Henderson Farms



Business Name: Henderson Farms

Founder: Robert Henderson

Website: https://www.hendersonfarms.on.ca/

In ten words or less, what’s so special about your products?

Handmade, small-batch jams, jellies, marmalade inspired by the community.

Intriguing. Tell us more.

We’re a third-generation family farm located on Wolfe Island, where the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario. We craft and sell award-winning jams, jellies, marmalades and mustards and have even expanded into gluten-free baking. Our flour-less chocolate beet cake is proving to be a big hit. 

All of our ingredients are sourced locally. We used to grow everything we used, but we’re so busy that now we have a group of local people grow and pick berries and fruit for us, from chokeberries to crab apples.

Food entrepreneurs are always after great flavours for their products. Where do you get your inspiration from?

You have to keep your eyes and ears open, be interested in the world around you. Sometimes I come up with an idea out of the blue and then test if it works. Other times, there are popular flavours that change with the seasons, and I will experiment with these, come up with something new, unusual and, most importantly, delicious. 

This year we created a cranberry jam that tastes like Christmas, so we call it Christmas jam. I have also created new varieties from classic flavours for the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. They started a new category called “heritage jams,” the original recipe needed to be from before 1928. My contribution was a delicious pear and cranberry jam. Most of our jams can be purchased online at www.hendersonfarms.on.ca

To everybody who's out there dreaming about starting a food business, how did you launch yours? What's the story behind your business?

I went to Guelph University to study horticulture and specialized in organic gardening, focusing on greenhouse management. I did that for about ten years before experimenting with making jams and jellies from fruit that would have gone to waste otherwise. 

I casually started selling these at local farmers’ markets, and when that was successful, I had some labels designed. It snowballed from there, especially once we started visiting shows like the One of a Kind Show in Toronto and Vancouver and Salon des métiers d’art in Montreal. We then began to win multiple awards from the Royal Winter Fair. Since 2000, I’ve been grand champion jam and jelly maker three times. Every year one of your products places 1st, 2nd or 3rd with multiple wins in some years. 

As a result, the business doubled every year, and after a while, I decided to focus most of my energy there. Recently we added a line of gluten-free baked goods to the mix, cakes and cookies, which are selling really well. And to top it all off, we’re also making a range of sorbets. 

How expensive was it to start your food business? How did you fund it?

We were lucky that our initial costs were very low. Because we were selling at the Kingston Market, we were grandfathered into legislation that allowed us to sell products we had created in our home kitchen. But after a few years, I decided to install a full commercial kitchen into our farmhouse. 

It was a large job and not cheap, but Frontenac Business Services helped us secure the financing needed. We had to rewire the entire house, run new 3phase hydro and install stainless steel fireproof walls, a new exit door and all the equipment needed to get the sign-off from the Health Unit in Kingston.

Where are you now? Where is business going?

I am happy with where the business is. I want to make sure to keep the connection to the land and the people, and if I’d grow it into something larger, that connection would be suffering. 

Sometimes, less is more, and we are at a sweet spot right now where we make a good living but still create artisanal products with our hands.

What’s so special about doing business in Frontenac?

It’s just a lovely place to live, and people are interested in what we do and how we do it. We had guests from as far away as Toronto come and visit us, so many that we started offering afternoon teas and large communal dinners with close to 200 people by the water. 

I could not imagine living anywhere else.

Finally, do you have a checklist that you could share, your top three tips to keep in mind when starting a food business? Things you wished you would have known yourself.

The first thing you need to do is research. Find out what the consumer is looking for, then see if you can make that. Stay aware of market trends and react to them; stay nimble. 

Number two, always look for funding. If you’re doing good work and creating value, then there’s money out there to support you. Talk to Frontenac Business Services for help; they are always happy to assist. 

And finally, love what you do. As they say, if you do that, you’ll never work a day for the rest of your life. Find something you’re passionate about, and then run with that.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.