Nova Scotia

Farmer's Daughter market eyes expansion after success of land-for-labour ad

More than a year after a family-run market in rural Cape Breton offered up free land in a bid to attract new employees, the small business has dreams of expanding with an apple cidery and accommodations.

Market co-owner estimates she's received as many as 400,000 queries since the posting went up

Farmer's Daughter Country Market now has four employees, including families from B.C. and Newfoundland. (Facebook)

A family-run market in rural Cape Breton that offered up free land in a bid to attract new employees now has dreams of expanding with an apple cidery and accommodations — in part because interest continues to trickle in more than a year later.

In late August 2016, Farmer's Daughter Country Market in Whycocomagh, N.S., put out a call on Facebook, saying it would give two acres of land to those willing to relocate to the region to work for the general store and bakery.

Four people have ultimately followed through.

But market co-owner Heather Coulombe estimates she's received as many as 400,000 applications since the posting went up — some from as far away as Colombia, Italy and Ireland — and queries continue to arrive.

While a couple of the new hires loved their new lives in rural Nova Scotia, not all have stuck around. Two of the three families that initially arrived last fall left a few months later. 

"As we warned people, especially [those] coming in the fall, the winters are very hard here in Cape Breton," said Coulombe. "It was too bad they … didn't wait until the summer."

To stay or go?

One of the conditions on the deal was that Farmer's Daughter would only transfer the free property into the employees' name after five years. Those who left, Coulombe said, never really became involved in the 800-person community.

Kerry and Brett Walkins snowshoeing on Cape Breton's Skyline Trail in February. (Submitted by Kerry Walkins)

That hasn't been the case for Kerry Walkins and her family, who were the first to move to Whycocomagh as part of the land deal.

Walkins, originally from British Columbia, is on the board of the local business development commission and her husband Brett volunteers for the Whycocomagh Waterfront Centre. 

"The people have been fantastic," Walkins said. "The environment at work is fun. Everybody has fun here together and the kids have made some great friends and they enjoy school." 

Six-year-old Halle Walkins and two-year-old Nolan Walkins at the Fortress of Louisbourg in June. (Submitted by Kerry Walkins)

The couple is now looking to buy "their forever house" and is expecting a third child in the spring. 

Meanwhile, Hollie MacDonald has joined the Walkins as the market's newest recruit.

She arrived in June with her boyfriend and two daughters in search of farm land that was cheaper than what she could find in Newfoundland.

The unserviced woodland on offer is remote, MacDonald said, but that doesn't bother her. She's interested in building an off-grid home and buying a few farm animals. 

"We were very excited and very anxious to get over," she said. "We love Cape Breton. It's beautiful over here, and it's a lot like home."

Plans to expand

Coulombe said she continues to be surprised at the international attention her online ad has garnered. The business even got an inquiry from a former major league pitcher from the Oakland Athletics, she said.

For Coulombe, the endeavour has succeeded in its mission of showing the world just how great Cape Breton is. 

"We have lots of people who have actually decided to move here after seeing our ad — not necessarily to work for us but actually to just come to Cape Breton."

And amid all that momentum, Coulombe said she's thinking of using her new employees to start a brewery or apple cidery, as well as building eco-accommodations on property, around Bras d'Or Lake.

But whatever route she ends up going, Coulombe said it will be "something different and unique."

With files from CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton