By Tim Kalinowski
At one time child entrepreneurs were everywhere in Canadian society, whether that be Newsies selling papers on the corner calling out “Extra! Extra! Read all about it,” or kids cutting grass or shovelling walks to make a few bucks. A lot has changed in the past few decades as few kids today have extra jobs outside the home to help out the family, or take odd jobs for pocket change.
Obviously many kids still help out on their family farms in the agriculture sector, but it is becoming a rarity to see kids gainfully employed elsewhere in society.
Thirteen-year-old Parker Metz, owner of the The Tomato Wagon, is aiming to change all that. Metz teaches a course at the Interfaith Food Bank in Lethbridge called the Junior Entrepreneur Program, which inspires kids to consider starting their own small businesses.
Metz provides many of the practical lessons himself, having had his own tomato plant growing business since the age of seven.
“I love it,” he confesses. “It’s like the highlight of my life right now … And, I never have to worry about asking my mom for an allowance.”
So what’s the first rule of success? Metz says finding the right product to sell and the right market to sell it in. He explains how he came up with idea of starting his own tomato-growing business.
“Really it wasn’t and idea, it was an accident,” he remembers. “My mom had been trying to grow tomato plants for years, and out of desperation she planted 100 seeds into pots, and then they all grew. She couldn’t even believe it, and I asked her what she was going to do with all the extra plants.
“She said she was either going to throw them out or give them away to other people. I said, ‘No, let me load up my little red wagon and sell them around the neighbourhood’ … She didn’t think I’d sell much, maybe make a buck or two. But I sold them all.”
Since then, Metz has invested in his own small greenhouse to expand his business even more.
“I had to invest a hundred dollars or so into the greenhouse to get it,” he explains. “It’s a nice greenhouse for a good price, and it has been growing tomato plants for the past three years for me.”
Metz employs one of his school friends to help him with the greenhouse operation and to sell tomato plants at his primary place of business— the Lethbridge Farmers Market.
“We start growing late February and we start selling May long weekend,” says Metz.
“In the summer I don’t do as much business stuff. We’ll do a garage sale maybe or some lemonade stands. So the tomato business is only a really a springtime thing. I could grow plants all year round, but it would be a hassle with school and everything.”
Metz says the skills he has learned while growing his business are easily transferrable to other fields of endeavour, and he has big dreams and a long road ahead to achieve them.
“I want to be a lawyer, a businessman and a politician,” he states. “I started this (Tomato Wagon) business when I was seven years old, and since then it has taken off. I am 13 now, and we’re in farmers’ markets making lots of money.”