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Farming for mostly fun, and profit, in Sudbury

Former Nova Steel Systems owner turns hobby into second career, seeks people to join him

Usually when someone retires from decades of running a business they take to a slower pace in life.

Gerard Leblanc, However, isn't going that route.

At 75 years old he is gearing up for another phase of his life, farming, and wants others to join in on what he says are the pleasures of working the land.

“It keeps me busy, at this stage in my life if I don't stay busy I seize right up,” he said in an interview at his farm on Cote Boulevard in the Sudbury suburb of Hanmer. “I have 58 acres of land, 15 of which can be farmed. Most of the time I've owned it I've just been working to keep it neat with brushing. Now that I have the time I want to do something with all this land and I've always had an interest in farming.”

Leblanc said he owned and managed Nova Steel Systems for decades. When he retired, leaving the business to his daughter, he started thinking about how he could use his building expertise for other applications.

“I started thinking about doing something else with my life, with my land, I like company, I always wanted to try farming and I had some success the last couple years with smaller projects, So I'm looking to expand.”

He tried renting out some land a few years ago to a neighbour who was growing crops for a produce operation. He rented more land to let a woman grow hay. He was hoping to continue with both, but they have since moved on to other ventures, but that inspired Leblanc to keep going. He tried producing chickens, pigs, turkeys and some produce, all of which sold. He also grew a few crops, which he said did well enough for him to plan for larger plantings for this season.

With so much land Leblanc says he is opening his land again to allow people to grow crops next spring. Last year he participated in the Hanmer Farmer's Market and said it was a good experience. He was considering again, but the community was not running a market this summer. Going to a market in another community wasn't feasible for him, either, so he decided to go into business for himself.

“The fees they charge for tables at markets, most of the time what I sell is just enough to break even,” he said. “I'd rather keep the operation here. I have plenty of land for others to start a garden if they want. Anyone is welcome to come talk to me, we can sit, talk about how much land, fees, I have some equipment they can use to till and water. The rest can be up to them.”

He is also welcoming people as campers. Leblanc said if they want to stay on the land while they grow crops he has space for people to park trailers, as well as places for water and sewer dumping.

“I'm appealing to young people, young families, anyone who is keen on growing their own fresh food,” he said. “I want people to experience the passion I have for farming, how much fun it can be and seeing what you can do with a little hard work.”

This year he tried planting a few crops on tilled and cleared parcels, planting strawberries, peppers, kale, peas, radishes and tomatoes, as well as sunflowers on his front yard. Ironically, the wet weather has hampered much of the growing.
“The rain really soaked the ground, a lot of my seeds and bulbs just rotted in the ground and the seedlings haven't grown much,” he said.

He turned to his building experience to come up with a solution. Using wood from pallets, heavy clear plastic and PVC piping he built a series of greenhouses he put over his peppers to see how they would work. So far, he's noticed the peppers under the greenhouses have fared better than the ones out in the open.

He said he's used his experiences in his former career to come up with solutions to make it easier to till, water and fertilize such large parcels of land. He modified a gas-powered pump, a water tank and some hose to create a water/fertilizer system he pulls along on a small tractor, which he says works well. He obtains clear plastic from his daughter, who saves it from build sites.

Just behind his home he also raises chickens and quail for eggs and meat in a sheltered barn, in coops he built himself.

Keeping chickens, he said has been an entertaining experience.

“They understand when it's feeding time and come looking for me,” he said with a chuckle. “When 4:30 p.m. rolls around and they see me coming, they run to the coop and wait for their feed.”

This isn't the first time he's kept animals. Before going into construction, he said he and his wife, Stella had a petting farm on Cote Boulevard, keeping a menagerie of animals, including goats, chickens, cows and pigs. Families and schools would come out to see the farm. A barn fire, caused by what he said was a cat knocking over a heater, brought an end to the operation. He turned to construction as a career choice after that.

For this year, he's going it alone, setting up his own produce business.

“I have a vegetable stand at the end of my driveway on Sundays this year, rather than trying to sell at the markets.”