In the immortal words of John “Hannibal” Smith from The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together!” Several months ago, I received a call from Val at Heartwood Farm and Cidery. She had a vision for improving the visitor experience and extending the length of stay in town by adding “tiny homes” that she could rent out to couples wanting to spend some time with nature and explore more of Erin and the surrounding area. In going through the towns by-laws, she noticed that there weren’t any provisions that would allow her farm to do that and she called me to see if I could find some examples of other places that were successful at adding overnight accommodations to their business model.
As it turned out, I did, and she happened to operate her businesses in the next community. I called Aimee, from Alabaster Acres, and asked how she managed to add glamping sites to her incredible farm experience and event space in Caledon. She spoke of some of the hurdles she had to overcome and was very gracious to allow me to provide Val with her contact info so she could directly share her experience.
A month ago, Val hosted an outdoor campfire meeting and invited me to join. She had spent weeks discussing her plans with town staff and council members to get their feedback and understand the barriers that had to be overcome to make her dream a reality. One of the council members was at the meeting and we discussed at length the next steps. I was thrilled that both staff and elected officials of Erin were actively working to remove red tape to allow Heartwood Farm and Cidery to expand and add to both the vibrancy and economic prosperity of the town. It warmed my heart as much as the coffee and roaring fire warmed my fingers on that freezing day.
Last week, I got an email from Val saying that the councillor had spoken to the mayor and fellow council members and was introducing a motion to instruct staff to review and amend the by-laws that were preventing the wheeled tiny-house accommodations to be legally set up on her farm property. If it is successful, this is a huge deal! On the one hand, you have to applaud Val and her family for continuing to invest in their business during very turbulent times – and invest in something that will have value to the whole community because stats demonstrate that people that stay overnight in a community spend more than twice as much in that community as those who just pop in for a visit. On the other hand, you have to jump up and give a standing ovation to the staff and council of the Town of Erin for seeing the big picture. They understand the positive impact that these small, portable accommodations will have on their community and are willing to make the necessary changes to bring the idea to life.
This whole experience has completely energized me. Too often we hear the negative when it comes to trying to affect change. It’s too difficult. It won’t work. We won’t get the buy-in we need. We don’t have the power to make the changes… Keeping the status quo is easier. It is safer. And it leads to stagnation.
There are lots of entrepreneurs like Val who are willing to take risks and invest their own money to grow their business. Finding champions with no vested interest to fight for your ideas, is rarer but something we need to foster and develop. Could you imagine what incredible ideas and experiences we could be showcasing if those with the power to reduce the red tape walked hand-in-hand with the idea-holder, trying to figure out how to bring something new to the market in a safe, sustainable way that would benefit the community, rather than hold the tape up like a stop sign? Val’s story has given me hope that more business owners, their municipalities and regions, will work together to grow the amazing products and experiences that make Central Counties such a vibrant place to live, work and visit.