Spotlight Post: Vista Bella Farm
Five years ago, Brenna and Sebastian purchased a farm from their next-door neighbours. As time passed, they found themselves growing more apples than they could sell. Since they enjoyed the refreshing taste of cider, why not make a business out of it? Fast forward a few years later, and they’ve got a growing cider business made with local ingredients you can raise a glass to.
What made you want to buy a farm in the first place?
Our original venture began on our own farm with mixed vegetable crops. A community-supported agriculture program was the approach that we began, with members purchasing shares in exchange for fresh produce each week from our farm. We ran this for five years and began to diversify by adding small fruit and larger fruit to our production practices.
We found that maintaining large amounts of diverse vegetable crops was challenging. Eventually, we found that apples, pears, and specific vegetable varieties were thriving, so we focused our efforts on growing these crops. Shortly after, we decided to purchase a more established orchard. Luckily we didn’t have to search far, our next-door neighbours had a thriving orchard, which we purchased in 2012.
We continued to experiment with our apples and figured out how to make the most out of what we were growing. With the focus on value added production, we ensured that no apple would go to waste and began to make use of everything we grew.
Where are you located?
We’re located in Malagash, Nova Scotia, on the North Shore of the province. It’s a booming cottage community that has picked up steam for many new entrepreneurs over recent years. Recently, over 10 new small businesses such as cafés, bakeries and unique gift shops have opened close by.
We’re also located in a unique area where a microclimate allows us to take advantage of a longer growing season. We don’t get frost until mid-November so we can produce fruits that are hard to grow in many other areas of the province. Microclimates are helpful on the front end of the growing season where small fruits that flower early such as cherries and plums are able to make it through the spring months without being damaged by frost.
What is the one thing you enjoy most?
We love the lifestyle and growing family traditions that we associate with working our land. For me, it’s the flexibility to watch our kids grow and be a large part of their lives. I used to be a full-time social worker, but once we had our last child, I wanted the flexibility of working while raising my children and having them be a part of what I do. It has been rewarding to bring our children up in our rural community and feed them from the fruits of our labour.
What is your greatest challenge(s)?
Some of our challenges are trying to expand – financially. Everything that my husband and I make we re-invest in our farm. This is a large part of how we grow as first generation farmers. We also had to learn very quickly how to work with our soil, because it holds water very well, we’ve had to invest in ditching and hilling to keep our trees from root rot.
Another challenge is the weather. We just have to be ready to roll with whatever Mother Nature hands us. Every year, we plant 300 to 400 trees and lose around 10 percent to deer, rodents and root rot. It’s learning to accept what isn’t in our control.
What advice would you give a new small business owner?
Pick people’s brains. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from their successes as well as their failures.
Be prepared. It takes a lot to run a successful business, so being prepared always helps. Most weeks you will work more than 40 hours and you won’t always know what your income will be, but it is rewarding nonetheless.
Always be ready for change. Whatever circumstances come your way, you need to be able to roll with the changes.
Research and take advantage of your resources. In our case, Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture provides support to local farmers, which is something you may not be aware of if you don’t do your research and use the agricultural network in your community as a resource. There is a government organization called ThinkFarm that helps small farmers start their business by providing information and workshops.
What’s next for Vista Bella Farm?
Our cider was recently added to the specialty liquor store Liquid Assets, at the Halifax Airport and Bishop’s Cellar in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. We currently offer a honey-infused Beehaven, Brute dry cider, and Heritage, which is back sweetened with juice.
Down the road, we hope to offer our product at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC). Also, we are always experimenting with new ingredients and enjoy collaborating with other local farms – so we have plans to create unique locally- inspired ciders that include blueberry juice, peach juice, maple syrup, sour cherry and more as blends in our apple-based ciders.
Eventually, we hope to have a beautiful outdoor space that will host up to 50 people and encourages cider tasting along with wood-fired pizzas using smoked apple wood for its flavour, all made here on our farm.
Learn more about Vista Bella Farm and their varieties of cider!