MBA student profile: The farmer

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(Photo: Jennifer Roberts)

Wendy Hogarth, University of Guelph

Farming isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when most cottagers think of Ontario’s rocky and rugged Muskoka region. “It’s not an obvious industry, nor hugely populated, but that’s how Muskoka got started,” says Wendy Hogarth of Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh in Bala, Ont. The Johnston in the name of her farm is Orville Johnston, whose son Murray is Hogarth’s husband of 31 years. Together, with the help of four strapping sons, they still run the family farm: 27 cultivated acres of cranberries on 350 acres of land. Having studied recreation and tourism at University of Waterloo, Hogarth promptly began putting her own entrepreneurial stamp on the business. “In order to remain viable, we’ve always had to be creative and diversify, so that’s where the agritourism idea came in,” says Hogarth. They began by inviting people to buy fresh cranberries, opened a retail gift shop, offered trails and tours, and launched Muskoka Lakes Winery in 2000. Their initial Cranberry Wine vintage sold out in 16 days. Her green-thumbed husband handles the agriculture, and Hogarth manages Johnston’s product. “Business is the language I speak, and though I certainly once toyed with the idea of an MBA, I wasn’t interested, because they seemed so Bay-Street-focused,” she says, content with rural life in and around Bala. Intent to stay local, a lucky Facebook click led Hogarth to the University of Guelph’s distance MBA in food and agribusiness management. Last May—three decades after completing her BA, and with teacher’s college, sommelier training and a creative writing program in between—Hogarth went back to school again. “It’s designed so I can keep working,” she says, “which is perfect for lifelong learners.”