Organic Growers Focus On Planning

When Annemarie Klippenstein left the family farm after high school, she first sought a career about as far away from dirt as she could. She left the Fraser Valley countryside for the flash and flare of fashion modeling in Vancouver.

Kevin Klippenstein was practically raised inside a spreadsheet. At 15 he was already pursuing small business opportunities, at 17 he was managing a restaurant, at 19 he bought his first house and was in demand in B.C. and Alberta as a consultant to the restaurant industry.

During her time in Vancouver, Annemarie also got involved in the food service business, but when pressures of the big city started to settle around her, the life-long farming infection began to itch despite her youthful vows. She turned to what she knew best from her large family (she has 11 siblings) all were raised from earliest childhood growing organic produce.

Somewhere about that time she and Kevin met, although it wasn t through the Vancouver restaurant industry. Part of his courtship with Annemarie included tagging along on her trips to sell her modest supply of produce at weekend farmer s markets. Soon their shared passion for food started to really cook.

In my family I would be voted the least likely one to go farming, says Annemarie. But I knew that I could do it, I just didn t see how I could do it on my own. With Kevin, she found a willing and capable partner.

Today they have one of B.C. s model agriculture operations: Klipper s Organic Acres based at Cawston, B.C. in the ag-rich Okanagan-Similkameen region, south of Penticton. They d made a local name for their 40-acre market garden and orchard operation for the past 10 years, expanding from five acres in 2001 when the farm was launched. But this year their reputation erupted when they won the B.C. &Yukon Outstanding Young Farmers of 2011 title, an award they were finalists for in 2005, 06 an 07.

It isn t easy to know which aspect of Klipper s Organic Acres was most appealing to the B.C. judges. Diversity is their essence, however. They don t grow dozens of fruits and vegetables, they grow hundreds. In fact they grow multitudes of each species. They time the ripening of different varieties so the harvest is spread across the calendar for everything from peaches to tomatoes and other produce. The spread in variety maturity also helps insulate them from unexpected events like bad weather, or a passing pest.

Although their intent was to sell everything they produced at Vancouver-area farmers markets, they have now diversified their operation to include value-added fruit products, along with a summer and winter Community Supported Agriculture box program allowing them to have year round income. This past year, they also began a gift certificate program, which allows consumers to purchase gift certificates at the beginning of the year and exchange them for produce throughout the season.

Detailed records and good planning are key to their management strategy. What I ve always done is planning and budgeting, Kevin says Counting the trees and how much fruit they will produce, is something I try to figure out. A lot of farmers don t do those projections and that is a problem. I m in the books every day, I always know what I ve spent and what I ve got.

Annemarie agreed that fierce accounting is the farm s secret to success. An agricultural operation is bounced around by many outside forces, but if you haven t attempted to calculate those scenarios, and have a planned response for each possibility (making juice or dried chips if your crops aren t prime, for example), you just aren t doing your homework.

We are planners. We are always thinking ahead, she says. If we decide to do something, we do it full force. We intend to be successful at it, with a plan in place. A good business plan includes many options, because things happen unexpectedly. As the business makes sudden demands, you have to be flexible, but you must map it all out as best you can.

It is true that most farmers in B.C. have to work outside jobs to make ends meet. The Klippensteins teach, as a second income, but not off-farm. Kevin is chair of the newly formed Organic Farming Institute of B.C., and they use their food company as a classroom, with an active apprenticeship program turning out new farmers entering into the organic production experience.

With a keen interest in good environmental stewardship, Klippers Organic Acres was the first organic farm in B.C. to complete an Environmental Farm Plan and also first to be certified Salmon Safe. That s an eco-certification program that works directly with farmers to promote environmental farming practices that protect Pacific salmon habitat and water quality. And the Klippensteins don t just harvest fruit and vegetables. In 2009, they also began harvesting the sun, installing solar panels to power drying facility and apprenticeship accommodations.

The Klippensteins, along with their four children, have futures plans for expansion into agri-tourism, and they step up to be leaders on various regional and provincial associations. It s not enough to try to grow your business and your customer base, they say, you also have to grow your industry.

FrankPeebleswritesfromPrinceGeorge,B.C.

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