47589 Sparta Line, Central Elgin, Ont.
Asking Price: $1,895,000
Taxes: $4,286.53 (2021)
Land Size: 41.5 acres
Agents: Paul Maranger and Christian Vermast, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada
The back story
Suzanne Steed and Jim Bundschuh had been living in Germany for a few years when they decided to return to Canada in 2000.
The move presented the couple with the opportunity to reimagine the next phase of their lives with their young daughter Elise.
Mr. Bundschuh, an engineer in the automotive industry, took a new position near St. Thomas, Ont., and the pair began searching for property in the surrounding countryside.
For Ms. Steed, the chance to reunite with her show horse, Teekah, had a strong influence over where the family would choose to settle down.
In the autumn of that year, they found a 41-acre farm in a bucolic setting just outside the historic village of Sparta. The wooded property sits on a ravine, with Catfish Creek running along the western edge.
“There were these beautiful fall colors and horses in the paddock,” Ms. Steed recalls of their first visit. “It was just beautiful.”
The location near Lake Erie would also allow the family to enjoy sailing and swimming in summer.
The couple the property and soon brought Teekah from the farm where purchased she was boarding to her new home in a well-appointed barn.
The farm today
As the family settled into their new home, Ms. Steed returned to work part-time as a public health nurse.
After their son, Quinn, was born, she decided to look into new pursuits that would allow her to spend more time on the farm with the kids.
With a fine arts degree and a few courses in horticulture and landscaping, she began to explore the idea of creating a wellness garden.
“You can always use your nursing background whatever you do,” one of her advisers suggested.
Ms. Steed looked at the thriving lavender plants in her perennial gardens and decided to plant more.
“Lavender made sense to me. The sun always shines in Sparta and lavender needs sun,” she says. “It’s well-drained soil and that’s what lavender wants.”
Ms. Steed connected with some local farmers who were interested in making the transition from tobacco-growing to lavender. She co-founded the Ontario Lavender Association so that members could experiment with different varieties and share their knowledge.
Sparta, established in 1813 as a Quaker settlement, was already a tourist draw, and Ms. Steed figured her fragrant fields of lavender would be an added attraction for the area.
Within a few years, the lavender fields had expanded to two acres and Ms. Steed had a successful agri-tourism business with 30,000 annual visitors. She converted the heated garage into a retail shop where she sells lavender-infused honey, cookies and jams. Wellness products – including lotions, essential oils and a dog shampoo – are created on the farm.
“If I can think of it, we’ll make it,” Ms. Steed says.
Visitors roam the property, photograph the birds and butterflies, and relax for hours in chairs overlooking the ravine.
“We offer a day in the country – it’s so nice to offer people a little bit of respite,” she says. “I probably have about 30,000 stories every year. We spend time with our visitors.”
As the lavender enterprise grew, the couple decided in 2005 to renovate and expand the house. With the help of an architect and designer, they created a 2,464-square-foot house in the arts and crafts style.
Today the house has an open plan with a large kitchen and dining area. The kitchen, with Shaker-style cabinetry, has a large walnut island topped with soapstone.
“We were really conscious to make it fit into its rural setting,” Ms. Steed says of the transformation. “We were inspired by an informal country home.”
The addition at the rear of the house includes a family room with a vaulted ceiling and a 17- by 17-foot screened porch. The backyard garden has a small pond with a waterfall.
“It was so important to have all sorts of views,” Ms. Steed says of the large windows facing the gardens and ravine.
The main-floor primary bedroom has an ensuite bathroom with walk-in shower. Upstairs, there are two large bedrooms and a family bathroom.
The lower level includes a woodworking shop, a second kitchen and a dog shower.
Ms. Steed says growing up on the farm gave her kids a magical connection with nature.
When Quinn was nine, he took an interest in raising chickens and assembled a flock of heritage breeds that lay colorful eggs. He joined a local poultry association and entered his most striking hens into competition at agricultural fairs.
“He won trophies – it was so much fun,” Ms. Steed says. “Who knew that you had to bathe them and use a special shampoo and use a hair dryer to fluff them up?”
Within the property, the couple has protected the farm’s stand of Carolinian forest, which is part of a corridor traveled by the endangered Monarch butterfly and the threatened Canada warbler, among other migrating species of wildlife. The couple has added plantings of native river birch, paw paw, tulip and coffee trees over the years.
A pair of bald eagles nests in the mature trees at the back of the property.
“My husband and I felt a real stewardship here,” Ms. Steed says.
The forest is designated as an Area of Natural Scientific Interest, or ANSI, which allows the family to claim a hefty tax incentive.
Conservation authorities also aim to protect the natural flood plain bordering Catfish Creek, which flows into Lake Erie.
In 2020, as Ms. Steed was fully immersed in the business, the government of Ontario was reaching out to retired nurses and recruiting their help in handling the pandemic. Ms. Steed returned to her public health role as a COVID-19 case manager.
Now that the family has decided to move to another part of Ontario, Ms. Steed says the lavender plants will remain on the farm but she is not selling the business. She plans to continue the Steed and Co., brand in her next venture.
“It’s been a wonderful rural life,” she says of their tenure on the farm.
The best feature
Over the years, the family acquired two more horses to share the seven-stall barn with Teekah, who has since retired from competing in equestrian events.
The horses take their exercise in an outdoor riding ring in addition to the paddocks with oak fencing.
Trails wind throughout the property and the family members ride on neighbor lands as well.
“You can get on the horses at the back of the barn and be gone for two or three hours and not even cross a road,” Ms. Steed says.
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