High school sweethearts with rural roots in Listowel, Ontario, Les and Heather started their first year of marriage in Milton. They lived on Queen street, behind the old Quality Greens supermarket on Main. Heather reminisces with great fondness, shopping in the historic building for her groceries: “it was the first time anyone ever asked if I’d like them to take the tops off my carrots for me!” The couple remembers their first year of marriage in Milton as lots of fun. “Our place was in the middle of things, our friends used to come over and we’d all go rock climbing at Kelso, followed by wings from WingsUp! downtown,” Heather smiles. They had no idea that ten years later, they’d find themselves back in this community.
Les grew up on a hog farm and while he had little desire to take over the family farm at that time, he did go on to study animal science at the University of Guelph, making him an Aggie (you have to be in agriculture to get that one). Meanwhile, Heather went to the University of Waterloo, earning an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in rhetoric and professional writing. They were engaged in Les’ last year of school and married the summer later. As the couple began to plan their future together, the one thing they knew for sure was that they wanted to live, work, and raise their family on a farm. Today, the couple has three children: Thea is 14, Cole is 10 and Oliver is 7. Les emphasises the importance of raising children to understand and appreciate the value of hard work and where money comes from – something he remembers knowing at a very young age. He recalls, “I knew where money came from. In order to buy food, clothing, or something else, we needed to raise and sell our pigs; when they went to market, we got paid.” He was able to make a connection between working the barn on Saturdays, taking pigs to market, and having the money they needed to live as a family. It’s something Les’ dad had carefully and continuously instilled in the family, and something Les wanted to pass on in his own family. More than just going off to work every day and having money to do things, Les wanted the kids to see, know, and understand the connection between hard work and earning a living.
After spending more than a decade in the corporate world, the couple began the search for the perfect property to bring their farm dreams to life. With the help of Carol Brooks of Remax in Milton, they began looking at what was available in the area. The farm they would eventually call home was one of the first properties they visited, but they backed away several times, as there was always another offer on the table. Heather knew she loved the property, but both agreed they couldn’t afford to get swept up in bidding wars. After some time, the couple put their search on hold, and packed up the family for a six week RV roadtrip across Eastern Canada that took them as far as Newfoundland and Labrador and back.
When they returned, Heather drove past the property on 20th Sideroad again, and noticed the ‘for sale’ sign was taken down. Assuming this meant the property had indeed closed and found a new owner, she decided to call the realtor to confirm. She was surprised once again to learn that yet another deal had only just fallen through and the property would be going back on the market. Heather and Les crafted their offer and a letter to the seller that night, and the seed for Martin’s Sweet Farm was planted. They took possession of the farm in May of 2014. Fast forward a few years, today Martin’s Sweet Farm manages just over 120 beehives, and taps close to 1000 maple trees, producing 100 percent pure and natural honey and maple syrup. They also blend their honey and maple syrup together to make their signature maple honey which they use as a sweetener for a number of things, and infuse it with vanilla bean and chai spices. In addition to these sweet delights, they have a line of all natural bath and body products using their honey and beeswax.
Martin’s Sweet Farm truly is a family venture; all of the children have a hand in the day-to-day operations of the farm. Les and Heather always look for ways to enable the children to learn and grow. Their oldest, Thea works at the store and is a natural with people. She engages with customers all the time, helping them find what they need and answering any of their questions. She is very responsible. Cole is a very hard worker; he is known to be the first one up at 5:30AM, jumping into his jeans to feed the goats and chickens. He takes great pride in the farm and won’t let anyone else mow the four acres of grass. Oliver helps out where he can, doing odd jobs for mom and dad or his older brother and sister. He has been known to accompany dad to the bee yard, and smoke the hives before his dad opens them up to check them out.
The Martins participate in the Oakville, Burlington, and Rockwood farmers’ markets every year. All of the children take turns going to market. Heather admits there have been times when a regular customer will come by and refuse to buy unless she buys from her favourite salesperson, whether it’s Thea, Cole or Oliver; “they’ll wait to come back the following week!” Thea, Cole, and Oliver have also inherited their parents entrepreneurial spirit. Two years ago, when their Irish water spaniel Beau died suddenly, the kids started Beau’s Biscuits in his memory. Beau’s Biscuits are all-natural dog biscuits made with Martin’s Sweet Farm honey, natural peanut butter, and free range eggs from their hens.
The whole family loves the farm and farm life, but it isn’t always easy. Moving to the farm meant a number of changes for everyone. “We came from a place where it was relatively easy to pick up and go away on family trips and things. We still can, but it takes a lot more planning and organizing. We need to arrange for someone to come in and care and feed the goats and chickens, which is a little more involved than asking someone to watch your dog or cat.” They acknowledge that they need to be around more. Every Saturday, they need to be at a market or running the farm store in order to keep their business growing. This means they have to choose their extracurricular activities carefully, picking only things that can fit into their busy schedules.
One of the things they love to do as a family is ski. Not only is it an off-season sport – they love the active time outdoors – it also gives them that opportunity to connect as a family. This year, Thea is a junior ski patroller at Glen Eden. As a couple, Les and Heather are thankful for both of their parents who come and stay with the children while they get away for an evening or a weekend. When asked if they talk about the farm or the kids during “date night”, the two just smile at each other and admit they really enjoy talking about the farm. Les admits “the possibilities are endless here, and we could talk for hours about it with each other. It’s just so exciting!”
In addition to creating the best honey and maple syrup possible, the Martins feel very passionate about building a connection between people and their food, helping people understand where their food comes from and how it is produced. Heather explains “there is such a big disconnect between people and their food with so much misinformation out there. A lot of people don’t know where their food comes from beyond the grocery store shelf or the package it comes home in. We will always be a real working farm, not an entertainment farm, but we want to be accessible to the community, a place where families can come and see how things are grown or produced, ask questions and get to know the growers.”
So, whether you are looking to pick up some farm fresh eggs, buy some local raw honey, see a real beehive, or want to find how to tap maple trees and make maple syrup, Martin’s Sweet Farm invites you for a visit. Depending on when you visit, you may also be able to see the field of sunflowers in full bloom or get to know the Nigerian dwarf goats that also call the farm home. To learn more about what’s happening on the farm, visit facebook.com/MartinsSweetFarm. The farm is located at 2423 20 Sideroad, Campbellville. The Martins can’t wait to meet you!