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Cut off from customers, tree lot's season saved by neighbours

An Ottawa farmer whose Christmas tree lot was cut off from customers by an ill-timed road closure is back in the spirit of the season, thanks to the goodwill of his neighbours.

Detour closed access to Mike Milsom's tree lot just before Christmas

Mike Milsom set up his tree lot just down the road from his farm after neighbours Matt and Marianne Gee heard about his bad luck. (Jessa Runciman/CBC )

An Ottawa farmer whose Christmas tree lot was cut off from customers by an ill-timed road closure is back in the spirit of the season, thanks to the goodwill of his neighbours.

Mike Milsom owns Mike's Garden Harvest, an eight-hectare organic farm nestled between River Road and the Rideau River, just west of the Ottawa International Airport.

This year he decided to branch out and try selling Christmas trees from his property. One Saturday in late November Milsom got out his credit card and ordered 200 balsam firs from a local tree farm.

Sometimes things can go wrong, but they end up turning out better because of it.- Mike Milsom, farmer

"I thought, I can do this. I have lots of through-traffic going past my farm," Milsom said of the $6,000 purchase.

The following Monday he received a letter from the city informing him that the section of River Road that runs past his farm — and his tree lot — would be closed to repair a culvert, and remain closed until Dec. 23 — two days before Christmas.

"There's only a short period of time to sell trees," Milsom said. "I mean they aren't worth much more than firewood after Dec. 25."  

A chance meeting, a sweet offer

Milsom called the city, as well as Tomlinson, the construction company doing the work, but both said their hands were tied because the project, already behind schedule, needs to be finished by January.

"The city was extremely sympathetic and apologized profusely," Milsom said. "It's just bad luck. It's nobody's fault. It's just the way the cards fell." 

A few days later Milsom was at a local pizza shop when he ran into his neighbours, Matt and Marianne Gee, who own Gees Bees Honey Company, a business just down the road from his farm — and outside the detour.  

After hearing Milsom's sad luck tale, the couple invited him to set up his tree lot on their property instead.
Mike Milsom says he needs to sell 110 trees just to break even. So far he's sold just 10. (Jessa Runciman/CBC )

'I am very grateful'

"It's great," Milsom said. "All the traffic that was diverted and isn't going by my farm is going by their farm." 

The manager of the pizza shop overheard their conversation and offered to sweeten the deal with a gift certificate for free pizza with every tree sold.

"I mean it's an unusual combination, an organic farmer and a pizza shop," Milsom laughed. 

"But it's about local community businesses banding together and helping. They could have walked away from me. They could have said, 'Gee that is too bad that happened to you," and leave me in the lurch. But instead they stepped up and I am very very grateful." 

Since moving his trees to his neighbours' property, business hasn't exactly been brisk: as of Thursday afternoon, Milsom had sold 10 trees. He estimates he needs to unload about 110 just to break even.

Nevertheless, he's content with the way things turned out.

"Sometimes things can go wrong, but they end up turning out better because of it." he said.