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Robert Henderson prepares a batch of jam.

Robert Henderson prepares a batch of jam.

Henderson Farms is a business that springs directly from the old farm tradition of making jams and jellies throughout the year as fruits come into season.

The family farmhouse on Wolfe Island is where Robert Henderson makes all of his products in small batches, and although he uses stainless steel and modern sterilizations techniques in the process of making his award winning products, not much else is different than the way jam and jelly was made on the farm by his mother. In fact, until quite recently his mother did all the jarring for the company.

While the fresh figs and Seville oranges in some Henderson products are not produced on Wolfe Island, other ingredients are still grown on the family farm, just as they were when the company started up in the late 1980′s. “We started out doing organic gardening on the farm, got into jams and jellies to use up leftover fruit, and the jam business took over,” is how Robert Henderson describes how the business developed.

Oh, and there was, and is, a lot of work involved as well. The rhubarb patch at Henderson Farms is a 1/4 of an acre in size, which is a lot of rhubarb, and the rhubarb must be picked, cleaned, cut up and cooked or frozen immediately to be made into Rhubarb Fig Marmalade or Strawberry Rhubarb jam. Not only are the products all made by hand in small batches, but new products are introduced annually to keep the business moving forward and provide a challenge as well.

“It is not just a matter of making something new, it has to be good. That takes trial and error,” said Robert. The newest products on the list are Pear and Raspberry jam, and Garlic Scape Jelly, joining such perennial favourites such as Ginger, Wild blueberry, and Strawberry Jam; Apricot Jalapeno, Lime, Mint, and Wild Dandelion Wine Jelly; and Orange and Lemon and Seville Orange Marmalade.

Then there is the matter of sales. Henderson farms maintains a stall in the Kingston market, here they sell baked goods, cut flowers in the summer and other farm products in addition to jams and jellies. Two years ago, Robert starting making Dairy-free Sorbets forsale at the market in the summertime. They also participate in some small and some very large craft and other shows throughout the province, as well as selling in fine food stores in Ontario and Quebec.

Although the business has grown over the years, it is still very much a family run operation. Robert’s brother works with him full time, his sister on a part-time basis, and his mother is still involved, and even elements such as the design of the labels is done by a cousin, who it turns out is a graphic designer.

In fact, it’s been 20 years since the labels were designed, which is hard to believe because they still have a contemporary feel, and the effect was instant and long lasting. “As soon as we put the new labels on the jars, our sales doubled, and we haven’t looked back,” said Robert. Plans are coming together for Afternoon Teas this summer on the farm in Wolfe Island, as an additional part of the business.

Even with the track record of Henderson Jams and Jellies and legions of customers from across the Province and beyond, it is always necessary to move forward, introduce new products and new ways of marketing, and Frontenac CFDC has helped along the way with advice and loans. “The CFDC has helped with a loan when I re-did the kitchen a few years ago, and I have participated in workshops as well. They’ve been very helpful,” Robert said.

Article by Jeff Green, The Frontenac News

Frontenac CFDC is a non-profit organization offering free business advice and commercial financing to entrepreneurs and those looking to start a business in the Frontenacs and supports community based projects. Click for information.

Henderson Farms of Wolfe Island Wins Big at Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

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Robert Henderson had another great showing this year at the 2012 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Henderson Farms received top honors as Grand Champion Jam and Jelly Maker and won the Judges Choice Award for his Raspberry and Pear Jam. Robert Henderson of Henderson Farms has been making jams for the past 25 years. His market career began at his hometown market in Kingston Ontario and his reputation quickly grew from the high quality of his all-natural products, with a number of ingredients grown organically by Robert himself on the family farm on Wolfe Island. His select variety of products includes not only jams and jellies, but distinct mustards, marmalades and chutneys.

Henderson Farms has been showing at The Royal since 2000 with great success and has been named the Grand Champion Jelly and Jam Maker two years in a row for 2006 and 2007and won the Judges Choice Award in 2008 for his Pear and Quince Jam. In this year’s Competition Henderson Farms had an outstanding showing, Robert won Grand Champion Jam and Jelly Maker 2012 and Judges Choice Award for his Raspberry and Pear Jam. He also placed:

  • Jams & Jelly Competition:
    • 1st – Blueberry Jam competition
    • 1st – Mixed Fruit competition, Raspberry & Pear Jam
    • 1st – Marmalade competition, Orange and Lemon Marmalade
    • 1st – Spirited Jelly competition, Wild Dandelion Wine Jelly
    • 1st – Single Berry Fruit Jam, Elderberry
    • 2nd – Single or Mixed Fruit Conserve or Preserve, Fig & Rhubarb Conserve
    • 2nd – Single Tree Fruit Jam, Qunice Jam
    • 4th – Raspberry Jam competition
  • Pickling Competition:
    • 4th – Misc. Savory Pickles, Beet Pickle
  • Maple Syrup Competition
    • 4th – Maple Jelly

Henderson Farms products are available at select fine food shows and a growing number of gourmet shops and specialty gift stores. Some of their flavors like Maple Syrup Jelly or Elderberry Jam are seasonal, but most are made year round. A few of their newest offerings include: Garlic Scape Jelly, Rhubarb & Fig Marmalade, Cranberry & Apple Jelly, Seville Marmalade and Lime Jelly. They fit complimentary with his legendary Red Pepper jelly, Wild Dandelion Wine Jelly, Pear Jam, Apricot-Jalapeno Jelly, Cranberry-Jalapeno Jelly and Pink Peppercorn Mustard.

For a full list of products offered by Henderson Farms and where to buy them visit their website www.hendersonfarms.on.ca

You can also visit them at:

-      The Ottawa Signatures Show Nov. 14-18 at the Ottawa Convention Centre (Booth 418)

-      The Toronto One Of a Kind Show Nov. 22 – Dec 2 at the Direct Energy Centre (Booth G-19)

-      The Originals Ottawa Christmas Craft Sale Dec. 6-16 at the CE Centre (Booth 721)

-      Salon Des Metiers d’Art Montreal Dec. 7 – 22