Apr 7, 2007
Ontario Grower Jumps into Growing Vegetables

Ontario vegetable grower Mike Pastir didn’t fall into the farming game by accident. He jumped into it.

And the 24-year-old enjoys where he landed, despite the many challenges.

“Agriculture’s gravy years are over,” said Pastir, who said he’s the only young farmer in the area. “I would say you can make a comfortable living, but it’s directly related to how much time and effort you put into it.”

Fortunately, Mike isn’t alone in his effort. His wife, Leryn, is a full partner in the 250-acre operation. And his parents, Mark and Betty, who ran the farm before Mike, are still involved. There’s also up to 25 seasonal workers from Trinidad.

The Pastirs’ vegetable operation is located at Waterford in Southwestern Ontario, about two hours west of Niagara Falls.

Mike and Leryn, married last January, grow cauliflower for processing and the fresh market, pickling cucumbers and fresh market roma tomatoes. With the loss of a cauliflower contract, consideration is being given to growing another vegetable for the fresh market, perhaps peppers or eggplant.

Mike said he’ll make his choice after carefully assessing the market potential.

“I look at it as both a local market and a global market. I compete with local farmers growing the same crops and with produce coming in from around the world,” Mike said. “You hope to have built up loyalties with your customers but the biggest thing for us is to have a quality. There’s a few trade secrets I won’t go into, but it’s about the new technology, everything from drip irrigation to plastic (on the rows) to packing the product with the least damage possible, to cooling the product properly.”

Mike said his father has plenty of good advice, but he also calls upon his education at the University of Guelph.

Working closely with his chemical suppliers, he’s developed his own integrated pest management program and he scouts his crops, generally once or twice a day.

Mike also conducts variety trials.

“I usually will try three to five varieties for every crop,” he said. “I’ll never go 100 percent into something new. It will take two to four years before anything becomes what I would call mainstream on the farm.”

Mike’s decision to farm came when he was 16. His parents, however, insisted he first complete high school and go to a university. Otherwise, they would not have offered such favorable terms for the eventual transfer of the farm, he said.

Mike also is fortunate that his city-raised wife took a shine to the farm work and appreciates the lifestyle that goes with it.

“I enjoy it,” Leryn said. “There’s a lot of variety. I guess that’s what I like about it.”

She added, “I just try to remain optimistic and that works out well because Mike is always looking at the worse-case scenario – the things that can go wrong.”

Mike said his friends and family were astounded at how quickly Leryn learned the ropes. She can now perform most jobs on the farm and is in charge of certain operations.

The couple is up before daybreak during the busiest times of the year.

Mike normally doesn’t retire until well after sunset.

“When there’s three crops coming off at once, I’m up at 5 a.m. and maybe I’ll go to bed at 2 a.m. when the orders are done. Throw in irrigation on top of that, and there are times when I’ll just sleep in my truck,” he said.

These days, Mike and Leryn have eased back from the farm work, although there’s still enough to keep them busy. Things will pick up again by January as Mike renews his marketing contacts and begins planning in earnest for next year’s crops.

It’s a far different lifestyle from that of many of their friends, most of whom have pursued careers outside of agriculture.

Still, when they’ve readied a load of produce for shipment, there’s a sense of satisfaction that isn’t found with many other jobs.

“We don’t need to have everything. We just want to be comfortable here,” Leryn said.

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