My parents taught me how to overcome heartbreak. My dad taught me how to drive a car. My mom taught me a chili recipe so delicious that it used to have all of my friends lined up outside the forest-green front door of my childhood home, waiting promptly with a bowl and spoon in hand.
As a typically permanent fixture in our lives, it can often be easy to overlook the many contributions our parents make to our happiness, personal triumphs, and overall livelihood.
I believe there are some things only a mother or father can accomplish. Certain lessons only a parent can teach.
Alexa Hambly’s parents—while teaching the value of work ethic, how to overcome adversity, and the importance of caring for others—gifted their daughter with the blueprint for leading a vertically integrated grower-packer-shipper operation spanning a variety of popular produce categories.
“Our vision is to leave a legacy of always providing high-quality products, giving back to our community, and being innovative within the industry,” says Cristina Hambly, General Manager, Owner, and the matriarch behind the highly regarded Gwillimdale Farms name. “Gwillimdale Farms has generational knowledge, meaning fundamental and critical expertise in the farming industry is continuously being passed down to the next generation. This adds a competitive edge for our company and fosters greater passion, care, and sustainability across our operation.”
“2020 created a challenge that we took as an opportunity to improve our facilities for our employees for generations to come.”
Cristina Hambly, General Manager and Owner, Gwillimdale Farms
This operation Cristina speaks of includes a series of year-round fresh produce programs that provide the supplier’s retail partners with superior-quality carrots, potatoes, onions, parsnips, and beets. The legacy began as a dairy farm operating under the watch of Jack Hambly, before John Hambly, current Owner and fourth-generation farmer, planted the first root vegetables in 1995.
The Ontario, Canada-based supplier is owned and operated by the dynamic duo that is Cristina and John, two supply-side aces that have led the company to become one of the region’s largest grower-packer-shippers of fresh root vegetables. Building on this powerful legacy, their children have happily joined the effort as fifth-generation farmers, backed by all the other members who make up the strong Gwillimdale Farms team.
“Our main farm operation is based in Bradford, just north of Toronto, and is located on over 2,000 acres of land. We have also recently expanded to New Liskeard in Northern Ontario,” Alexa, Business Operations Manager, explains. Immediately, it becomes obvious that she has the same undeniable penchant for produce as both of her parents. “This robust growing acreage is supported by three cutting-edge packing lines, a fleet of Gwillimdale Farms-owned transport trucks to optimize delivery, and our passionate team of exceptional produce experts.”
Gwillimdale Farms’ onions, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and beets are harvested sustainably at its farms before being cleaned and packed in one of its state-of-the-art facilities and then shipped directly to stores. By investing in the full supply chain, Gwillimdale Farms is able to ensure consistent, premium-quality offerings in each of these categories, even amid industry hurdles like inflation, rising production costs, transportation challenges, and more.
Not to be taken lightly, the producer’s ceaseless momentum in the vegetable space is also guided by generations of knowledge and experience that spread from its deeply ingrained roots to each and every branch of the family tree.
With these formidable family ties and end-to-end control over its product portfolio, Gwillimdale Farms brings quite a few coveted perks to its partners. One of the advantages the longstanding, generational grower gains from being vertically integrated is its ability to tailor each of these programs to meet the varying needs of its different retail allies—an aspect Alexa fills me in on with enthusiasm.
“Being a grower-packer-shipper allows us to have control of our product from seed to distribution, therefore guaranteeing high quality, consistency, and reliability,” the fifth-generation leader shares with me. “Beyond that, we are continuously committed to aligning with our partners to elevate root vegetables with promotional support and creative retail strategies.”
Alexa goes on, outlining how the provider seeks various strategic improvements to ensure growth is always on the horizon.
“At Gwillimdale Farms, we are constantly working to improve our business and our programs,” she says. “This includes investing in innovative technologies that promote program growth, such as diverting food waste and developing environmentally friendly packaging.”
One demonstration of these continuous investments is the recent expansion of Gwillimdale Farms’ carrot and potato lines, in addition to the introduction of new facilities for its employees.
The Hambly family truly cares about their team, which is a key aspect of the Gwillimdale Difference.
“2020 created a challenge that we took as an opportunity to improve our facilities for our employees for generations to come,” Cristina tells me, perfectly exemplifying the principles her daughter so proudly highlighted just moments before. Along with innovation and sustainability, Gwillimdale Farms inherently values unity and excellence. “Our goal with these expansions is to increase our productivity, packaging capacity, and efficiency. This operational growth also grants us greater consistency with consumer packaging, as well as more specialized potatoes like reds, whites, and Fingerlings.”
“Being a grower-packer-shipper allows us to have control of our product from seed to distribution, therefore guaranteeing high quality, consistency, and reliability.”
Alexa Hambly, Business Operations Manager and Fifth-Generation Farmer, Gwillimdale Farms
Boosting its advantage in having control of the quality of its product from seed to shelf, Gwillimdale Farms is also backed by a large land base spanning several growing regions. With the help of its supply-side partners, the family-owned company solidified a year-round operation that allows retailers to retain its products even during off-seasons.
“We are proud to work with our Mexico grower partners who uphold the same values and practices as our own operations,” Cristina continues. “We are confident our customers will receive high-quality products year-round, and we work closely with retail partners to create in-store promotions that bring awareness to both businesses while also giving back to the community.”
Sharing her mother’s optimistic view on what is to come for this supplier, Alexa lays out a few plans for further evolution.
“Gwillimdale Farms is highly focused on investing in quality land to ensure we have nutrient-rich soils to grow our vegetables,” Alexa assures. “As we look to the future, we are setting a core focus on improving our business processes and structures, as well as always innovating and ensuring our employees have a wonderful place to work.”
While penning this article—after absolutely obliterating a bowl of Gwillimdale’s crunchy carrots paired perfectly with some homemade ranch, I might add—I realize that Gwillimdale Farms has reached such awe-inspiring achievement through its unique aptitude for balancing tradition and innovation.
Embracing over a century of generational expertise does not mean abandoning the need for growth and transformation, just as chasing industry innovation does not equate to leaving behind the skills passed down by those before you.
At the heart of this beloved root vegetable brand is a loving family of farmers, and its greatness is driven by both the legacies and lessons gifted from the minds of a magnificent mother and father.