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  • Ron Davidson


Before I begin this article, I wanted to clarify a comment in last month’s Story Behind the Person, which featured Dr. Steve Russell and the Oak Ridges Hospice. The hospice is required to fundraise operational dollars each year, as the Ministry of Health only provides a portion of the operating costs annually. The MOH funds less than half of the yearly operating funds required. I may not have been clear in that aspect.

Starting a new business at any time, is a difficult task, but starting one during a pandemic is even more frustrating. Supply chain issues, staffing and the uncertainty of the unknown make for very perplexing challenges.

That certainly did not stop Matthew Somerville from pursuing his dream. Along with partner, Andy, the twosome decided to open a cidery in the village of Seagrave, just north of Port Perry, known as Two Blokes Cider.

Matthew was born in Port Perry and attended a number of different elementary schools. I should mention, it was not because of issues but rather logistics. From kindergarten in Epsom to Greenbank for grades one and two, RH Cornish for the next two years, followed by SA Cawker when that school opened. He then went on to Port Perry High.

Since the time he was 14, Matthew has had numerous jobs throughout his school term. His love for animals, no doubt from growing up on a farm, helped in his job at a petting zoo. He worked at KFC and had the treasured position of being a ‘rink rat’ at the arena. For those of you unfamiliar with the term (as I was), a rink rat clears the path for the Zamboni when it resurfaces the ice. The job also involves keeping the locker rooms clean after each use.

Hard work was not new to Matthew. Growing up on a farm automatically comes with hard work, no matter what age. The family homestead grew cash crops and raised cattle. Affected by the recent mad cow disease, Matthew started thinking about an alternative business venture.

After high school, Matthew headed south to the University of Toronto. He majored in architecture, an industry where he saw himself and his future. After graduation, he returned to Scugog and ran for council, no doubt following in his mother’s footsteps.

Being from this area, and with Matthew’s background in farming, this made him think about urban planning and sustainability within the farming industry. He put his architectural degree to good use. His concern for the protection of the greenbelt and food land was at the forefront of his thoughts. Urban agriculture was something he wanted to develop within our area.

Matthew worked in the sustainable building industry, which is an up-and-coming area which looks at building with minimal water use, minimal energy costs and designs which maximize efficiency. The goal is to develop ‘zero’ buildings, structures which do not impact the environment in a negative way.

After a couple of years in the industry, Matthew decided he wanted to focus more on urban planning rather than individual structures. He attended the University of Metropolitan Toronto (Ryerson University). Upon graduation, he went to work for a firm specializing in heritage architecture.

Matthew was living in Toronto at the time, and some of the projects he was involved in were the Art Gallery of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum. His area of expertise lay in the saving of old buildings and integrating old structures into new builds.

It gave him a great opportunity to assist in planning, including his involvement in creating the heritage district in Port Perry.

With his interest in the future of farming, Matthew turned to alternative sustainability for the family farm and decided the cider industry was one worthy of exploration. During his high school years, Matthew visited the United Kingdom (UK) on rugby tours. He was introduced to the concept of cider there, long before it was popular here. He took a sabbatical from work, flew to England, and learned all there was to know about the cider industry.

I found it interesting to learn, apples were not native to the UK, instead originating in Kazakhstan. The Romans brought them to Britain. Cider was a product enjoyed in the British Isles for many centuries before it began to make its mark in North America.

When Matthew returned to Canada, he met Andy, and they decided to start a test orchard on the family farm. It took four years of investment, of both time and money, all the while working. After the learning curve, Two Blokes Cidery officially opened for business.

They are currently producing around 40,000 litres of cider per year. They currently sell their products at the cidery, as well as the LCBO. What surprised me was the processing time from tree to bottle, which is anywhere from six months to two years.

Being co-owner of the winery is certainly a full-time position, but Matthew also finds time to be part of the Scugog Chamber’s Board of Directors, where he brings an agricultural perspective to the table.

Take a drive north on Simcoe Street and visit Two Blokes Cider. The tastings will leave you wanting more.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

#column #JonathanvanBilsen #thestorybehindtheperson

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