By Dionne Baker
Tell me a little about yourself – where are you from originally and what do you do?
Our names are Kees Morsink and Margaret Van Helvoort and we’ve been married for over 30 years. Kees is a Gemologist by trade and Margaret used to be a Nurse.
Before moving to Stirling we had a couple of jewelry businesses in Waterloo, and before that we worked in Africa for 10 years for the United Nations in Mali, Burkina faso, Niger, and the Comoros Islands. We’ve now been here in Stirling for 18 years, and we own and operate Kings Mill Cider together.
As a transplant to Hastings County, what drew you in when you were thinking about where to live?
We knew we were looking for a rural property and we knew we wanted something within a 2.5 hour radius of Toronto. Stirling is the perfect location because it’s 2.5 hours from Toronto, 2.45 to Ottawa, and 3.5 to Montreal – making it very central to locations we’d intended to market our products.
Seeing the apple rich heritage of the Stirling area, I started thinking about cider. I had my first experience with cider when I was 13 years old at Mennonite school. I’d pressed some apples together to make juice and left it in my locker over the weekend. When I came back to school on Monday, the juice had spontaneously fermented. That small unintentional experience piqued an interest in brewing and cider for me.
Now we’ve been brewing for 30 years on and off. When we lived in Africa we’d brew raspberry and mango wines, and distill mangoes for eau de vie.
When we came home to Stirling we were seeing other residents brewing cider. Combine that with the fact that this is an apple growing region, we decided to start making our own cider as a secondary business in our own community.
Cooney’s Apple Farm was a huge help to us when we were first starting out. They’d press the apples and provide us with juice. After a little while of making craft cider, Kees went back to school at Cornell University’s Wine Institute taking the Cider Production and Science courses. From there we were able to do all of our own production, on-site testing, filtering, and bottling.
How have you found the experience of operating your businesses from here?
It’s been great! With the jewelry business we didn’t have much local interaction since it was established prior to our move and it’s wholesale. King’s Mill Cider, on the other hand, has really opened up our relationships with the community and our neighbours. We’ve gotten a lot of support from the Stirling-Rawdon Township and Hastings County.
What’s more, all of the major shipping companies deliver here and the internet has gotten a lot better over time. Due to that we’ve really been able to work from wherever we are.
Starting and expanding our business from here has truly been a great experience.
In terms of expansion plans, what’s next for you here?
We’re working hard to have our products carried at the LCBO. We make a beautifully robust and delicious product that is triple filtered. – we’d love more people to be able to enjoy it.
Outside of that we’ve built a screened deck off of our tasting room for more seating. We’re planning to host catered meals in the future that pair different cuisine with our ciders.
We’re also planning to expand our operations. We’re working toward building a new space on the property that will allow us to increase our annual production.
What parts of life have you been enjoying differently since your move? (I.E. What’s different about here than where you were before, and why do you enjoy it?)
The beautiful scenery. The air is cleaner, the surroundings are quieter, and the landscape is beautiful all year round. It’s a picturesque escape from the hustle bustle of the suburbs and the city.
So you’ve obviously had people visit you since your move. What’s their take on your new surroundings?
Whenever our friends come to visit they tell us that they sleep better here. It feels a little like having a mini-vacation when they come because it’s so relaxing.
People are also pleasantly surprised by the local amenities – especially our friends of Dutch heritage. When those friends come over and we feed them beautiful cheeses made in the local area here, they always remark about how great that is.
How are you finding the community hospitality? Have you found it easy to get out and meet new people?
It’s great. We really love the local community and Kings Mill cider has grown in leaps and bounds because of local support. We also hire from within the community which has helped us get to know people. Whether we need a Plumber, Electrician, or extra hands to help us produce and bottle our ciders, we look inside of this local area for that.
We source most of our materials locally too. We work with local farmers to source our product – things like apples, strawberries, and raspberries all come from local farmers.
The difference here is the community connection. People who’ve established local businesses here really go the extra mile to help us out. You still get the small town charm.
If you were talking to someone who is thinking about relocating to Hastings County, what would you want them to know?
You don’t have to miss out on anything. Some folks think they’d miss their favourite cuisine or stores. We don’t. On our trips to Toronto we visit the markets and bring home all of our favourite cuisine from other countries. We freeze it here and cook it here, meaning we don’t miss out on a thing.
This is truly the best of both worlds.
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