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Stan Szatrowski: A Coming-Of-Age

Coming-of-age, means different things to different people, but, more about that later. Like all farmers, Stan Szatrowski is no stranger to hard work!

However, he had to wait until he was 14 years of age before anyone would hire him to prime tobacco (behind a horse). So, he picked tomatoes for Scott’s out of Waterford until he ‘came-of-age’. Later, and during his high-school years in Simcoe, he worked part-time cutting potatoes for Culver House Fish & Chips, in Simcoe. Little did he know that he would go on to grow, that very crop.

In 1984, Stan bought a farm at Green’s Corners, and in 1985 planted 20 acres of asparagus. The following year, he bought an additional farm that already had 32 acres of producing asparagus -all of which was ‘Martha Washington’. At the time, he was considered to be one of the larger growers of asparagus in Ontario! Simultaneously, Stan was employed at General Instruments in Delhi, and was able to ‘get leave’ for 6 weeks every spring to harvest his asparagus crop. This arrangement worked very well until one year his request was denied upon which, he promptly quit. From then on, farming has been a full-time occupation as he now nears his 69th year.

During these intervening years, the Toronto Food Terminal has been a veritable boon for Stan, and Norfolk farmers. It is here, that so much of the fresh-market produce grown in Norfolk and surrounding region, finds a ready-market. Stan has been marketing through the ‘terminal’ for the last 35 years. And countless 100’s of truck loads of potatoes and pumpkins have been delivered at all hours of the day -but mostly, starting after midnight. The terminal never sleeps. It is also a great place to net-work as there are many buyers from all over the province. Stan gives the Toronto Food Terminal ‘two thumbs up’ given the many benefits it has provided him, and for many hundreds of other growers.

In 2019, the Canadian per capita consumption of potatoes was 180 lbs (82 kg). The potato has been, and continues to be the #1 staple food item in most homes. Just as is rice in most Asian homes, and pasta in most Mediterranean homes. So, for Stan, the choice was obvious. Grow what everyone wants and wants lots of; the ‘appetite’ for potatoes is endless, and so are the recipes.

Stan started out growing 20 acres of potatoes, but now grows approximately 200 acres. Approximately, 60% of his production are yellow varieties, 30% white, and the remaining 10%, red. The varieties are Adora, Envol, and Norland, respectively. Depending upon the year, the 10 lb bag accounts for between 30-40% of production, the 50 lb carton another 30-40%, and the remaining in 50 lb chef bags, for the restaurant trade.

As for the cartons, about 10-20% of those are sold as ‘minis’ to the specialty stores and high-end restaurants. These, are sold at a premium. At one time, no one much bothered with under-sized potatoes, as they were considered a ‘nuisance’. However, with a bit of marketing, they rose in stature, like cream-in-bottle. And, as restaurants well-know, we eat with our eyes, and they make a lovely presentation of them, on a plate. In a similar sort of marketing know-how, bicolour sweet corn sells much more readily when called ‘peaches & cream’, and is also sold at a premium.

Twenty years ago, as concerns potatoes, Ontario was mostly a red or white market, equally split. Today, however, yellow potato cultivars (Adora & Columbus, for example) have truly taken over. But not so in Quebec, where the reds and whites are still the mainstay. In the U.S., approximately 90% of all potatoes grown and sold are Russets! ...clearly a strong consumer identity and loyalty -not to mention marketing.

There is also a market for ‘dirty’ potatoes (unwashed) by old-timers and new-agers, alike, and some of everyone, in between. There is a perception that the ‘great unwashed’ is healthier, much like that of scabby apples, and produce purchased at the farm-gate. This as opposed to pristine produce, lightly misted, shining brightly and perfectly arranged, in aseptic supermarket counters.

Sometimes, being at the right place at the right time can have long-term advantages. And so it was with Stan, when he made the fortuitous acquaintance of Gus Longo. In 1992, Stan was providing all the pumpkins for his 6 stores (now there are about 36). However, in those years,

Halloween and porch decorating were not what it is now. In 1990, Stan was producing 15 acres of pumpkins, but is now growing 150 acres including 25 different varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds. Because Stan, and farmers like him, cannot compete with ‘industrial farming’ (Scotlynn Farms, for example), diversity is the key, and so are market outlets.

Stan’s ornamental pumpkin selection is well-received by roadside stands, garden centres, and specialty grocery stores. Oddly, when it comes to Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins, there is no legal standard regulating the marketing of size. They are sold as large, extra-large, and jumbo the discretion of the retailer. Having an excess of customers not only spreads out the marketing risks, but also allows for better premiums on his product lines. He now has over 100 customers -of all sizes.

Mr. Szatrowski came from humble beginnings, and by any measure has done very well for himself. However, he will be the first to admit that he has had some lucky breaks and good fortune over the years. That said, and in his own words, “common sense tells me when I’m doing the right things, for the right reasons”, and, “knowing enough to see the work ahead of me, is just as important as seeing the work, behind me”.

At the end of the season, Stan’s road-side sales are tallied-up, and accordingly, an annual monetary donation is made to the Norfolk General Hospital. While this is truly an altruistic act, Stan says that there is some method behind his madness, as he too, ‘is getting older’! His son, Zebb, age 33, is now taking over the day-to-day activities, while Stan remains an invaluable source of information -and wisdom. Another, coming-of-age. 

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