A family-run business is trying a unique approach to recruit people to live and work year-round in rural Cape Breton by offering two free acres of land to people willing to relocate.
Farmer's Daughter is a general store and bakery in Whycocomagh, N.S., which has a population of about 800. Sisters Sandee MacLean and Heather Coulombe took over the business earlier this year from their dairy farmer parents, who started it nearly 25 years ago.
MacLean told CBC News that the store has great employees — but it needs more of them to expand their operations.
"We have big ideas about what we'd like to do," she said.
2 free acres of land
The business would like to increase the number of year-round employees from 12 to at least 15, but hasn't gotten much response to traditional "help wanted" ads. Many young people have left the community to work in places like Halifax or Alberta.
MacLean and Coulombe came up with the idea of offering two free acres of land to people who are willing to relocate to Whycocomagh.
As of Tuesday morning, less than two days after the Facebook post was published, MacLean says they have been flooded with inquiries from around the country.
"The phone's been ringing off the hook. We have, I think, 350 emails in our email account and 500 and some messages on Facebook, all people wanting to come work for us," she said.
MacLean said she hopes the offer will appeal to a certain kind of person — ideally someone who enjoys all four seasons and the great outdoors.
"They would love the simpler life, they would love to have a job they can go to every day that's not stressful," she said. "And in the wintertime when it slows down, they get to have their off-time.
"We want people who can commit to Whycocomagh and grow the community."
A lifestyle about enjoying the land
Their family currently owns 200 acres of woodland that isn't being used. Anyone who relocated to work at the Farmer's Daughter could live on the land at first, MacLean said.
If they stay on at the store for five years, the two acres is theirs for free — as long as they cover legal costs to transfer the deed.
MacLean is upfront that this isn't a lucrative offer. Staff with no work experience are paid minimum wage, but the rate goes up for staff with more skills and experience.
'You don't need a whole lot of money if your lifestyle is about enjoying the land and being outside.' - Sandee MacLean
"Nobody here is paid high wages, nothing close to what you would make with a government job or in Ontario," she said.
"But that being said, you don't need a whole lot of money if your lifestyle is about enjoying the land and being outside."
Can't keep up with demand
The sisters are hoping that with more staff they could keep up with demand. They used to send four truckloads of their baked goods to Sobeys a week for sale, but have cut back to one truckload a week.
They also want to offer more food options in the winter to their customers and do more with their farmland. They currently sell their own produce along with fruits and vegetables grown across Nova Scotia.
"We don't have enough people to do things on our farmland, like if someone wanted to keep bees. We need bees to grow the crops that we have."
MacLean says she thinks it's great Cape Breton is growing as a tourism destination, but worries about what would happen if it's only inhabited by summertime tourists in the future.
"It won't be populated by Cape Bretoners — meaning people who want to live here all the time and continue the culture, the music, the lifestyle."