Atlantic Grown Organics
Marc & Krista (Geddes) Schurman (both Class of ‘97)
Imagine having the means to grow fresh, organic vegetables not only for your family, but your neighbours, province and beyond, all year long? Marc Schurman has had a life-long passion for growing things. With his family operation, Atlantic Grown Organics, he’s turned that passion into his livelihood.
Although it’s sunshine and tropical temperatures all year long, for Marc and his family, at their Kensington, Prince Edward Island greenhouse, their success didn’t just fall from the sky.
“Farming is in my blood and I’ve always loved to grow things,” says Marc. In 2001, Marc and wife, Krista, went out on a limb and transformed his family’s former hog farm by constructing a 30,000 square-foot greenhouse.
“Farming gives me a sense of pride, which extends in many ways,” says Marc. “Pride in growing good and nutritious food. Pride in being able to see the fruits of our labour – from seed to an eye-catching display at the market. Pride in using the farm to teach my kids about work ethic and other skills.”
He also admits it’s seeing a plan through to completion. “I take a lot of pride in turning a vision into a plan and carrying it through to the end. It seldom goes exactly as envisioned, but it does not take away from the satisfaction – it adds to it because you know you have overcome challenges and adversity to reach your goals.”
Marc’s vision was a greenhouse - the second largest greenhouse on PEI. The greenhouse was initially intended to be used for conventional growing. However a few years in to production Marc and Krista switched their methods to become an organic operation. “We wanted to capitalize on a niche market,” says Marc of the shift. “While growing organically certainly changes every method we used, it didn’t necessarily make things more complicated,” he says. “By being organic, we just have less tools in our tools box.”
Today they grow 100 percent certified organic tomatoes, English cucumbers and a variety of vegetables. “At any given time, we have around 2,000 tomato plants, 1,400 English cucumber plants,” adds Krista. “We also grow green and red peppers, eggplant, beans, spinach, kale, herbs and radishes.”
And thanks to new lighting in the greenhouse, which they installed last fall, Atlantic Grown Organics is now able to offer these delicious veggies year-round. “This was the first year we were in production for the full year,” says Marc. “We’re pretty excited to be able to offer our products to customers all year long.”
The loyal customer base for Atlantic Grown Organics has a wide span. “We see our regulars every Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Markets in Summerside and Charlottetown,” says Krista of their customers. Atlantic Grown Organics also sells to Sobeys and Loblaw’s (Superstore), where their produce is available in many locations across Atlantic Canada. They also sell to smaller retailers in PEI and directly from the farm.
“Every week is different, depending on the sun and season,” says Marc of their harvest. “But we harvest approximately 100,000 pounds of tomatoes and 110,000 pounds of cucumbers each year.”
Both maintaining jobs off-farm, Marc and Krista are quick to point out they wouldn’t be so successful if it wasn’t for the help they receive. “We employee three guys from Mexico,” says Marc. “They know more about this greenhouse than I do,” he adds with a laugh. Two of their employees have been with them since 2012 and the other since 2013.
What truly makes their family operation run smoothly is that it is just that – a family operation. Marc and Krista’s three children, Ben, Quinton and Samantha are regular helpers in the greenhouse. “They’re responsible for the grape tomatoes,” says Krista. Several times per week, the kids head down to the greenhouse, after school, to harvest the plants. “They also come with us to the Farmers’ Market to help sell the produce.”
The family side of the business doesn’t stop with the kids. Marc’s mom and sister take a turn manning the booth at the Farmer’s Market when needed. And when the farm is really busting with activity, other family members are quick to pitch in as necessary.
“Farming is a way of life for us,” says Krista. “It is creating a family unit that works and plays together. We have to work hard, sometimes long hours, but we get to do it in our house and our own backyard.”
With his passion now a successful reality, Marc hopes the impact Atlantic Grown Organics has on their community is a positive one. “I hope that having fresh, local veggies all year can help people make healthier choices with their food and take the time to enjoy good quality food,” he says. “I think this can impact our community, one person at a time.”