How Sisters are Growing Their Fourth Generation Farm

Apple Hill Lavender Farm—where business has bloomed for more than 100 years
Jenn (left) and Melissa Schooley are the fourth generation to run Apple Hill Lavender Farm.

For the Schooley family, embracing their farming roots while looking for new possibilities paved the way to a sustainable future.

Apple Hill Lavender Farm is an agritourism destination in Norfolk County boasting an on-site boutique in an historic barn, as well as five acres of rolling lavender fields and a picturesque apple orchard. The agritourism business is just part of their larger family farm. Schooley Orchards Limited was established in 1906 and is now transitioning to the fourth generation.

And when it comes to succession planning, it’s no easy feat. Seventy per cent of family-run organizations struggle with the transition process. But the Schooley family has always worked well together—openly communicating successes and brainstorming ideas to overcome barriers. With a passion for innovation and creativity, their next generation is fostering new growth on the farm.

Planting the seeds of sustainability

In 2008, Harold Schooley, the farm’s third-generation owner, pulled out five acres of apple trees to plant lavender as a retirement gift to his wife.

“The large lavender garden started to garner attention from the passing public, so we opened it up for everyone to enjoy,” recounts their daughter Melissa.

Recognizing an opportunity to diversify the family business, they renovated their sales barn and began organizing walking tours and lavender festivals in partnership with other growers in the area. Apple Hill Lavender Farm was born.

Beyond the farm’s economic sustainability, the family is committed to environmental stewardship through responsible land management practices. They use integrated pest management programs and cultivate healthy ecosystems for birds and beneficial insects. And they recently obtained a certification through Biosphere Sustainable Lifestyle, which aligns the farm’s environmental and social efforts with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“We provide a culturally and socially safe working environment, as outlined in the UN’s SDGs,” says Jennifer. “Some student workers stay for several years at a time, and our seasonal workers are like family, with some returning for over 40 years.”

Thoughtful evolution

Today, the next generation of Schooley family farmers– sisters Jennifer and Melissa–work alongside each other, both cooperatively and independently.

“I follow dad around learning all aspects of the farm’s operations, from the lavender fields and apple orchard to managing the workers during harvest,” says Jennifer.

Her sister, Melissa, taps into prior business experience and medicinal herb knowledge to manage research and development, process and market the farm’s products, and oversee the summer students who assist in the gardens and store.

The sisters utilize every square space of growing area and market the natural weeds and trees that already exist on their land. With their onsite boutique selling handcrafted skincare products, and collaborations with local farms like Udderly Ridiculous, which uses the Schooley’s lavender in its award-winning ice cream, the sisters believe thoughtfully expanding the farm’s business model is their key to the future.

“As we grow our business, we’re acutely aware of every financial step we take, ensuring that where we invest our resources, revenue will come back to us in some way or another,” says Jennifer.

A bank that’s family, too

The Schooleys say they couldn’t have done it on their own.

“Banking with BMO was the boost our business needed to move forward. It allowed us to make critical upgrades to infrastructure on the farm,” Melissa says.

“As our business started to grow, we needed a bank that recognized the individual needs of our farm,” she says. “Our relationship manager at BMO, Austin Janzen, has been an invaluable member of our team. He’s been there to address any concerns or challenges we’ve faced. Plus, he made a point of visiting the farm to truly understand not only the business but the two of us!”

Jennifer adds, “Austin’s flexibility, compassion and expert knowledge is on par with Apple Hill Lavender’s own business ethics. In fact, we consider him an extended member of our farm.”