Outstanding young farmer embraces ‘crazy ideas’
Langton's Dusty Zamecnik of both EZ Grow Farms and Hometown Brew Co. took home the Ontario Young Farmers Award this week in Woodstock. Zamecnik stands in the new 40,000-square-foot greenhouse being added to the EZ Grow operation on Norfolk County Road 23. JACOB ROBINSON/Simcoe Reformer
In returning to his family farm near Langton two years ago, Dusty Zamecnik wasn’t content with the status quo.
Now a co-owner of EZ Grow Farms on Norfolk County Road 23, the 27-year-old fourth-generation farmer began expanding on what his parents, Darryl and Helen, had accomplished in helping build a trusted blueberry and strawberry operation.
“I didn’t want to do what my dad was doing, I wanted to build on top of it,” said the Holy Trinity Catholic High School graduate. “Not that I’m saying what he’s doing was wrong ... but I wanted something to bring to the table.”
Zamecnik travelled to Europe to research its emerging strawberry market. He also connected with greenhouses in the Leamington area and began working on ways to bring new varieties to Norfolk.
He recently purchased a plot of land near the farm, upping the operation’s ownership to 200 acres. A 40,000-square-foot greenhouse is being built on the new property.
Meantime, Zamecnik also is a key cog in Hometown Brew Co. - a local brewery that features a blueberry saison with ingredients grown at the family farm, and a southern ale.
All this work and more caught the eye of local cash crop producer Murray Porteous, who nominated Zamecnik for the Ontario Outstanding Young Farmers Award, an honour bestowed upon the province’s brightest and innovative agricultural minds.
Zamecnik was announced the 2017 winner at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock this week. Porteous would know an outstanding young farmer when he sees one - he captured the award in 1998.
“Everybody is tired, everybody is working hard and it was almost like a range of emotions – kicking back and realizing all the little things that we’re all doing here is coming together,” said Zamecnik.
“It’s those early mornings, that (thought of) ‘Holy crap, why am I doing this?’ It’s the bank loans, it’s the gut rot, it’s the nightmare, but also it’s the fun stuff about seeing all the components coming together.”
Zamecnik also sits on the Norfolk County Ag. Advisory Board, National Blueberry Working Group and works as treasurer of the Ontario Highbush Blueberry Growers Association. He said those efforts, as well as the family’s loyalty to both their customers and employees, likely caught the eye of the judges.
Having his mom and dad “believing in all my crazy ideas” is important for Zamecnik.
“We’re really putting it all on the line,” he explained.
“There’s no two ways about it, we’re in debt up to our ears. Building the greenhouse and really believing in our product and trying to innovate and being the first to do it is, of course, scary.”
He said he thinks the judges saw that “we’re really trying to innovate and that it’s, for the most part, starting to work, all these components came together.”
Zamecnik will represent Norfolk and Ontario as part of Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers national event in Penticton, B.C., beginning Nov. 29.
Regardless of the results, Zamecnik will continue to focus on the expansion of both EZ Grow and Hometown Brew Co. In fact, a new brew featuring locally grown products will be announced in the coming weeks.
“We want to start working with local farmers, not only local hop farmers but also Norfolk County farmers, with their fruit to integrate in our beer,” he added.
“We want to spotlight what’s home for all of us, not just (our employees). We all live here, so let’s all prove to the world ... what we’re all about.”