Branching Out But Scaling Back —

Anyone who laughed at George and Winnifred Covert in 1959 when they bought 600 acres of bare Okanagan desert can pound sand now.

The experienced California cash croppers had a dream of growing tomatoes and onions and a family — sons Calvin and Michael. And so they did despite the outward appearance then that the McIntyre Bluff area north of Oliver, B. C., had as much garden potential as a parking lot.

Three generations later, grandson Gene Covert, his wife Shelly, and their three children are not only reaping the bounty of the Covert Farm fruit and vegetable operation, they are the 2010 B. C. regional finalists for the Outstanding Young Farmers of Canada annual awards.

The latest generation of Coverts farming this land didn’t just luck into the fact they are in the company of six other talented, and progressive farm couples from across Canada, vying for a national award. It took a lot of dedicated work in a short time on top of the decades of previous Covert family toil.

EXCESS DEMAND

Fall Wine Festival. They were announced as the Okanagan’s Best New Winery 2008, no small feat considering the multitude of renowned vintner activity in the region.

“The vineyard has been going really well,” says Covert. He and Shelly share the vintner venture with partners Kirby and Crystal Froese. “Kirby is a longtime wine maker and Crystal does a lot of marketing and promotions, and we provided the land so we’re all loving how it is working out. We are doing very well.”

They were also proud to be named the official wine of the 2010 Subaru Ironman Canada extreme triathlon — especially proud because Shelley herself was a first-time competitor this year in the Penticton-based sporting event.

Their estate winery, under the Dunham &Froese label, now produces about 2,000 cases per year of red, white and rosé wines. As the vines progress in their maturity, they expect to reach a production level of about 7,000 cases per year by 2014.

Covert says the agriculture industry has its challenges, but diversity on the land base and diversity in the production model are working well for their operation. He advises all farmers, young and old, to “do up a really good business plan and do the homework, get to know your products and your market. You have to be flexible so you can jump on opportunities when they come up.”

A big opportunity — in advertising and exposure — has arrived for the Covert family thanks to the award they stand to win. With the retail elements of the farm, a public that knows the name of their operation and their multifaceted farm can only help their bottom line.

The Coverts were B. C. runners- up in the 2009 Outstanding Young Farmers of Canada event. They learned from that experience and revamped their nomination package in time for their final year of eligibility (it is open to farmers aged 18 to 39).

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