Extreme Beans and a Novel Gourmet Cherry Preserve Comes from Shawson Gardens
With 45 acres of Montmorency sour cherry trees growing behind their home on Old Highway 24 near the Brant-Norfolk County line, Greg and Janet Shaw were keen on product diversification.
Ditto for finding an additional market for their bean and pea crops, which grow on the family’s original, 120-acre farmstead on Maple Grove Road, near Scotland.
The results are two entrepreneurial stories tinged with both sweat and providence.
The first story involves their creation of Shaw’s Sour Cherry Jalapeno Lime Preserve, which retails at small, independent and gourmet food markets throughout Southern Ontario.
Moreover, the Shaws supply much of the Green Crop Flat Beans that go into Matt and Steve’s Extreme Beans, a pickled cocktail bean-swizzle stick and appetizer that sells across North America.
The preserve evolved approximately 10 years ago when Janet experimented with various sour cherry flavour combinations in a friend’s kitchen in Mt. Pleasant. After testing products with friends and relatives, they settled upon the lime-jalapeno combination.
“The jalapeno gives just a hint of heat, and the lime works well with the cherries,” said Janet.
Concurrently with these kitchen experiments, the Shaws found a flyer from Rootham Gourmet Preserves of Puslinch in their mailbox. This company makes and markets small batch salsas and preserves with produce from local farms. The Shaws submitted the recipe and the product is now the key feature of their farm website.
The family’s Extreme Beans venture began with a chance encounter in the early 2000s with Steve McVicar of Matt and Steve’s Extreme Beans at the Ontario Food Terminal, where Shaw’s parents, Gloria and, the late Terry, had a stall. Presently, Shaw approached the Mississauga-based company, and has since supplied them for 15 years. Shawson Gardens is featured as the local grower in the company’s Extreme Beans marketing video, which is cross-posted on the farm’s website.
The company prefers buying Green Crop Flat Beans, which is flatter, sturdier bean than the traditional French Flat Bean that used in cocktails.
Cherry wood charcuterie boards, made by son Ben, form a crafty sideline. They are sold directly from the farm and at local venues.
Shaw purchased their home farm in 1990, planting the cherries at the suggestion of his father, who saw the sandy soils as ideal. He named Shawson Gardens after the birth of his first son, to distinguish their operation from that of his parents’, located two farms to the north.
The couple run the farm themselves, with help from 12 veteran Jamaican off-shore labourers, who conduct the cherry and bean harvests. The Brantford-born Janet handles the farm’s paperwork and other demands. Saying that she “wouldn’t want to have it any other way”, Janet loves farm life so much that the couple married under a favourite willow tree behind their home.
The harvest is bulk marketed to the Norfolk Cherry Company near Simcoe. Greg takes a seasonal leave from his sheet metal worker job in Brantford each summer to do so.
The approximately two-week harvest produces between 300,000 to 400,000 pounds of cherries annually. In spring, they pollinate the crop with hives rented from an Aylmer-area apiary.
Shaw is the third generation of Shaw to farm in Scotland. “I just wanted to carry on the tradition,” he said.