Pfennings Farm Tour: Carrot Harvest

Pfenning’s Organic Farm grows over 25 different types of crops. Everything from green onions, to grains, to burdock root, they have been steadily expanding their farm in New Hamburg since 1981 and today it’s over 800 acres. Of that, they grow over 120 acres of carrots, their signature crop. Harvesting all of those carrots is no easy task, but the Pfenning’s clan have become experts in the task of harvesting, washing, sorting and bagging organic produce.

I arrived by 9 am, but it was already too late to watch the carrots get harvested from the field. The crew started earlier in the day, and already had several pallets of carrots washed and sorted.

After being harvested by tractors in the fields, the carrots are piled into huge steel wagons that almost dwarf the tractors that pull them. Freshly harvested, the carrots are still dusty from the dirt.

Soil is important on farms, and the Pfenning’s want to keep their soil as healthy and intact as possible. A large arm drenches the carrots in water, spraying off the bulk of the dirt from the carrots and also spilling them out of the wagon into a large basin. This water is recycled, quickly becoming muddy, and eventually reclaimed into the farm fields.

From there, the carrots begin a long series of pathways, to be washed again, sorted and packaged. Pfenning’s has been doing this for years, and since the equipment is all specialized for the farm, everything has been specially made and rigged. Wolfgang Pfenning has MacGyvered and repurposed machines over the years to make it possible to grow their operations. The innovative maze of machinery makes you feel like you’re in a healthy version of Willy Wonka’s factory. Instead of a chocolate river, the Pfenning’s have a lazy river of carrots that moves them to the barn!

The entire barn is perfumed with the sweet smell of fresh carrots. A team sorts the carrots as they move along to be packaged. The carrots are graded: some become “horse” carrots, while others that are too ugly to be sold for retail get shredded and used for food service. The best carrots are weighed and bagged under the Pfenning’s brand.

Although Pfenning’s may be best known for their carrots, they are limited by the weather in Ontario. During the winter months, Pfenning’s works with farms in California and Georgia to grow and package organic veggies. These partnerships make it possible for customers to get fresh produce year-round, while also fostering collaboration for the farmers to improve their organic growing practices. Often heralded as one of the pioneers of organic farming in Ontario, Pfenning’s is still innovating 30 years later, and showing no signs of slowing down.