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Mixing Apples with Garlic Works Well at LuLu’s Orchards in Wilsonville

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Anyone listening to Ahmad Hassan outline how he came to take over an established Wilsonville apple and garlic farm may wonder about twists of fate

Ahmad Hassan with his garlic crop on Old Highway 24, Wilsonville.

Hassan, 39, farms LuLu’s Orchards on Old Highway 24, which produces 25 apple varieties, as well as other types of fruit, and garlic.

Locals know the farm by its former name of OK Farms, which Ahmad's in-laws, Ben and Anne Obeid started on a 14-acre site north of Waterford in 1988. Hassan said that the farm “took off in the early 2000s,” with the Obeids establishing an orchard closer to Wilsonville.

The original farm is the childhood home of Ahmad's wife, Alaa Obeid, and is where they raise their three children, aged 10 and three.

The succession happened when Ben announced at age 75 that he intended to retire and sell OK Farms. Hassan, who worked full time in the city, stated that he wanted to farm it.

Hassan bought the farm in 2021, with some financing from an overseas relative- partner and wife who currently work in Abu Dhabi. “When they return to Canada, they hope to help out on the farm!” added Hassan.

The family incorporated the new farm as LuLu’s Orchards in 2021, with relatives – “mainly the wives” – as its directors. They renamed it LuLu’s Orchards, after Obeid’s childhood nickname for Alaa. “Ben built the base of the farm; therefore, it’s a fresh name and the founding family name continues,” said Hassan.

LuLu’s Orchards grows two rows of quince that were grafted onto pear root stock.

Hassan now farms full time, while Alaa teaches at a nearby school.

LuLu’s Orchards consist of four tracts totalling 184 acres, some of which is rented to neighbours. One section contains a bank barn which Hassan has been told is “the oldest and most intact barn in Norfolk County;” he dreams of renovating it some year.

Born in a Lebanese refugee camp, Hassan grew up on Hamilton’s “East Mountain.” He studied marketing at Mohawk College, and then at Brock University before entering the crane industry in the early 2000s.

Hassan visited Alaa’s family at OK Farms as a child – their parents were old friends from their ancestral Palestine – but the couple never met again until 20 years later, at a party. They married in 2009.

Hassan transitioned into farming over seven years. He started with a small orchard behind his home, with his father travelling from Hamilton to help prune. “So my father-in-law’s farm definitely was seen as an opportunity,” said Hassan.

“If I was to start from scratch on my own, it wouldn’t happen; but Ben was retiring at age 75. I didn’t start this with blind eyes and I have a mentor. I saw that my future was in farming, so I quit my city job.”

Hassan understands that this barn may be Norfolk’s oldest intact bank barn.

LuLu’s Orchards’ 25 varieties range from the traditional Macintosh and Ida Red to newer ones such as Cosmic Crisp. They focus on multiple varieties where some ripen in July with others ripening into late autumn, ensuring a picking schedule that does not overwhelm Hassan’s 15-member harvest crew, who come from Dominica and Mexico.

Their four plum varieties include a numbered early variety and Italian prunes. The two peach crops are Red Haven and Garnet Beauty, esteemed for their red flush. They have two rows of quince that which were grafted onto pear tree stock.

Two acres of raspberries grow on the home farm, some of which Hassan’s 10-year old twins, Adam and Noah, sell from a roadside stand.

LuLu’s Orchards grows dwarf varieties on trellis wire, which Hassan described as being costly and harder to maintain; he prefers freestanding standard varieties with deeper, better-standing rootstock which they try to keep compact.

Each orchard’s diversity demands an intense, targeted spraying schedule. “The picking schedule helps because we don’t have 100 acres of one variety that mature at the same time.”

The wide range of fruit fills targeted consumer niches.

“We grow to meet customer demands for apples they cannot find elsewhere. For instance, we have three dozen crabapple trees,” said Hassan, adding that customers seek them for jelly. “A lot of people don’t want to touch it.”

Similarly, Hassan hopes to grow more of his favourite apple: the Golden Supreme. “They have a nice red cheek to them. I don’t have enough. Customers don’t want Golden Delicious anymore. But Golden Supreme is not popular with packers as they bruise easily.”

Garlic had always been part of OK Farms, and fits in well with Hassan’s harvest schedule. It provides a faster return than trees, which take five years to come on-stream. The family even took a holiday to Gilroy, California, the “Garlic Capital of the World.” Also, his father-in-law worked with the late Ali Music, who developed Ontario’s most popularly-planted garlic, Music, and lived in Norfolk.

This year’s acreage consists mainly of Music with some Purple Russian and a soft neck variety called Matador.

LuLu’s Orchards direct markets their fruit, mature and green garlic through four venues: the Ontario Food Terminal, using OK Farms’ stand established 38 years ago; the Norfolk Apple Growers and Collingwood’s Bay Growers. From July until late October, Alaa manages biweekly sales at the St. Jacobs Farmers Market.

Hassan said that made the right choice to farm, if only for their children. “Watching them grow up around the farm, compared with their cousins in Hamilton, they seem to be growing up much faster and they take on so much more responsibility.” 


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