One of the things people ask us at the Chatham-Kent Small Business Centre is, “what ever happens to the Summer Company students that complete the program?” While many of them take the skills they have learned and move forward with new education or career opportunities, some of them continue to work their business and build on their entrepreneurial success. One such company is Country Garden Market, owned and operated by Alex Wingrove.
Alex was part of the 2017-2018 Summer Company cohort and took the opportunity to turn a hobby into a full-fledged business. Following the success he had that year, he continued to develop Country Garden Market all the while attending school for agriculture at the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus, and also working midnights at a local mushroom farm.
“I’m always impressed when the young entrepreneurs I work with reach out to the Small Business Centre after Summer Company is done and look at ways to keep the business growing,” said Rosemarie Montgomery, Economic Development Officer with Chatham-Kent Economic Development. “Alex is one of the most ambitious and dedicated people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. He has poured himself into this business and has made it his full time job and career.”
In follow up to the Summer Company program, Alex also successfully completed the Small Business Centre Starter Company Plus program. As a result, he has been able to take advantage of the ongoing training and mentoring which has helped him to maximize his business.
All of Alex’s planning and hard work has meant that, as he enters his third growing season, he will have reached his maximum capacity for the weekly fresh food basket delivery program he offers.
“We have already maxed out our weekly boxes but we still have fresh produce available at our stand on Riverview Line in Chatham and are planning to attend a few markets, including Wallaceburg, this summer,” said Alex. “We even had a frequent customer stop by early this morning before we opened asking for radishes. It’s such a great feeling to know that people are enjoying the work I put into the farm.”
Over the past three years, the focus of Country Garden Market has shifted from the early business plan stages and into the development stage.
“Everything we grow is based on about a plot of land about half an acre in size. Since we started farming, we have increased our yields by four times as much volume in the same amount of space,” said Alex. “I’ve been studying how to make sure we are getting the best use of the land and are doing things as organically as possible. I even go so far as to do majority of the work by hand and using manual tools so we can use every square foot available.”
Alex added, “All of this manual work means that it takes me three days to do a full round of weeding, but I know that it makes for more delicious and healthy food.”
Moving forward, Alex has plans to extend his growing season into early January with hopes of only a minimal 6-8 week shut down. However, even in a shut down period, Country Garden Market will be busy with preparation for the following year’s crop.
“We are extending our greenhouse capacity and are also looking at crops that can handle cold weather conditions. With some luck, we will be able to supply winter markets with fresh produce,” said Alex. “We have a few other plans for expansion in the future, but right now I need to focus on the strong harvest we are already achieving.”
“I also must thank Rosemarie and the Small Business Centre for all of their help. It’s been great to know that if I have a question or something comes up, they are there to provide support”, said Alex. “Honestly, if there is anyone else out there looking to start a business, I highly recommend that they reach out to the centre. It makes a big difference.”
For more information about Country Garden Market, visit them at 7346 Riverview Line, Chatham, Ontario, or check them out on Facebook by clicking here.