At Sobeys, we work hard to get the best fresh produce in-store for our customers. In many Nova Scotia locations, that means cucumbers, peppers and cluster tomatoes from Stokdijk Greenhouses, a family-run business near Truro that supplies regional stores with veggies—in fact, it can often get produce to its local Sobeys just hours after picking! Here, co-owner Kimberly Stokdijk gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the farm.
Q: How did you get into farming?
My husband, Tim, was involved in farming as a young child (his parents grew strawberries for local stores) and has worked at the greenhouse since the age of 12. He was trained by his uncle and mentored by his grandfather, Willem Nicolaas, who founded the farm when he emigrated from the Netherlands in the ’50s. I met Tim in the early ’90s, when we were both doing mission work in Mexico, and we married in 1999. I was a teacher, but we had a hobby farm that was a lot of fun. When Tim’s uncle retired in 2010, we bought the farm.
Tim Stokdijk’s grandparents, Anna Marie and Willem Nicolaas Stokdijk, emigrated from the Netherlands to Canada in the 1950s. Like many new Canadians of the era, they arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, accompanied by their three children and just a few possessions to start their new life.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the farm?
Stokdijk Greenhouses is a five-acre hydroponic greenhouse (where crops are cultivated in water and coconut fibre rather than soil) producing about 25 different vegetables, available through Sobeys, including tomatoes on the vine (our primary product), English cucumbers, mini-cucumbers in an easy grab-and-go bag, sweet peppers, mini–sweet peppers and several varieties of hot peppers.
One of Tim and Kimberly’s projects has been increasing the variety of crops they grow. Where previously the farm produced mostly basic cucumbers and tomatoes, they now sell some 25 different items at Sobeys, such as mini-cucumbers, hot peppers and three kinds of cherry tomatoes.
Q: What are some of the farm initiatives you are proud of?
We’ve implemented a national food-safety program called CanadaGAP, which ensures safe production and handling of all our products. We have broadened our contact with our community by creating a Facebook page and a website, where people can learn about our products and ask questions. As well, we work hard to establish growing practices with the environment in mind. For instance, we use good bugs to kill bad bugs and reuse up to one-quarter of the water we “feed” our crops every day. And we have no food waste. Any below-grade product is fed to our Highland cattle (we have nine)—they help us feed our teen boys, who are growing like weeds!
Q: Do your kids work on the farm?
Yes, we have four kids: Nicholas Willem (named after his great-grandfather), 16; David, 15; Andrew, 13; and Lillianna, 10, who was named after her Acadian great-grandmother, Lillian, and her Dutch great-grandmother, Anna. We want them to understand the importance of our role in caring for the workers on our farm and the people in our community. Nicholas has a managerial brain and enjoys plant work and harvesting, my second son is mechanically inclined (perfect for working on a farm), and my third son likes looking for efficiencies in our business. He found a way to use the smallest of our cucumbers by turning them into “snackers,” which we now sell in our shop. And Lillianna keeps everybody in line.
Q: Do you like to cook?
Who’s got time to cook?! Actually, Tim and I do both enjoy cooking, and my favourite meal is steak on the barbecue with a nice side salad of very freshly picked produce—we’re spoiled that way. When dining as a family, we eat our own homegrown Highland beef, as well as products grown by ourselves and other farmers in the region. Tim is actually the best pie maker and makes a mean wild blueberry pie! But we also like being treated to delicious meals made with local products by some of our region’s wonderful chefs. Man cannot live on cucumbers alone!
A bike path leads from the Stokdijk farm along the Bay of Fundy all the way to the nearby Sobeys on Robie Street in Truro, N.S. It’s about a 10-minute drive or 40 minutes on two wheels.
Q: Why is it important to buy food that’s grown locally?
Local food actually feeds the local economy: When communities buy local produce, most of the money stays in the region. Here, we know we’re feeding our friends and neighbours, and knowing who grows your food makes everyone feel safe. And local produce is very fresh: We can pick our vegetables at the optimal point of freshness and flavour. Fresh food just tastes better!