When Heloise Dixon- Warren and her husband, Ted Traer acquired their farm near Quesnel in B.C.’s Cariboo Country they didn’t know what they were going to grow or raise — they just knew it wouldn’t be cattle. At that time and in that place there were already enough cattle. Probably more than enough.
And there were… issues. Heloise describes their pasture land as “marginal,” their soil as “not great.”
But they had trees, lots and lots of healthy, young trees. They had dandelions. They had wild berries. They had wild rose bushes. And they’re both professional foresters. They decided to go with their strengths, to work with what they had.
“We wanted to use our knowledge base which is in trees and ecology and forestry and apply it to a farm setting,” Heloise said.
Wildcrafting was a perfect fit. They harvest wild products on their own land and on Crown land. They produce birch syrup, dandelion syrup, wild rose petal jelly, swags, centrepieces, wreaths and other products. They also sell Christmas trees from their own land. And they’re making money.
“That’s the beauty of wildcrafting,” says Heloise. “People are willing to pay up to twice the price for wild products. The perception is that these products are cleaner, purer and healthier. And rarer.”
They sell their products at the farm gate and at farmers’ markets with a small amount moving through carefully chosen retail outlets. Moving forward thoughtfully has helped them to avoid some of the common pitfalls.
Price setting, Heloise says, is an area where some farm-based businesses get tripped up. They don’t set their prices high enough. They may not take all of their expenses into account and they don’t pay themselves. “You have to price high. You can always come down but you can’t go higher,” she says and offers this example.
After they had made a batch of birch balsamic vinaigrette, she added up the expenses and calculated the price for 200 ml should be $12. It sounded like a lot of money. Ted told her they would never sell it for that much.
“I said if we sell it for anything less, then we’re not paying ourselves.”
The product sold out.
They do most of the work themselves, but also have availed themselves of volunteer labour through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and FarmStay — two programs whereby workers offer their labour in exchange for room and board.
Like conscientious conventional farmers, Heloise and Ted practise conservation. For wildcrafters that means being careful not to pick every last berry, not stripping a rosebush of every single rosehip, taking the tips of the spruce branches rather than felling a tree for wreaths.
Moose Meadows Farm is the only accredited agri-tourism farm in the Cariboo-Chilcotin Region of British Columbia. They also offer other services such as farm tours, wreath-making workshops and birthday parties.
It’s a good life, a very good life, but it’s not perfect.
In the eyes of the provincial government some of their ventures are not classified as “farm.” They run the risk of pushing themselves into a higher land tax category if they do really well financially.
Christmas trees are considered farm income. Birch syrup is not, although maple syrup is considered a farm product across Canada. “In B.C. at least, farming implies husbandry, so if you’re collecting rose petals, even on your own property, unless you’re managing those rose petals it’s not considered farm income,” Heloise says. She feels the legislation is a little archaic and hopes it will be changed.
In the meantime, she continues to search out wild products. She’s careful to test market any new product before she invests a lot of time and/or money. As Christmas approaches she’ll be crafting wreaths, swags and other evergreen decorative items to be sold in Moose Meadows’ on-farm store — The Antler Shed Gift Shop. In the spring of 2011 she and Ted will be offering dog boarding; and her daughter recently introduced the family to a new taste sensation — cattails on pizza.
“Yummy!” she says. Could this be the next big thing for this “wild” entrepreneur?
Heloise and Ted can be contacted at 250-249-5329 or [email protected]
Check out their website at www.moosemeadowsfarm.ca/.
They decided to go with their strengths, to work with what they had.