Land in the Springfield area of PEI was first settled in 1828 by Thomas Haslam. He bought 100 acres and began clearing them. Today, this farm is known as Maple Lily Farms, a dairy farm owned by Ids and Maria Lycklama a` Nyeholt.
By 1841,Thomas had bought another 900 acres of land surrounding his original 100 and settled his six sons around him. The farms were so close together and the countryside so quiet that when any of the Haslams needed help with a job, he would only have to step outside and shout. His message would be passed along and soon the whole family would arrive to help.The two farms immediately to the west of Thomas’ original homestead would eventually become Springwillow Farms.
One, measuring 100 acres, was originally purchased by William (Thomas’ son) in 1844, and passed into the family until it was sold to George Hickox of Boston, Massachusetts. He farmed it for a short time, then sold it in 1952 to Gerritt Loo, who immigrated from Wageningen, Netherlands in 1951.
A 50 acre section between the two farms provided a site for a small family church and community cemetary. The church was named St. Elizabeth, in memory of Thomas’ late wife. The balance of this property was purchased from the Church of England in the 1950′s by William I. Haslam.
The other 100 acre farm stayed in the Haslem family, eventually to be inherited by Joyce Haslam on the death of her father, William I., in 1983.
In 1953, Joyce Haslam and Gerrit Loo were married in St. Elizabeth’s Anglican Church, which would eventually result in the formation of Springwillow Farms. To this day, the two farms are known to the family as “Up Home” (Gerrit’s half) and “Down Home” (Joyce’s half).
Joyce and Gerrit had seven children, 4 boys and 3 girls. The farm was a thriving enterprise, with the whole family involved, when, in 1970, Gerrit was involved in a motor vehicle accident which left him bedridden for an extended period and afterwards severely restricted in the type and amount of activities he could get involved in. With all this extra time on his hands and a restless intelligence which drove him to find out ‘why’, he soon hit on a way to keep himself entertained–he would breed a new variety of potato.
Gerrit and his twin brother, Evert, began crossing different varieties of potatoes, saving the seed and planting it, year after year. Recognising the growing concern about chemicals in the environment, they soon formed a new goal–not only would the new potato be commercially acceptable, but it would also have to show resistance to at least one of the common potato pests and diseases.
Twenty-five years later, they registered Island Sunshine, a bright yellow fleshed potato, with a high resistance to late blight. Shortly after that, Springwillow Farms began it’s official journey to certified organic status, under the auspices of the Organic Crop Improvement Society.
Sadly, Evert passed away in 1999, and Gerritt himself in 2001, but their breeding program lives on. Raymond, the fifth child of Gerritt and Joyce, has taken a great interest in the potatoes, and continues Gerritt and Evert’s work. Several more varieties show promise and now need only prove their merit in national trials.
If you would like to learn more about exactly how potato breeding works (at least on our farm), please go to our page on Potato Breeding.