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.