By Olivia Levesque. Posted on CBC, October 7, 2020.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 15-year-old John Faiers and 17-year-old Evan Wiebe were looking for ways to fill their time, while staring down the bleak reality of securing a summer job in the coming months.
Their usual Bible camp summer jobs were out of the picture due to the pandemic, so the pair turned to a connection they had through their church community with the owner of Reidridge Farms in Thunder Bay Ont.
“We are pretty mechanized here, so there [wasn’t] a lot of need for me to have two full-time energetic boys on the farm,” said Jason Reid, owner of Reidridge Farms, in an interview with CBC.
Initially, Reid had the teens helping out with barn construction but knew over the summer he would have little need for inexperienced farmers. As the weeks went on, however, Reid said he was inspired by some of the surfacing challenges caused by the pandemic, such as food insecurity, and decided to get creative with the employment opportunities he could provide to Faiers and Wiebe.
“So I started to think of what could we do or what could we grow with these guys to help them to understand where food comes from and what is involved with producing food and create a job for them at the same time,” said Reid. “We decided that I would help them to set up their potato plant, and they would use our equipment and our resources for the summer.”
Unlike the average summer job, the agreement Reid set up with Faiers and Wiebe provided them with an acre of land, potato seed and the resources they needed to start growing. All this was in exchange for the work they would put in at the farm through the summer, which proved to be a down-to-earth experience like no other.
“The first day or so of planting, we didn’t actually have a machine to do it. We were doing it by hand … the first day or two, though, that was a lot of work. We didn’t know if we were going to get it all done,” said Faiers.
“We got a little bit of humbling that day,” added Wiebe.
Faiers and Wiebe were manual labourers on the farm for the rest of the summer, in between the planting and maintaining of 30 rows of potatoes, which would later turn into their own business, Tater Bay.
“We did a lot of haying this summer. You know, it was my first time doing that, disking the field, like preparing it to be seeded. Things like spreading manure on the field, fertilizing it, building a fence…we built a lot of them,” said Faiers.
“We got to work on some of the tractors this summer, with a lot of mechanical skills going into that. There’s a lot of variety with farm work, ” added Wiebe with a chuckle.
The whole experience was a learning curve for everyone involved, including Reid, who was used to managing livestock on his farm. He said he took to YouTube to learn more about growing potatoes so he could help the teens, and added there was a lot of community involvement that helped out along the way.
“It was the community of farmers around here that heard about what they were doing … the potato planter that was lent to them to use and the potato digger,” said Reid about the equipment the teens used. “The support they got from the potato growers here locally, too like one of the bigger potato farms here in Thunder Bay, that’s where they got their seed from.”
Reid said he was always impressed by the work ethic displayed by Faiers and Wiebe, but wanted to expose them to the true realities of farming and producing food.
“They learned a lot about how it’s not as simple as it seems to just go to the grocery store and pick up a bag of potatoes. There’s a lot of worry. There’s a lot of stress. There’s a lot of weather dependency involved,” he said.
All the worry, stress, weeding and potato bug picking has started to pay off for the teen entrepreneurs. The two have since created a Facebook page for Tater Bay, where they sell ten pound and fifty pound bags of yellow and white potatoes.
The pair said their initial customer base started off with friends and family, but has since grown to encompass other parts of the city, such as local businesses.