A John Deere Publication
Spotted cows looking out through barn window at suitcase standing on mulch

You know you're definitely at a farm stay when the welcoming committee is a pair of Holsteins.

Agriculture, Specialty/Niche   January 01, 2024

Eat. Shop. Stay.


Norfolk County, Ontario farms band together to build an ag tourism draw.

The young Holstein welcoming committee watches closely as the suitcases are being unloaded. If you're looking for a farm stay in a quiet, country, park-like setting, Violetta and Mike Bells' Airbnb in Springford, Ontario, certainly delivers. Little wonder the place is so popular—it's been almost fully booked since they first opened in the summer of 2022.

"Everyone kept telling us what a beautiful yard we have," Violetta says. "But you can't really see it from the road. We thought we're putting in all this work to keep our yard nice, why not share it with others. And that's how we got into hosting an Airbnb."

Real estate, as the saying goes, is all about location, and the Bells' rental has benefited from being adjacent to Norfolk County.

The region was Canada's former tobacco-growing heartland a decade ago, but that sector's future was uncertain. So, the county decided to leverage its sandy Lake Erie beaches and rapidly expanding agritourism sector to become a major tourism draw.

"We used to go to Turkey Point and have piles of room on the beach," says Nick Vanderheide with Creekside Growers in Delhi, Ontario. "Now it's hard to find a place to park on a sunny weekend, let alone find a spot to set up your lawn chair on the beach."

Above. David and Jenn VanDeVelde, Russell Press, and Violetta and Mike Bells' operations have all benefited from an increased interest in exploring agritourism ventures in Ontario's Garden, Norfolk County. While other counties in Ontario promote their tourism potential, Norfolk County is unique. The vast number of horticultural operations in the region has made agritourism a natural option.


Ontario's Garden. Other counties in Ontario promote their tourism potential, but the sheer number of horticultural crops grown in the region make Norfolk County unique. It's called Ontario's Garden; almost every crop that can be grown in Canada is grown here.

There were few farm stores in the region when David and Jenn VanDeVelde, winners of Ontario's Outstanding Young Farmers award in 2022, decided to diversify David's family's tobacco farm. They launched Wholesome Pickins Market and Bakery, in Delhi, Ontario, in 2006.

"We're up to about 25 acres of strawberries and five acres of raspberries," Jenn VanDeVelde says. "We grow asparagus, pumpkins, and squash and renovated the barn to have a full store. It has a scratch kitchen that does both bakery and savory items."

Most products sold in the store are grown in Norfolk County. They source directly from the farmers themselves instead of making the two-hour drive to buy the same produce from the same suppliers at the Toronto Food Terminal.

"The really wonderful thing about Norfolk County is you get access to all of these amazing things within a 40-minute drive," says Jenn VanDeVelde. "And you're not dealing with the traffic of the city centers north of us."

Farm stores aren't the only agritourism ventures in the county either. All kinds of experiences are available including winery and brewery bus tours, eco-adventures, outdoor music events, and trail rides.

While tourists have long ventured out from Toronto to spend a day at the beaches at Port Dover or Turkey and Long Point provincial parks, promoting agritourism with the mix of other tourism attractions in the region has created a synergy. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Smart phones have made it easy for visitors to decide what to see and do. They download the Visit Norfolk app and set their own mini-vacation itinerary.

"The app is designed to show people all that's out there," says Dallas Waldie, economic development officer with Norfolk County in Simcoe, Ontario. "Because it's not like a city where everything's in walking distance or you can hear the band playing next door, it's allowed us to take inventory of a lot of our tourism assets so it's easy for visitors to find what they're looking for. There's an event calendar that consolidates things a little more and it can be updated in real time."

"Norfolk County now has everything; there are six wineries and eight breweries, live theater, eco-adventure activities plus all kinds of farm stores and roadside markets," says Russell Press, general manager of Burning Kiln Winery in St. Williams, Ont. "I'd be hard-pressed to name another area in Ontario that has the quality and quantity of tourism assets that Norfolk has."

"You could still say Norfolk is a hidden gem," Waldie adds. "Last night I had fish that came from the lake with sweet corn grown right up the street and peaches that were picked nearby. Norfolk really does provide people with an opportunity to eat fresh and local." ‡

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