Meet a Canadian Ginseng Farmer: Joe Arva

Farmer Name: Joe Arva
Farm Name: Arva Farms
Farm Location: Mount Pleasant, Ontario

Approximately, how many acres are under your care?

1,000 acres that we own and operate. Not all ginseng. About 80 acres of ginseng, we plant 20 acres a year.

How long have you been farming?

Since I was about 21 years old just out of university. So that’s 35 years ago.

Is it a family farm?

My mom and my dad started everything. My grandparents also farmed. My brother lives on the farm my grandparents bought back in 1940. I live on one of the first farms my dad bought. My dad has passed away, but my mom is still alive and still living on one of the farms. My oldest daughter and her husband also live on one of our family farms, although they work off-farm. That makes me third generation on this farm and if the kids carry on it’ll be four.

Why did you choose to farm?

It was what I wanted to do probably from the time I was born. When I was young we grew tobacco, had beef cattle and poultry, and grew ginseng. I was surrounded by it. I even chose to go to university for agriculture.

Why did you choose to grow ginseng?

A lot of tobacco growers started growing ginseng. It was just a nice mix of labour and timing of the new crops. It was also a good way to make a living – you could be on a small scale and it was still quite decent.

Do you or your family members consume ginseng yourselves?

Not really. But in the Fall when we’re harvesting we often eat it. But not daily.

What are some of the unique challenges that farmers face when growing ginseng specifically?

You can only plant it once. So wherever you plant it, that’s kind of the last time you can plant it there. The OGGA is doing a lot of research into replant, but that’s one of the major challenges we have yet to figure out.

Tell me about the workers on your farm.

Ontario has an offshore labour program for agriculture. It’s called FARMS, for Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Systems. It’s an organization that works with Mexico and the Caribbean Islands to bring workers here to work in agriculture. And it’s been around for many years. We use this program for a lot of our workers.

How are you incorporating sustainability practices at your farm?

We constantly do what we can. We find ourselves reusing a lot of our shade structures. All the posts, clothes, and cables get reused for as long as we possibly can.

What do you enjoy most about being a ginseng farmer?

Being outside, working with crops, and working with people. It’s not always about making money, you do it because you love it.