Heather and Matthew were first featured in the 2015 Winter Edition of the NB Family Farmer.
The Gagetown Fruit Farm has been operated by Matthew Estabrooks and Heather Rhymes since 2008. They moved back from Ontario to revitalize the farm after Matthew’s parents Greg and Mary Lou Estabrooks retired. The farm has been in the family for 3 generations, since the early 1970s. Heather is a Red Seal Chef, specializing in both culinary and pastry. Matthew studied at Dal-AC for two years before completing his culinary studies at the (former) Culinary Institute of Canada.
Before moving back to the Village of Gagetown, Heather had no experience in farming. She has learned everything she knows from on-the-job training over the past 7 years; without Matthew as her teacher she says she would have given up long ago! Matthew takes the lead with the farm work and over the years they have developed a comprehensive system with the goal of supplying many of the varieties of fruit, produce and meats for sale at the market as fresh produce and prepared meals. Heather takes the lead in kitchen, where she creates and transforms the fresh farm products into delicious food. It is a pleasure to see these two work together; their skills sets complement each other and they team up on many projects. Many days, Heather will head out and work in the fields or care for the animals and Matthew can equally be found in the kitchen keeping his culinary skills sharp or trying out new cider recipes.
The consistent high quality fruits, vegetables, frozen meats and baked goods have earned them a loyal following at the Boyce Farmers Market in Fredericton on Saturdays. They pride themselves on listening to their customers’ needs and striving to grow what their customers want. This involves both long term planning in terms of new fruit varieties and short term planning regarding popular baked goods, like croissants or baguettes.
Heather and Matthew love the sense of freedom of operating their own farm business, despite the enormous amount of work and dedication it takes. Fortunately for them, as operators of a mixed farm with direct customer sales, they can adapt their products based on their desires to learn and try new things which keeps every season new and interesting. They are still working towards a healthier work-life balance with the never ending farm work, but say that the balance is much better than it was when they first started!
When asked why they chose the NFU-NB as their general farm organization, they said that based on their research and discussions with other farmers, the NFU-NB best represents their values as a small farm. They also feel that the organization is approachable; that they can call with any concerns and that the NFU-NB will do their best to represent their needs.