One of Ottawa’s most famous farms is getting into the apple-growing and cider-making business.
The owners of Saunders Farm are aiming to have their first batch of bubbly bevvies for sale by Canada Day. They've recently announced the launch of Saunders Cider Co., following their purchase of Spencerville-based commercial micro-cidery Flying Canoe Hard Cider.
Saunders Farm will open a taproom and store at its 100-acre agri-tourism attraction, located in the city’s southwest end in Munster Hamlet. Its cider will also be sold at LCBO outlets and grocery stores, and will be promoted at future events and festivals held at the charming countryside destination.
Affable entrepreneur Mark Saunders said he’s always dreamed of planting an apple orchard and of making cider at the farm. He just didn’t have time to develop a plan until the COVID-19 pandemic came along and slowed everything down.
He says he reached out to Pete Rainville a few months ago after hearing the cider brewer might be selling his business, Flying Canoe Hard Cider, which he founded in 2016. A letter of intent to sell was signed and, just five weeks after Saunders first announced his interest in starting a cider company, he was in business.
“Ultimately for me, I wanted to further sink my roots into the ground and just get my hands dirty,” said Saunders, who’s taking a cider-making course and also working with an orchardist through the Ministry of Agriculture. “And, I love apples, so I just took the plunge.”
Saunders Cider will continue with the Flying Canoe name and recipe but plans to add new varieties once it's ready to ramp up production in the fall.
"We bought the company knowing we're growing it, not for what it is today," he said.
When the former owner was reached for comment, Rainville expressed his best wishes for Saunders Cider.
"It's time to let the Flying Canoe soar," added Rainville, who will be working part-time with Saunders to help with the transition.
Saunders said they will rely on local orchards until their farm's own apples become ready down the road.
“We’re preparing the fields here on the farm to plant a five-acre orchard,” said Saunders. “We’ll be planting our orchard next spring.”
The farm currently grows pumpkins and corn.
Saunders Cider is a “substantial” business investment, Saunders acknowledged.
“Apart from me buying the farm from my parents 11 years ago, I would say this is the biggest investment we’ve ever made,” said Saunders, who co-owns the farm with his wife, Angela Grant Saunders.
The new cider business has served as a welcomed distraction for Saunders, who, despite the crippling effects of the pandemic, maintains a sunny outlook.
“I will say that I’m so grateful to have this project right now because if I was sitting here watching numbers every day and not knowing when we could open our business, it would be a real challenge. We’ve had some really low points in the last 15 months. It’s been a real challenge, personally, in our family, in our business, in our community. We’re seeing it.
“We’re optimistic by our DNA, and we have decided to help share that enthusiasm and optimism with the world around us even more. We feel, in some ways, it’s our destiny, our duty to continue to lift up the community.”
Saunders Farm is expecting to be open for visitors this summer, with certain restrictions in effect. It will be running its popular day camps for children ages five to 12 and holding all of its activities outdoors.
The business owner is feeling particularly good about the fall as they head into their 38th Haunting Season, which is a Halloween tradition in Ottawa. It will also continue its new Christmas in the Country season through to the New Year.
Saunders Farm was originally purchased in the 1970s by Bill Saunders and his late wife, Anne, who had been teachers looking to start a new life with their young family. The family successfully turned the rural property into an award-winning destination. With the business now being run by the next generation, it appears the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
“I know (my dad) is very pleased with how we continue to evolve and do new things on the farm,” Saunders said. “It gives him a sense of pride.”
Before the pandemic, the farm was welcoming about 100,000 visitors a year. Saunders is hopeful those numbers will not only return but swell once restrictions are relaxed.
“We’ve seen such an outpouring of support from the community throughout the pandemic. It’s a mutual love; we’re supporting the community and they’re supporting us. We think the support of local businesses is only going to grow from here on out.”