Congratulations to AE Natural Meats, a family-run farm in Mount Albert, for receiving the Excellence in Small Business Award from the East Gwillimbury Chamber of Commerce earlier this month.
“I felt very honoured to receive this,” co-owner Judie Zajac tells us, “there was a lot of amazing companies nominated with us, so just to be included in the nominations, and to win, was shocking.”
Judie and her husband, co-owner Dr. Michael Zajac, an equine veterinarian, have made great strides to get where they are today.
Initially, the two bought the farm in York Region to breed horses, which they did on a large scale very successfully for a couple of years. But after changes in legislation affected the racing industry, they aimed to reinvent themselves, and moved their focus to the natural meat industry — “Grass Fed without use of Antibiotics, Hormones or Steroids” the website reads.
They began small with sheep about 8 years ago, then eventually brought in some chickens, and then cows, which are fully raised outside on grass.
“Farms have to maneuver and evolve with what customers want,” Judie says, “I’m happy with how we’ve switched our direction and been profitable. There’s a demand here and consumers are willing to pay more to know their farmer and the product — there’s that traceability factor. We focus on quality over quantity.”
Over the years, their dedicated work paid off and the farm continued growing, and Judie is grateful for the support they’ve received.
“People who wanted this sort of product started coming to us, and it got bigger and bigger,” Judie shares, “then last year we really started making more of a go of it, and joined the Chamber of Commerce, which has been instrumental in growing our business. We ended up with more clients, and they really helped promote us, including putting us on the Farm to Fork Tour last year which was amazing, and brought about 140 visitors to our farm that one day.”
“I don’t think we could’ve gone this far without East Gwillimbury promoting us,” Judie adds, “I think more people should join their Chamber of Commerce – the meetings, the people you get to talk to, just the word of mouth has been amazing.”
Exciting connections made include a butcher in Toronto who buys their product, as well as the Woodbridge Farmers’ Market reaching out to them — they’re currently the only meat farmer vendor now at that market. They are also in negotiations with some higher-end restaurants.
Of course, you’ll also find AE Natural Meats at the East Gwillimbury Market. Find exact dates on their website here.
“It’s important to keep that connection with your community because they’re the ones that support you,” Judie shares, “and farming is a hard industry to make money in. Having the Chamber and the town behind us has been big for us and very supportive.”