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Old Meadows Organic
Jeff Ricketts is expanding the U-Pick program at Old Meadows Organic Farm to bring in more visitors.
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Sanctuary Gardens Gazebo
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Tractor tour at Double Cross Cidery.
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Fruit butters from Appleberry
Fruit butters from Appleberry are available on Via Rail.
Agritourism includes everything from value-added products to U-Picks to farm stays. Simply put, agritourism is any activity that brings visitors to your farm. As many farmers have already discovered, agritourism can increase sales and open doors you never even knew were there.
Sanctuary Gardens is one of those places that feeds the spirit instead of the body. It’s located on 25 acres overlooking Gellatly Bay in West Kelowna. Owner Kirstin Wakal is resurrecting about sixty 40-year-old grape vines on the property that were part of an abandoned vineyard. Her vision for the land is to create a space with pergolas around the old vines for people to use as a gathering area. “I want it to be a park-like setting where people can see what real old growth vines look like and what they produce.”
Kirstin has already created a space just down from the old vineyard that she calls Sanctuary Gardens. It’s a gothic inspired timber-framed white gazebo surrounded by natural gardens including sage and natural bunch grasses. The gazebo itself will fit 45 people, with room to expand onto the lawn area for another 20 people. Although it was only completed in August of 2013, Sanctuary Gardens has already been home to over a dozen weddings and it was featured on Oprah’s seasonal finale of Super Soul Sunday in December of 2013.
“It looks like the gazebo was just placed in the middle of a meadow,” explains Kirstin. “The pathway up to the gazebo is created from flagstones and winds towards one of the most amazing views the Okanagan has to offer. It’s very wild and rustic and perfect for those who want a natural and private setting for their wedding. We’ve also held private luncheons and dinner parties under the gazebo with tons of rave reviews.”
Kirstin’s sanctuary is just one more way of creating an agritourism destination for locals and tourists alike in your own back yard. sanctuarygardens.ca
Old Meadows Organic Farm
When Jeff Ricketts took over Old Meadows Organic Farm a year ago he wanted to expand and bring in more visitors. “Old Meadows is a friendly place where people can now come do U-Pick on flowers, herbs, cherries, strawberries and blackberries. Eventually we will have a U-Pick vegetable garden. It’s a great way to educate the kids. One of our chefs brings his kid out to pick his own vegetables and it has made him less picky about eating them.”
Jeff also reached out and expanded his organic fruit and vegetable sales to include several local restaurants and delivery services. For him it was simply a matter of making the contact, providing a great product and continuing to support a relationship between grower and buyer.
“It’s been a truly amazing experience,” said Jeff. “The chefs in Kelowna have been very supportive. I’ve been to a couple farm to table events and the chefs are very open to working with the farmers.”
As a new farmer, Jeff was worried about what he would do if he had too much of one crop. The chefs assured him they would take whatever he had. Local chefs love to work directly with local farmers. They appreciate the level of freshness and the fact they can visit the farm and know exactly how their ingredients are grown.
“Depending on how much we supply them, they will sometimes mention us or list us as a supplier on the menu,” said Jeff. “You have to earn your way and be consistent, but it’s worth the wait.
Jeff didn’t just stumble upon these ideas and hope they will work. He attended a business-planning program put on by the Central Okanagan Development Commission. “I went to create a business plan to expand the business. It’s all about being able to get things down on paper and documenting everything and figuring out my goals and knowing what you need for the future. It helped me create forms I need and it turned out to be a big time saver and relieves so much stress.”
One of the things for Old Meadows' business plan is to turn the farm into a large backyard U-Pick garden using companion growing. “You mix vegetables like corn, squash and beans to create a balanced environment. The corn provides the stalk for the beans to climb, the beans provide nitrogen to the soil, and the squash provides weed control, and in the end we get to harvest three types of produce from one row. Everyone benefits, especially the kids who learn from what we are doing.”
Also in his business plan is aquaponics: the raising of fruits and vegetables and fish in a cycled system. The plants clean the water for the fish, the fish excrement feeds the plants, and the fish eat some of the plants.
“As a young farmer I think Agritourism is going to be the next boom,” said Jeff. “We live in such a beautiful place and I encourage all farmers to take advantage of the tourism side of things and open up their farms. It creates a bit of extra work, but when you get people come there and witness all your hard work, its very rewarding.”
Function Junction and the Double Cross Cidery
Glenn and Loretta Cross decided to diversify their farm a little over 10 years ago. Glenn was active in almost every facet of the tree fruit industry and Loretta had retired early. They started a small fruit stand in 2004 with mainly apples. “We started to see that in order to survive we had to diversify,” explained Glenn. “Over the years we planted blackberries, raspberries, red currants, grapes, and then moved into a wide variety of soft fruit such as plums, peaches and apricots. Then, the ground crops came and we expanded to corn, have three cold frames (greenhouses without heat), and are also leasing a blueberry patch. We have since expanded, adding more berries and larger gardens.”
One of the best parts about the expansion is that their children are now involved with the farm, making it even more of a family venture. “One of our latest undertakings is apple juice and we are very excited about it,” said Glenn. “It is healthy, all natural, tastes great, and is an all around winner of a product. As of this year our apple juice is the number one poured drink at the Delta Grand!”
Not a bad accomplishment considering Loretta and Glenn were just talking about making juice in 2010. They called the Bullock family at Raven Ridge Cidery to ask some questions and discovered they were selling all their equipment. Long story made short – they liked what they saw, bought the equipment and leased space for the first few months until their own building was finished.
In the winter of 2010/11 they applied for their cidery licence and six months later they were approved. The Double Cross Cidery brand was launched in the spring 2012. They now have several fruit iced ciders and a hard apple cider available for tasting and purchase and fruit wines coming in the future. They have a tasting room for the hard cider and the apple juice is available on site – either fresh or frozen.
The Cross’s agritourism business took off quickly and Glenn knows all to well where he could have done it better. “As you expand and get into more and more stuff the costs do sneak up on you. My best suggestion for anyone would be to have a detailed business plan. When we bought the equipment we had a budget, not a plan, and we went way over. There was stuff I didn’t think about. I used to shoot from the hip but now I know all the little things add up in a hurry. We now have a business plan that takes into account everything we need as we expand.”
Having the cidery has certainly helped when apple prices were low. Cross says it levels the ups and downs of farming. “Branching into agritourism has been extremely beneficial and we’ve grown leaps and bounds as to how much we produce and where it is going,” said Glenn. “We had about 3,000 customers to the farm last year, and anticipate doubling that number this year. We are gearing up by making our parking lot bigger to accommodate tour buses as well.”
As far as getting their name out there, it’s been a fairly painless process. “Tourism Kelowna has been great. We are in their farm to table flyer and they have been great for promoting us. We were in the Kelowna map book and we are in another one this year out of Winfield. We do promotional work whenever possible. Do tastings continuously – all it does it cost you juice and time. We even put maps on the back of our business cards, to show people where we are. It was one of the best things Loretta ever did. Where are we – right there – it’s on the card.” function-junction.ca
Appleberry Farms / Beez and Treez Specialty Foods
Joan Haddow, owner of Beez and Treez Specialty Foods, moved to the Okanagan to create an agritourism operation. “My idea was to do the tourism part and process what we were growing. This was in 1991, so it was really challenging.”
With nothing more than a small storefront and a covered porch, Haddow served tea, lunch and breakfast to her farm guests. Her experience with pectin had taught her it was a tricky process, so she decided to only process fruit butters. They created fruit mustards and savouries and other products, which they sold in the store. There was even a viewing beehive to help educate the guests. Although Haddow loved how her agritourism enterprise was working, she soon found the processing end of things was growing faster than she could handle.
“We were providing fruit butters in single serve jars to Via Rail and the Fairmont Hotels from coast to coast. Our client base grew and we were in the Four Seasons, Terminal City Club, Petroleum Club and even Governor General’s House in Ottawa,” said Joan. “In 1996 I had to make a decision. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to manage both the agritourism and the processing side of the business. In the end we opted to drop the agritourism and go with the processing.”
Joan’s foray into agritourism allowed her to travel all over North America and see what people are doing with agritourism and value added products. “Feeding people always entices them to come back for more,” laughs Joan. “I can’t imagine having an agritourism operation and not having anything for people to sample. It’s all about the experience and teaching people where their food comes from.” fruitfultree.ca