Tourism goes green at Elmhirst’s Resort

KEENE – Describe something as organic and what comes to mind is chemical free or “all natural.”

Our fascination with natural versus bio-engineered has obscured an older meaning of organic: something that has developed as part of a natural course of events.

Elmhirst’s Resort is organic in both senses.

Across the course of five generations a family farm developed into a thriving hospitality business that wraps together the farm, a resort and conference centre and the Rice Lake shoreline.

Greg Elmhirst, the current general manager, easily reels off the farm and family history. It begins with his great-great-grandfather, a farm and some cottages; sons who took over responsibility for the separate operations; a grandson who bought the resort. Segue to great-uncle Harold who inherited some of the property and later sold it to Greg’s father, mixed in with other family ties and transactions.

The result as it stands today is the resort with its main building, guest centre and conference room, 30 cottages, spa, pool and waterfront area; and the adjoining 210-acre farm, where Greg’s father, Peter, raises beef cattle, ducks and turkeys.

Eighty per cent of the beef served in the resort’s two restaurants comes from those grain-fed cattle. The meat is processed 20 kilometres away at Hilts Butcher Shop and the poultry at Morrison’s Custom Poultry Processing in Omemee. Every slice of duck and turkey Elmhirst’s serves comes from the farm, including the duck topping for poutine at the Wild Blue Yonder Pub.

A large garden near the resort entrance produces up to 8,000 pounds of vegetables and herbs for the restaurants each summer: “Lots of tomatoes, some squash, a tiny bit of corn, sort or ornamental, heirloom style potatoes,” Elmhirst says. “And lots of herbs, basically all the herbs we use.”

Guests appreciate the commitment to locally produced food, he says: “We have more people at Elmhirst’s because of it.”

Guests would be less aware of other ecologicallyvfriendly aspects of the operation.

Not far from the garden is a new, roughly 2,500-square-foot building, open at one end. Inside sits a giant pile of what appears to be wood shavings. It is known as waste wood, ground-up scraps from the production of wooden pallets, furniture and cabinetry.

The waste wood feeds a compact, high efficiency boiler in a separate room at the back of the building. Hot water from the boiler is piped to radiators. Fans blow air across the rads and that warm air heats all the rooms and common areas in the main resort building.

The wood heat system evolved over time – organically, if you will. Elmhirst recalls that it began in the mid-1990s with outdoor, wood-fired boilers where “you just threw a four-foot log in.” The forced air system came later. Switching to wood pellet fuel in 2004 upped the efficiency rating and ended the need to feed logs to the boilers in the middle of the night.

The waste wood boiler, installed last year, burns even cleaner and has reduced heating costs by 75%, Elmhirst says.

Six years ago 11 of the 30 cottages were retrofitted under the federal ecoEnergy Retrofit Homes program. An energy consultant’s report on one cottage showed the upgrades reduced annual greenhouse gas emissions by two tonnes.

Elmhirst’s is also switching to all LED lighting in the cottages and guest rooms. The boats that guests can use are powered by low-emission four-stroke motors. There are two banks of solar panels, ground-mounted at the farm and roof-mounted on the main resort building.

The management team also developed naturally. Greg, whose first position was recreation director fresh out of college, is the de facto COO and CFO. Peter ran the resort until 10 years ago but now concentrates on the farm. Peter’s life partner, Anne Marshall, handles marketing. Greg’s wife, Martina Linde, runs the spa. Steve and Caroline, his brother and sister-in-law, are also involved.

Greg and Martina’s 23-year-old son has indicated he plans to extend the Elmhirst involvement to a sixth generation. That’s the latest development in an organic business model, both old-fashioned and new-age.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, April 23, 2016.