A family-run greenhouse southeast of Calgary finished its last harvest Thursday before closing the business for good, citing cost pressures created by the Alberta NDP government’s new labour and climate policies.
“You couldn’t come up with better policies to crush not only small farms, but I think small Alberta businesses in general,” said Paul Hotchkiss, owner of Hotchkiss Herbs and Produce.
He said his margins are pennies, not dollars, adding his business can’t stay profitable when facing higher heating and wage costs. The increases are anticipated as a result of Bill 6 and its overtime and workers compensation for farm employees, rising minimum wage and the carbon tax coming in the New Year.
Hotchkiss Herbs and Produce was supplying most of Alberta’s fanciest restaurants, markets and grocers with heirloom tomatoes, carrots, beans, chard, potatoes, microgreens and pea shoots.
The company recently bought half-a-million dollars in equipment, with a plan to expand.
Hotchkiss said when he tried to voice his concerns to government officials, he felt stonewalled. So this fall, the family laid off most of their 25 employees. Their last day in business is Dec. 16.
“There are just so many things going on that recent government has introduced that we just can’t cope with anymore,” added his wife, Tracy.
In a statement, Alberta’s agriculture minister, Oneil Carlier, wrote:
“We understand that the Climate Leadership Plan will affect some producers more than others. Our farm producers are an important part of our economy and our communities and we will be sharing more soon about ways that we can support them.”
The government also pointed to millions in grants available to greenhouse growers.
But the Hotchkisses say “green” technology hasn’t advanced enough to keep their plants alive through winter.
Paul is the son of legendary Alberta builder, Harley Hotchkiss.
He said his father would strongly disapprove of the direction the province is going in.
The couple doesn’t want grants or rebates, which they consider to be handouts.
Now, Paul is struggling with ripping out the beautiful heirloom tomatoes he painstakingly cross-bred over his entire career.
“There’s a lot of work here,” he said, fighting back tears. “It’s gone.”
The greenhouses will be dismantled this spring, but the couple will keep growing some hay on their land. They hope to start over in a different country.