Powassan farmer awarded grant money to expand his yurt business
NORTH BAY -- A Powassan farmer is celebrating after being awarded a $3,000 grant along with a three-month mentorship program to help grow his tourism business.
Matthew Larivee owns Foxfire Heritage Farm and operates a yurt which people can stay overnight in and get farming and real life outdoors experience.
He was one of three winners from Northern Ontario to win the Northern Ontario "Spark" Program tourism innovation award.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Larivee would have tourists stay in the yurts during the fall and winter to get the outdoor and farming experience. The yurts do not have power and there is an outhouse nearby.
"What we want to promote is what small farming and sustainable farming looks like," said Larivee. "This is an off-grid experience."
Larivee recently pitched his idea to expand the yurt part of his farming. Yurts are round huts that people, most notably from Mongolia, live in.
Larivee hopes to have four yurts open down the line if the interest is still there. He will also receive mentorship from a tourism expert as part of the award.
"We're also installing educational signage around the farm so that guests learn more about the farming experience and the endangered heritage breeds that we're working on preserving," said Larivee.
Larivee raises and takes care of endangered heritage species of pigs, cows, and chickens.
Powassan Mayor Peter McIsaac says the tourism aspect of the yurts continues to support the local economy.
"It's another great community project which will bring people into the area once COVID-19 restrictions have lifted," said McIsaac. "It's good for our entire economy."
17 Northern Ontario businesses submitted their tourism expansion ideas. Larivee was among the top six chosen to pitch their idea to a panel of judges. From there, he found out he was one of three lucky winners from the north.
"The Spark grants and mentorships are really there to support these small tourism businesses with great ideas and helps with expenses to move forward with these ideas," said Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab Program Lead Justin Lafontaine.
Larivee anticipates opening his yurt up again to tourists as soon as COVID-19 restrictions lift.
"We've been really blessed with the support from the community and everything they've done to support us," he concluded.