Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nokara Farms in North St. Catharines provides a getaway without actually getting away

Last weekend, my far better half and I were invited to spend a night at one of the lovely cottages overlooking Lake Ontario at Nokara Farms in St. Catharines.  So if you want to get away but just don't have a lot of time, this might just be what you're looking for.

Nokara Farms is owned and operated by Kathryn & Joe Ferretti, who have been farming at the Lakeshore Road location between Third and Seventh Street Louth since 1975.  The name Nokara, incidentally, is made up of the first two letters of Katharine and her two brothers' names.

For many years, the farming operation was a going concern, with truckloads of fresh fruit - especially peaches - being trucked to the Aylmer canning plant in St. Davids.  All that changed in the spring of 2008 when it was announced the canning factory would close its doors.  It was devastating news for not only the Ferrettis but all farmers in the Region who depended on the factory as a ready recipient of their yearly harvest.

I still remember hearing the news and seeing the picture of Joe and Kathryn on the front page of the St. Catharines Standard announcing they would have to rip out acres of peach trees, some of which were newly planted, following the devastating news.  There was simply no longer a market for the tender fruit they and so many other farmers were producing.  Production would shift to China, apparently, even though we had an abundance of locally-grown fruit and produce right here in Niagara.

A number of trees were maintained in order to supply their burgeoning fruit stand business, selling fresh peaches and incredible fruit pies and other baked goods to eager customers.  But beyond that, what do do with a family business that had just taken a body blow of seemingly insurmountable force?

You don't keep resourceful farmers down for long, especially in Niagara, so the Ferrettis took stock of their operation and came up with a plan.  They would continue to farm on the land as before, albeit on a reduced scale, but they would also enter into the new and growing agrotourism business making inroads in Niagara at the time.

On the grounds of the farm resided about five cottages that back in the forties were summer homes rented out to the movers and shakers of industry in Niagara at the time.  They then were used for many years to house the farm workers at the operation.  But after 2008 they underwent a significant transformation.

One by one, beginning in about 2010, the cottages were renovated, upgraded and made beautiful for a new generation of renters.  Now, they are rented out for weekend getaways throughout the summer months for vacationers from both Ontario and New York state and beyond.

The cottage we stayed in was the charming Chardonnay Cottage, which can sleep four people comfortably with a king bed in the bedroom and a fold-out double bed in the living room.  The outside is a combination of siding and faux stone finishings, with modern windows and back deck overlooking Lake Ontario.

Inside, the spacious cottage has just about every amenity you could possibly need for your stay, right down to the flyswatter and first aid kit.  The kitchen is fully equipped with a stove, dishwasher, coffee maker, toaster, kettle and a full-size fridge that is stocked with everything you'll need for an exceptional breakfast the next morning.  Even the plates, cutlery and glassware is provided.

There is free wi-fi provided, as well as a large flat-screen television and DVD player.

The washroom is nicely appointed with a full-size shower stall and all the trimmings like a fine hotel would be, but do keep in mind the cottages are on a septic system so care has to be taken when flushing things down the toilet.

That being said, we experienced no problems during our stay and even if something did arise, there is a cell phone number to call Kathryn for help posted on the fridge.

In spite of threatening skies when we arrived on a recent Sunday afternoon, we enjoyed an evening dining and relaxing on the large deck, which comes with cafe table and chairs, Muskoka chairs and a small BBQ in the corner.

The sky provided our entertainment for the evening, watching the sun going down amid an ever-changing cluster of clouds.  We could also see the twinkling lights of the Toronto skyline directly across the lake, and off to our right, near the mouth of the Welland Canal, a freighter was tied up for the night with lights blazing long into the night.

It was an idyllic setting, and as quiet as you could imagine.  Yet it was only ten minutes from our home in downtown St. Catharines!  We felt we were up in Muskoka on a lake somewhere rather than just a short drive away.  Amazing.

The following morning, I chose to walk the grounds and see some of the other cottages, view Lake Ontario from the waters' edge below the cottage, and walk amidst the orchards that surround the cottages.  Again, it was a peaceful and restful state of mind experienced just minutes from home.

Reluctantly, we packed up late morning after stealing some final moments on the deck watching the activity on Lake Ontario, and left with many great memories of an escape all too brief yet amazingly restful.  Although we didn't on this occasion as it was not open for business yet, you can visit the farm market at the entranceway to pick up a fruit pie or other goodies on your way out.  What better way to take some of the Nokara magic home with you?

We stayed just the one night, but normally stays are a minimum of two nights, or three if it is a holiday weekend.  The cottages are a comfortable and affordable alternative to a resort or hotel vacation, especially if more than two people are sharing the costs.

For more information, view the cottages and to book your stay, go to www.nokarafarms.ca, or call them at 905-937-0211.

Thanks to Kathryn and Joe for their hospitality and allowing us to create some new and lasting memories from the summer of 2015.

Have a great week!

July 28th, 2015.

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