The story of Thunder Bay native Joseph Grootenboer demonstrates the passion, faith and hard work required to cultivate a small business venture. As owner of the River Bell Market Garden in Dresden, Joseph has brought Chatham-Kent a hub for organic flowers and produce, as well as a fresh vision for the future of our local farm-to-table agriculture scene.
A Seed is Planted
Joseph Grootenboer grew up on a dairy farm in Thunder Bay. As a child, he was surrounded by a collaborative network of hardworking farmers, similar to those found here in Chatham-Kent. Although he appreciated the agriculture industry, Joseph set his sights on becoming a mechanical engineer, which sent him to Edmonton, AB to be the Project Manager for a construction company.
Joseph enjoyed project management, but never saw it as more than a job. After witnessing a friend make a decent living off a 9 acre organic garden, a seed of possibility was planted. Joseph began to believe that enjoyable, passion-filled work may be an option for him as well. With a supportive wife affirming his obvious love of gardening, Joseph resigned from his job and his dreams began to grow.
Roots, Sprouts and Buds
Joseph knew that going from a project manager at a company to the entrepreneur owner of a small-scale garden would be a major career shift. He wisely decided to spend one year working at his friend’s farm in Edmonton, learning the ins and outs of the business. As the roots of Joseph’s vision grew deeper, he and his wife began discussing where they would root their family. His wife is a Chatham-Kent native he met in Alberta, so both were inclined towards moving back to Ontario. After weighing pros and cons, they moved to Dresden in October 2011 and purchased twenty acres of rich Chatham-Kent land.
The Grootenboers’ first months in Chatham-Kent were spent preparing the business. Joseph’s childhood memories of busy farmers working faithfully and industrially towards a future yield would now be a metaphor for his tireless efforts towards his dream career. When they launched the River Bell Market Garden (River Bell) in the spring of 2012, it was still a budding business, accompanied by the preliminary work of business start-up.
Now into the second season of the River Bell, Joseph is beginning to reap the fruit of his efforts in Chatham-Kent. He has built great relationships with many people who share his passion for best practice gardening and farming. He has received positive support from local restaurants (Zeoni’s and Rossini’s, Chatham; Fiesta, Wallaceburg) who purchase River Bell’s homegrown organic produce, as well as other local businesses who act as a depot for the business (William Street Café, Dutch Market and Union Gas, Chatham). These locations allow customers to purchase newly harvested produce or pick up orders through River Bell’s organic vegetable box program (subscribers receive a box of organic vegetables each week for 22 weeks ($20/week; more details on the website).
Joseph hopes that Chatham-Kent will become a hub for more small-scale, organic farming operations in the future, and is personally interested in providing mentorship and supporting the incubation of other innovative agri-business concepts. He has been encouraged to meet like-minded individuals, who have taken an interest in his business and collaborated with him. His major collaborative project of 2012 was Chatham-Kent Table, which was widely successful and will return in 2013. Learn more about Chatham-Kent Table and River Bell Market Garden below.
The CK Table is an annual event showcasing Chatham-Kent’s finest producers direct from the farm to your plate.
River Bell Market Garden
River Bell is an organic market garden on the east edge of Dresden, Ontario that was established in 2012. Offerings include organically grown fruit, herbs, flowers and vegetables.
559 Sydenham Street