KlippensteinThe Klippenstein family of Cawston - Outstanding Young Farmers 2011.
The agriculture industry doesn't draw as many young people as it used to, but the ones who take the plunge are more business savvy than ever.
Kevin and Annamarie Klippenstein of Cawston love being organic farmers so much, their dedication resulted in the pair receiving both provincial and national recognition as Outstanding Young Farmers of 2011.
The couple didn't start out as farmers. In fact, they both worked in the hospitality industry. But the Lower Mainland rain was getting to them.
Annamarie's parents were farmers in Chilliwack, growing blueberries and ground crops and selling them at farmers markets, and soon Kevin was getting ideas.
"It was 2001 and I was helping Annamarie at the farmers market and I thought farming would be a great way to make a living. We looked at some prices of orchards in the Okanagan and realized we couldn't afford it. Then we looked at buying a bar.”
Kevin set his dreams aside and continued working in the lounge until one day a couple came in, recognized him from the market, and launched into conversation.
“Long story short, their parents were selling their land, which had a variety of fruit trees. They had designed the orchard specifically for selling at markets."
Kevin went home to discuss it with Annamarie, and before they knew it they were on their way to Cawston.
"It was actually the only orchard we looked at. We went to see it mid-October. We told them we couldn't afford it and offered much less than they were asking. They said they liked us and made a deal. We sold our house in two weeks and on Nov. 15, 2001 we took possession."
The pair went to work at Apex mountain ski hill to make it through the winter, and spent their off-hill time cleaning the greenhouse, pruning, and soon, planting.
"We started planting vegetables in February,” he says. By spring, there was enough produce ready to sell in high volume markets in White Rock and the North Shore. The following year, they extended their reach into Vancouver.
Then they really got thinking.
"We realized we needed to figure out how to make money off only five acres. Right from the start we decided to create value added products. Anything that we had extras of at the end of a weekly market, we would dry or make into jam. This way, when the first markets started in the new season, we had tons of products with jam and dried fruits as well as our vegetables. That progressed as we went along."
By the second year demand had outstripped supply so the Klippensteins started to grow vegetables in between the rows of apple trees. They managed to double their income that year, however cleanup was a nightmare and they decided there had to be a better way – more land.
They purchased another six acres, and leased another four. Demand continued to rise, and by 2005 they leased (and later purchased) even more land. Now they had an apple cooler, a rancher house, four acres of apples, plus an acre of peaches and plums.
Production kept going. They started making apple juice and apple chips as well as pickles and created dry packaged dips from their ground crops.
More land meant more work, and the need for more hands. With a pay-it-forward philosophy, they launched a young apprenticeship program. Now from March to October, between five and 10 young apprentices are on the farm learning about buying and driving tractors, irrigation, business planning, marketing, and, naturally, selling into farmers markets, and restaurants.
“We even take them out with a realtor to look at properties. They get paid a stipend for being here and working with us. Depending on how the farm does and how much they contribute, they get a bonus at the end of the growing season.”
Today, the farm has reached what the Klippensteins consider to be the perfect size – 40-acres, generating 60 different products and 600 varieties of produce, including peaches, apricots, plums nectarines, apples, pears, table grapes, cherries, rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, melons, and a large variety of vegetables.
“It’s a good size to personally manage and do what we do," said Annamarie. "Any bigger and we'd be in more of a management position and we both enjoy being out there doing the work."
Not bad for a couple who just wanted to get out of the rain.■