on the plant for longer since they don’t have as far to travel. The result is a fresher, sweeter berry—yes please!
Fall harvest is our busiest and most bountiful time of year. Along with the leafy greens and brassicas, harvest of our root vegetables kicks into high gear. Much of those will fill our storage areas, and will keep us busy in the winter months.
When the last of the crops come out of the fields, compost and/or cover crops are spread to nourish them, as well as to retain moisture and nutrients. Soil health is taken very seriously, and much attention is devoted to it all year.
In the winter, we are kept busy packing storage vegetables such as carrots, beets, onions and potatoes. As our supplies of fresh Ontario produce get smaller, we rely more heavily on our import program to keep our selection complete. Then before we know it, spring is here again!
Then before we know it, spring is here again!
Sustainability and land stewardship are among our top priorities as an organic farm. For us, sustainability means meeting our own needs in a way that does not compromise future generations being able to meet theirs. This principle guides us in everything we do: growing and harvesting practices (such as cover cropping and using compost), conserving energy, reducing waste, and preserving and restoring natural spaces.
We are committed to continuous learning and improvement to become more environmentally, socially, and economically resilient. Everyone has a vital role to play.
Founded in 1981 by Wilhelm and Barnhild Pfenning, the farm today is run by their two sons Wolfgang and Ekkehard, along with their spouses Regina and Jenn respectively. The farm business remains a family venture at its core with some of the next generation finding their places.
To understand how we got here, we have to go back to Gnodstadt, Germany in the 1940’s where our story began. For as far back as recorded history goes, the Pfenning family have been farmers, and the love of farming has been passed down from generation to generation. As agricultural chemicals were introduced into the farming world in the 1940’s, the Pfenning family followed suit and embraced the modern techniques that were so widely adopted by the surrounding communities. This carried on until 1952, when Wilhelm noticed a decline in his own health, as well as changes in the soil he worked with. This led him to question the long-term impacts of the agri-chemicals, on both human health and the environment. And so began a long period of research and learning, which led him back to the principles of organic agriculture. In their local community, the family was ridiculed for being foolish.
They never looked back
When the German government expropriated their land to build the autobahn, Wilhelm and Barnhild decided to make a fresh start and moved to Canada in 1981. Bringing what they had learned to their new country, they farmed exclusively organically right from the start. This was a time when the organic industry was in its infancy, and the Pfenning family were involved in the creation of organic standards and certification.
Over time, the original 100 acre farm in New Hamburg grew to the 700 acres we farm today. The original farm is now the main hub of our operations. Here, you will find our office, warehouse, production lines, and loading docks. A core group of 45 employees is employed here year-round, and this number increases to approximately 140 in the local growing and harvesting seasons.
Seasonal teams consist of locals, students, and Seasonal Agricultural Workers from Jamaica. In 2005 we turned to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) for the first time, as it had become increasingly difficult to find enough skilled workers who would be willing to return each season. The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), a division of the TFWP, filled that gap. Some of the first group of migrant workers from Jamaica are still employed by the farm today! Their skills and knowledge of the farm are extensive and they lead our local seasonal teams each year.
Despite all the benefits of the TFWP, we are aware of systemic injustices and abuses that occur within this system, and we stand in solidarity against these injustices. Did you know that although TFWs are required to pay employment insurance, they are routinely denied access to these benefits? There are many ongoing issues with the SAWP— such as work permits being tied to a single employer, inadequate and unsafe housing conditions, and passports being confiscated. We are committed to ending the injustices and instances of exploitation workers face by advocating for TFW rights within the farming community.
There’s no doubt that farming can be difficult and challenging in so many ways. But it is also joyful and fulfilling. This life has a way of reminding us, often, of what is truly important.
We love what we do! There is nothing more meaningful than providing safe, healthy and delicious food for people to enjoy and be truly nourished by.
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/ company/pfenningsfarms/