A Conversation with 6th Generation Farmer, Susan Lester
Susan Lester, Market Manager at Lester’s Farm & Market
173 Brookfield Road, St, John’s, NL
“My name is Susan Lester, I am the market manager at my family farm, Lester’s Farm Market located on Brookfield Road. As most farm kids, I grew up helping out on the farm but came to the farm full time after completing my first degree at MUN in 2013.”
Number of years at the business
Both of my parents come from a long line of farmers and have always farmed, however our business where we sell directly to our customers began with a table on the side of the road in 1994.
What school (or schools) are you connected with?
With respect to the Farm to Cafeteria we are connected with St. Bonaventure’s College. We also have a connection with other surrounding schools through school tours, and providing gardening advice.
What food(s) or services(s) do you provide to this/these school(s)?
We are paired up with St. Bon’s through the Farm to Cafeteria program. We provide them with fresh veggies for their salad bar which they have throughout the school year. A few grades have also come to our farm for school tours where they learn about what we do on our farm. They have also started a garden on their property and we are always here to provide any advice they may want. I also had the opportunity to speak to a class of students about my career in agriculture to help encourage future farmers. As well, during environment week I stopped in and spoke at an assembly they had, it was great to see how enthusiastic they are as a school.
How long have you been working with this/these school(s)?
We begin our partnership in 2015. Chris Peters, one of the teachers at the school, came to us with this opportunity and we were very glad to be part of such a great program.
What motivates you? Why do you feel it’s important to work with schools?
What motivates me most is continuing what my parents started. I, as well as my two brothers Brad and Chris, have the utmost admiration and respect for what they began and we hope to follow in their footsteps and fill their shoes. As mentioned, we come from a long line of farmers (I’m a sixth generation farmer) and our family on both sides are still actively farming. The farming community is motivation in itself: farmers have to be very versatile every day, they’re very hard-working individuals who care deeply about what they do, and at the end of the day no matter how hard the work can be it’s also extremely rewarding when you get to harvest crops that you watched grow all season long.
I think it’s important to work with schools because farming isn’t popular in Newfoundland, at this point, and we need to work together to become more self-sufficient. We are an island, I think it’s important for everyone to understand how they can easily grow their own food, and what better way to learn that than to make a connection to a farm and learn from hands-on experience? Since we began in 1994, it has always been very important to my mom, Mary, to show and educate others about what we do and why we do it. Being a teacher myself, I take pride in showing others a snapshot of farming in Newfoundland in any way I can. Working with schools like St. Bon’s allows me to do that. Hopefully by working with schools, as well as working with young children and their families on our farm, we can help create some future farmers and grow the agricultural industry.
What has been most rewarding?
What’s most rewarding is being able to see your hard work from start to finish. It’s also extremely rewarding, and heart-warming, to see others enjoy our farm, our produce, and what we do. Being able to watch a kid’s face light up after the witness how their seed has sprouted; or see their reaction when they taste a fresh veggie will leave us speechless every time. The most rewarding aspect with the Farm to Cafeteria Canada program is knowing that there are people – like the staff, parents and students of St. Bon’s – who want to source their food locally and make a connection to our farm and the farming lifestyle in general.
What has been most challenging?
Figuring out what works best. I believe we have all entered this initiative knowing that it would be a work in progress. We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re willing to work together to make it work.
Growing vegetables in Newfoundland is a little challenging in and of itself, although we are at peak harvest during the fall. For the most, part our veggies are grown and harvested in the fields from May to early November. Although we do have a hydroponic system we are a little limited in the amount and type of crop that can be grown. To overcome this challenge, the staff at St. Bon’s will use what we have available so that they can still provide local, fresh veggies.
Any other details you’d like to share?
Again, we don’t have this down to a complete science yet. But we are working towards it! We started with a salad bar so that we can continue to grow the possibilities of providing fresh, local ingredients to schools. We can’t explain how happy we are to be a part of this program and are very grateful that St. Bon’s reached out to us. We hope to continue this partnership for many years and would love to be a part of more schools if the opportunity arises!