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Produce biz shines a light on northeastern Ontario farms

Sunrise Orchards and Produce provides fresh fruits and veggies at markets across the region

Sunrise Orchards and Produce is aptly named.

The root of the business is bringing high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables to residents of northeastern Ontario. As agriculture grows throughout the region, it also helps shine a light on northern farmers and their products.

With a base store in Smooth Rock Falls, Sunrise is well-known for bringing fresh-from-the-farm produce to Northerners.

Marion Veens, owner of Sunrise Orchards and Produce, explained how her father established the business.

“The farm was bought in 1956,” she said. “My dad came over from Holland, settled in Arkona (in southern Ontario) and bought it then.

“We’re the second generation. We have five children, and all help in the business.”

When she moved north, Veens felt the region was short of quality fresh produce.

“My brother now owns the farm in Arkona,” she explained. “I moved up here 22 years ago. Stuff wasn’t really nice because there wasn’t a lot of farmers’ markets. We decided to start bringing stuff from family farms, ones owned by my family or farms my family had been dealing with for over 50 years. That’s how we came to be.”

In addition to bringing fresh southern Ontario products north, Sunrise markets produce from northern farms.

“Today, I have carrots from Kapuskasing,” she said during a recent visit to the Mountjoy Farmers’ Market. “I can get potatoes from Cochrane in a couple of weeks and onions, beets stuff like that.”

While it has grown in popularity in recent years, she said the desire for quality food has always existed.

“It’s been going on for quite some time, but the last 15-20 years, especially in the north, there’s been more markets,” Veens said. “In southern Ontario there’s markets everywhere because of the number of farmers down there. Now, there’s more farms starting up north. So, we’re seeing more of these markets around.

“People have to work harder for their dollar now. So, they don’t mind spending the money as long as it’s good. You have more people who will come to a farmers’ market and pay a little bit more but know they have the freshness. They will spend that money knowing they have a better quality.”

Moving produce into the reason quickly is key to the business.

“My husband travels to southern Ontario two times a week,” she said. “Our motto is in our store two days. Then out the door into a market.

“If there is stuff that’s bruised or whatever, I do a lot of canning.

“We’re very busy in the summer. We’re always thankful for Thanksgiving.”

Her husband, Kevin Somer, is from Schumacher. Not surprisingly, they met in southern Ontario at a farmers’ market.

They have a hectic schedule to bring farm-fresh produce to communities throughout the northeast.

“On Monday, we’re at our store location in Smooth Rock Falls,” she said. “On Tuesday, we sell in Earlton because they don’t have a grocery store — we’ve sold there for more than 20 years now — then we come into Kirkland Lake for their farmers’ market.

“Wednesday, we’re back at our store location. Thursday, we go into Cochrane. We just set up at Gerard’s Esso. We’ve sold into Cochrane for about 20 years.

“Friday, we’re back at our store location. Saturday I’m here, at the Mountjoy market and my husband is in Iroquois Falls at the Mill Market.”

After markets close for the winter, and before they reopen, Sunrise hustles to bring Northerners fresh food.

“I come into (Acres of Dreams in Timmins) and sell there before the market in the spring and after the market closes in the fall,” Veens said. “Especially apples and apple cider. Apples are our thing, because that’s the kind of farm I grew up on and that’s why I really push the apples and apple cider.

“We have friends who have farms. We do it to showcase their farms and get the public on their locations. We are a draw, we know that. We want to get people, especially when the markets are over, onto their farms.”

Even though they are super busy, she still enjoys the work.

“Very much so. It’s a passion,” she said. “I grew up on a farm. You can never take the farm out of the person.

“We do this mainly to bring product that doesn’t in Northern Ontario to the north. A lot of times, like in the spring, I’ll bring things that do grow in the north but aren’t ready yet, things like beans, cucumbers.

“Then the northern farmers will have theirs ready and then we move over more to the fruit (from southern Ontario).”

Sunrise will continue to be an attraction at farmers’ markets in the region.

“We just want to issue a case for freshness within a market,” Veens said. “We hope to bring more people into the market with the variety we can offer.”

Sunrise Orchards and Produce is located at 153 Fifth St. in Smooth Rock Falls and can be reached at 705-347-2589. The store is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Follow them on Facebook here.