Sep 5, 2018Bilingual Quinn Farm draws 100K visitors a year
Quinn Farm is also known as La Ferme Quinn.
Located about 20 miles from Montreal and 40 miles from the U.S. border, the proprietors are fully bilingual.
“I was brought up by a French mum and an anglophone dad, an English dad, so fully bilingual right from the get-go,” said Phil Quinn. His wife Stephanie also speaks fluent French – albeit with a slight English accent, according to Phil.
“The one thing that sets us apart is we’re an anglophone (English-speaking) family catering to the English of Montreal, which is quite rare for farms,” Phil said. “If you go on the outskirts of Montreal, it’s all French, and the anglophones are not always well-received there. So, we cater to them mostly. And it so happens that they’re the more affluent ones here in Montreal.”
Last year, the farm attracted more than 100,000 visitors – a number that’s more impressive given the fact that the farm market doesn’t advertise.
“We don’t do any advertising at all other than social media,” Phil Quinn said. Stephanie runs an Instagram account in addition to Facebook and Twitter updates, letting the customers know what’s happening at the farm.
Quinn Farm features a collection of wholesome family entertainments. There are wagon rides, and a few play features such as a cedar hedge maze and big tube slides. There also is an old combine that currently gets switched on for demonstrations, but which Phil hopes to eventually tear apart and incorporate into a slide. Phil’s dad, Elwood, also is interested in historic breeds of farm animals – he’s a director and past president of Rare Breeds Canada (Heritage Livestock) – and operates a livestock barn where visitors can take guided tours to learn about Shropshire sheep, White Berkshire pigs, Cotswold rams, a mule or donkey, and Canadian Chantecler chickens. Roughly 15,000-20,000 students per year visit on school trips to try the u-pick, composting activity, and educational presentations about the animals.
It’s a fun destination, but Quinn Farm is really a working farm, with 130 acres under cultivation and another 20 or so acres rented from neighbors.
“First and foremost, we are a farm, not a theme park,” Phil Quinn said. “There are no jumping pillows.”
The farm is open for 10 months. The season starts with maple syrup, and demonstrations of how the trees are tapped and their sap is boiled. Then there’s a massive Easter egg hunt. A progression of harvests and u-pick offerings keep customers coming back to the farm for asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, small vegetables, sweet corn, pumpkins, squash, cherries, apples, pears and finally, Christmas trees. The crops are sold only retail at the farm market.
Quinn, who spends a lot of time with the crops, said he’s most proud that the family business has stayed true to its values and remained authentic.
“As much as possible we try to grow it here on our farm,” he said. “If it’s not grown here, we’ll try to post where it comes from. It’s got to be local, with local being within 50 miles or so.” The same is true for the farm store – most items are locally made.
Like many markets in the north, Quinn Farm’s cash crops are apples and pumpkins. Canadian Thanksgiving – the same weekend is called Columbus Day in America – is usually the farm’s busiest time. The family plans on 12,000 guests over the course of the three-day weekend.
“It’s a huge one for us,” Phil Quinn said. “If it happens to rain, we feel it big time in the pocketbook.”
Admission rates through the year vary depending on the interest – in transitional seasons of early winter and early spring, the Quinns lower prices to encourage attendance.
“More and more, we’ve seen over the last few years our summer attendance increase like 45 percent per year,” Phil Quinn said. “It’s just nuts, with the blueberry, raspberry, fruit and veggie picking.”
But somehow it all works – the two languages, the many different crops, the historic animal breeds, family activities and Christmas trees. Quinn Farm in July was featured on the Advanced Learning Tour of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association. The family gave presentations on farming, human resources, and how they keep the visitors flowing through the farm in an efficient manner. Participants can also experience a small fall festival and simply enjoy the farm market.
And if any of the visitors happen to speak French, the Quinns can still make themselves known – it’s just one of the byproducts of living in a part of North America where dual cultures and languages freely mix.
“We’ve always had to deal with it,” Phil Quinn said. “I guess it’s something like being in California and New Mexico and Texas – you’ve got to be in Spanish too if you want to cater to the masses.”