By Amanda Brodhagen
Grey County is home to the province’s largest land-based hatchery and producer of juvenile rainbow trout also called “fingerlings” destined for net-pen farms in Georgian Bay.
Jim and Lynette Taylor founded Cedar Crest Trout Farms near Hanover in 1986, but with government red tape it took them eight years for the building and permitting process. At age 53, Taylor was determined to make his dream become a reality and finally was able to open the hatchery in 1995. Today the second-generation family business is run by their children, Arlen and RJ.
It was a pleasant surprise to the Taylors that their children would eventually come back to run the family business as they had no interest in being fish farmers. “I never thought my kids would end up farming,” said Lynette Taylor, but she’s glad they did. “We need more young people involved in farming,” she added.
Arlen and RJ’s journey back to the farm was a unique one. At 18, Arlen starting working in war torn countries in Africa and the Middle East. “My gift in life is using local resources to accomplish what needs to be done,” said Arlen. Self-described as a fixer, Arlen worked as a consultant for private companies and government in post conflict emerging economies. Her last post was creating child-friendly spaces for Syrian refugees in Iraq. RJ, on the other hand, found himself working in the science field applying his talents in communications and public relations based in Toronto and Waterloo.
After Jim bought two more hatcheries in 2011, he asked Arlen to come home to help, and she did. With her background in logistics, she was able to add significant value to the family business. A few years later, Arlen asked her brother if he would consider leaving his job in Waterloo and move back to the farm and he agreed.
“We shared a vision to take the business to new heights, plus I realized that living in the woods is amazing,” said RJ. He admits that it took him moving away from the family farm to realize that he had a wonderful upbringing in rural Ontario.
RJ considers Arlen his best friend and business partner. “We have the same values and beliefs but are total opposites,” he said. Arlen describes herself as “blunt” while RJ refers to himself as the “diplomatic one” allowing them to balance each other out.
It’s thanks to these off-the-farm experiences that have led to the continued success of Cedar Crest Trout Farms. Both Arlen and RJ have been able to put their talents to good use as they make plans to grow and diversify their family’s business. With the help of a mediator, the Taylors were able to successfully transition the farm to their children last year.
“I’m happy to see that Arlen and RJ are bringing new visions to the farm,” said Lynette. “We didn’t have the time, money or focus to think as far ahead as they have.” Lynette reflects on how hard it was to start from nothing. “I felt like a pioneer woman some days,” she said. When they moved to the property it was a fly-fishing club. They had to survey the property and build from scratch. Lynette worked off the farm commuting to Elmira to help finance their hatchery dream.
After 50 years in the industry, Jim and Lynette continue to live on the farm, but are happily retired and have taken up vegetable gardening and honey bees as hobbies. Jim continues to act as a mentor to bounce ideas off of as their children bring new life to the family’s business.
Arlen said she likes the job because it’s not traditional and “you have to create and innovate,” she explains. To her credit, Arlen has sought out knowledge from industry experts. She has spent a lot of time talking to the “old boys” in the industry as she likes to refer to them. “They’re just excited to pass along their knowledge,” she said. While she has received some discrimination for being a woman in the aquaculture industry she has persevered. “I’ve never let it matter,” she said adding that she’s used to working in predominately male dominated industries.
The biggest challenge is not one of gender, but of age. Both Arlen and RJ are in their early 30s and have had situations where people don’t take them seriously. But they haven’t let that stand in their way of success. With five locations, they are able to produce 5 million fingerlings a year which have a sustainable certification and are Ocean Wise recommended. Thanks to their father’s foresight, the Taylors run a breeding program. “It’s expensive to run breeding programs,” said Arlen. On their farm, they have some of the first families of fish that date back to the 50s from when rainbow trout were domesticated in Ontario. “They’re adjusted to our watershed,” explains RJ.
People resources are the foundation of the Taylor’s business. They pride themselves on creating a family atmosphere for their employees. With 14 staff, they have three couples, a father and son and a sister and brother that all work together. This past summer they also had four interns from Fleming College. “We are known for our staff parties,” laughed Arlen. One of their employees has been with them for 30 years and they sent him and his wife on a cruise to Alaska as a way to say thanks.
When Jim founded the business, it was in the early days of Ontario’s aquaculture industry. “The industry looked very different than it does today,” said RJ. “In the last 10 years net pen farms have boomed up North.”
There are a lot of different perceptions of aquaculture, especially fish farming. “Putting fish in a net pen is like putting cows out on pasture,” said RJ. “And better yet, there is finally enough research showing these farms actually increase the population of wild fish around them.” Net pens are large, floating, contained net structures that allow the fish to swim freely in fresh water.
Ontario’s aquaculture industry continues to see growth throughout the province, including in rural and Indigenous communities. Currently there are six farmed seafood species in the province: rainbow trout, pacific white shrimp, tilapia, barramundi, perch and Lake Whitefish, with rainbow trout accounting for the majority of production.
RJ and Arlen have embraced technology investing in new tech including a fish egg sorter from France and have an app from Greece that helps them manage their data. The siblings have no plans to slow down and are already looking at diversifying their business through further processing and smoking apple wood fish and continuing with their pop-up shops when they have B-grade fish available.
Both siblings inherited their parents’ drive to see the aquaculture industry evolve. In addition to running their business, they spend a great deal of time volunteering to help advance the industry. RJ is the managing director for the provincial aquaculture industry association, and also participates in advisory groups for Ontario’s agriculture and environmental ministries. Arlen is part of the national team writing the animal welfare code for farmed finfish. Both give time and fish to local community activities, such as fundraiser derbies and children’s water festivals. ◊