JASPER - Bluegrass Farm owners Leela Ramachandran and Brad Wright have earned the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
Last year, the couple followed a dream and built four greenhouses on Kinch Street near Jasper in the Township of Elizabethtown-Kitley. Crops are grown using natural sunlight but the twist here is their greenhouses use radiant heat in the soil to extend the growing season throughout the winter. Fueled by an energy efficient wood-fired boiler, there is insulation around the perimeter and under the floors of the greenhouses to keep the heat in. A special insulating fabric over the crops on cold nights provides extra protection so they can grow cold-hardy greens such as spinach, arugula, lettuce and Swiss Chard.
Their slogan is "Beat the Winter Blues with Bluegrass Farm" with the goal of extending each growing season so fresh, certified organic vegetables are available from October to March. This is their first full season of winter production in the farm's 10,000-square-feet of greenhouse space. They left jobs in Ottawa to launch Bluegrass Farm. Brad was an environmental planner and Leela a sustainability educator for municipalities. Both have graduate degrees in environmental studies.
"We feel the market is there," says Leela. Between their greenhouse production and an extensive, on-site cold storage for their field harvests, Bluegrass Farm is able to offer one of the only Winter Vegetable Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in the region. Their client base has grown from having 75 CSA customers in 2014 to 120 this fall. When you buy a seasonal share of the farm's product up front, you receive 10 bi-weekly baskets.
Bluegrass Farm sells a variety of salad greens to restaurants and food stores in Perth, Ottawa and Leeds Grenville. Local customers include B&H, Branch Restaurant and Heather's Healthy Harvest, all in Kemptville, Yellow Canoe and Healthily Ever After in Merrickville and Wendy's Mobile Market in Lyndhurst, to name just a few.
"We're looking to add more restaurant and retail customers in the spring when our greenhouse production ramps up," Leela says. Their services include weekly deliveries.
"It's been challenging and a lot of work yet it's been very rewarding," says Brad.
Winter CSA shares are sold out for this winter, but you can sign up for their newsletter on the website and be notified when next winter's shares go on sale. To learn more about this farm or read Brad's blog visit their Bluegrass website.