When asked what prompted Marlene Beyerlein to start a berry farm, she has a simple, one-word answer. “Insanity!” says Marlene with a hearty laugh. Of course, she is only joking. She has been enjoying running Bayfield Berry Farm in Bayfield, Ont., since 2001. “I come from a farming and forestry background and I always dreamed of running my own unique farming operation,” Marlene says. “It was my vision and ambition that started in 2001. And here we are 21 years later.”
Bayfield Berry Farm is situated on an 80-acre farm with 27 acres of planted fruits, berries, and limited vegetables. During the main season, the farm employs up to 30 people including many seasonal and part-time pickers. Initially, Marlene was alarmed at how fast the business grew. “It actually went too big too fast. It was a brand new one of its kind multi-agri product business. It required a lot of energy as well as mental and physical work to get started, but I was confident, and I had family support and a vision for the future.”
The land purchased for the farm had previously been used for cash crops. So alongside her parents Kaethi and Fitz, Marlene built all the buildings and planted all the orchards which include apples, cherries, plums, peaches, pears, quinces, and more. The business also grows all kinds of berries including blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, Saskatoon berries, haskap, sea buckthorn, gooseberries, and currants. “You name it, we grow it. We sell fruit on its own, but we also make products with fruit from jams to pies to muffins and butter tarts. We even make our own fruit juices. It is all done on-site from the fruit we grew – a field-to-table approach."
Like most farms, Bayfield Berry Farm has faced challenges due to inclement weather. In 2011, there was a spring frost and hail in June followed by a tornado in August that wiped out all of the farm's apples and peaches late in the season. “It was a few bad days and you kick a few things, but then you go, ‘Hey, I’ve got to keep going.’ You hope to push through the season and hope for a better growing season next year.
When mother nature isn’t cooperating, Marlene has had to make adjustments to her product line on the fly. “Every time we had a setback we had to figure out a new strategy to increase revenue. So instead of just selling strawberries by the quart, we introduced value-added products such as preserves, fruit juices, and baking.”
Bayfield Berry Farm’s offering continues to grow. The farm is always expanding and changing the business structure. Recently, they built a new processing facility to make hard cider, fruit wine, and fruit spirits known as schnapps. “Alcoholic products are what kind of saved us during the pandemic. We didn’t have our restaurant operating and we weren’t able to do markets.”
Marlene often finds herself working seven days a week in the main season, and countless hours throughout the year - and she loves it. “It’s not a walk in the park. But that is what it takes and I am passionate about my work.”