What’s good for other Okanagan growers is good for Harker’s Organics is how Troy and Sara Harker view the role of their diversified organic farming operation in south Central B.C.
If they can help other growers find a market and add value to their products that also helps strengthen the Harkers’ own farm retail, wholesale food distribution, and fruit winery operation at Cawston, B.C., a small community on the southern edge of the Okanagan Valley.
“Yes our focus is on our farming enterprise, but it’s also about sustaining production of local foods,” says Sara Harker. “It is a very symbiotic relationship as we work with other growers and help them market and add value to their products, it also helps our farm business. It helps us all build sustainable operations.”
Sara and Troy are fifth generation producers on the diversified 30-acre organic farm, which was started by Troy’s great-great-grandfather, William James Manery in the 1880s. Each generation has added something to the operation, and when the 30-year-old fifth generation returned to the farm in 2006 they brought their own ideas and energy as well.
The Harkers were named B.C.’s Outstanding Young Farmers earlier this year.
Five different enterprises
“The whole farm is really five different entities,” says Sara whose background is in restaurant management and food service. At the core of the operation is a 30-acre organic farm producing a wide range of vegetables and fruit, and that connects to a wholesale food distribution enterprise that includes their own products as well as products from 30 other growers. A third entity is a restaurant delivery service. Fourth is an on-farm retail market and fifth is a fruit winery.
Troy’s grandparents started the on-farm fruit and vegetable retail business and his parents, Bruce and Kathy Harker, who are still quite involved in the business, launched the wholesale food packing venture. When Tory and Sara joined the operation they launched the restaurant delivery service and fruit winery. Other family members are also involved in the farm business.
The farm has 12 acres of organic vegetable production, with the rest of the land devoted to a variety of fruit orchards. Part of that production goes into the wholesale food packing and distribution service. Along with 30 other growers, the Harker’s supply produce to a number of retailers under the Harvest Moon brand.
The farm, through Farm to Fork Delivery, also supplies 30 restaurants in nearby Osoyoos (about 30 minutes away) and Kelowna (about 90 minutes away) with fresh produce daily. Most of that product is from Harker’s Organics “picked in the morning and delivered the same day,” says Sara.
The on-farm retail market again carries a wide range of fruits and vegetables in-season produced on the farm, with a season that runs from cherry harvest in the spring until Halloween.
A co-operative effort
Sara had the lead interest in starting the now award-winning Rustic Roots fruit winery not just as another enterprise, but also to add value to locally produced fruit.
“A good example of how we work together to create a win-win situation for everyone happened in 2008,” she says. “There was another local farm family that by chance had their summer apples, peaches and plums all ripen at the same time and they didn’t have the manpower available to pick the plums. They were just going to let them fall. So we got involved and picked some 3,000 pounds of plums that we made into wine, which went on to be named the best fruit wine in Canada that year. And we paid the grower the same price for the plums as he would have got on the fresh fruit market. It’s an example of how we can all work together to build sustainable farming operations.”
While the fruit and vegetable business is somewhat seasonal, Harker says there is little downtime. They start their own vegetable crops in a 1,200 square foot greenhouse on the farm. Crops are set out in the spring, the fruit stand runs from early summer to Halloween, the winery is open until Christmas, they are packing and shipping apples from January to April, and the restaurant service and winery open in April. At peak season they have 48 employees.
The Harkers are also busy raising their daughters Kaydence, eight, and Akaya, four.
“We certainly have a lot of ideas for the future as we need to grow and keeping adding value to the business,” says Harker. Adding a bistro to the winery and developing an area near the winery to host weddings are two plans in the “near future.” She would also like to add cider production.
“The focus is on adding value and making a very sustainable farm business so there is something here and attractive for the sixth generation,” she says. “We have our two daughters but there are eight grandchildren in total in the sixth generation so we want the farm to still be here and successful if they are interested.”
THE OTHER NOMINEES
Alberta: Michael Kalisvaart and Karen Jansen
Saskatchewan: Chad and Darlene Krikau
Manitoba: Tyler and Dorelle Fulton
Ontario: Dana and Adam Thatcher
Quebec: Luc Gervais and Kim Brunelle
Atlantic Canada: James and Amanda Kinsman, Nova Scotia