2017-04-19

Former landscaper growing farm market in Oakhill

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Marnie Enslow, a former landscaper, is now growing a farm market business in Oakhill.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Strategically located on Highway 325, not far from Bridgewater, Oakhill Farm Market is attracting area residents and tourists alike.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Marnie Enslow is a former landscaper who set up a farm market business in Oakhill.</p>

As with many budding businesses, Oakhill Farm Market on Highway 325 just outside Bridgewater grew out of a hobby, and developed on a large learning curve.

Two years ago, health issues forced owner Marnie Enslow to give up her landscaping business and set out on a less physically demanding path. What began in August 2015 as Enslow selling vegetables out of a car tent on her property has become a promising family market catering to local passers-by and tourists.

"I quickly outgrew the car tent," Enslow said laughing. "And I went, 'Yeah, okay, maybe there's something to this.'"

By the Christmas season, she and her husband had decorated the barn and were selling wreaths and other crafts they made there.

"You know, you just walk into an old barn. It was perfect. Everybody just loved it." So they decided to spruce up the building and started selling inside that spring.

They made it through to August. "And that's when the trouble started," recalled Enslow.

They were told by the Municipality of Lunenburg that they'd have to cease selling from inside the barn immediately for not having the right permits.

"They basically told us shut the doors. You can't do this."

However, the couple was permitted to continue operating as a yard sale until the end of the year. That meant they had to take everything in and out each day, until they obtained the necessary permits and made the changes to the barn that were required by the municipality.

"But we kept going," said Enslow.

They carried on that way until after Christmas, and then began addressing the municipality's demands. One of the requirements was getting the Department of Transportation to certify that their driveway was safe for the public.

They'd need to build a fence across it to prevent customers from coming in the whole length of the driveway. They also had to get a change of use permit for the barn indicating it was a store instead of a barn, and have an engineer inspect the building.

"That's finally all done now," said Enslow, although, "it's been a real pain trying to get in and out with the fence up."

So plans are afoot to have an entrance and exit onto the property and an extended area for parking.

Enslow estimates the investment they made in permit requirements and business development was "about $7,000 so far." She said they ended up remortgaging their home to cover the cost of the permits and other business expenses.

"This was only supposed to be my hobby. And it's kind of taken on a life of its's own," said Enslow laughing.

The couple is now considering how they can make the operation more profitable, including selling ice cream, however that would require a further investment in refrigerators.

For now, the ice cream project is on the shelf. "Right now it's a scuttle ... We're maxed out for what we can do."

They count themselves lucky for not having a water line hooked up in the barn. Otherwise, they'd be required to put in a septic and a bathroom in the barn, said Enslow.

According to Enslow, last summer she was baking "every day, all day." And the couple is looking into hiring employees just to give her some free time, which will dig into their current reserves.

Enslow was fortunate to have a couple volunteers tending the store last summer while she baked inside.

"They just stopped in one day and kind of never left. It was awesome," she said with a grin. "That was the only way, really, that it went the way that it did. It was because of them."

Neither volunteer is available this summer, and Enslow must now look for a replacement.

The business has meant the couple has had to get rid of the majority of their animals, including a mare and sheep. "For insurance. They wouldn't even look at us."

She made weekly forays to the Annapolis Valley for fruit and vegetables to supplement their garden produce, which included yellow and green beans, carrots and turnips.

And she began maximizing profits on the baked goods, by making inroads with wholesale suppliers for things such as flour.

"So we've found ways to cut costs there and are kind of getting a little more smart about where to get things," she said.

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