700 Kilometers outside of Calgary and passed almost just as many fruit stands, lies the Similkameen Valley. The valley is the lesser known little brother of the well known Okanagan Valley, and though smaller, its just as full with fruit orchards, especially certified organic orchards.
The main centers in the valley are Cawston and Keremeos. Like in the Okanagan, the streets of both towns are lined with fruit stands. One of these stands, just outside of Keremeos, is the Blush Lane fruit stand and behind the stand, is the Blush Lane Organic Orchard.
I was lucky enough to have spent four days on the Blush Lane orchard, learning about tree fruit production, touring local organic orchards and meeting the amazing people who produce our food. I have been working for Blush Lane for over a year, and in that year have seen a lot of produce and a lot of produce boxes. On each of these boxes is a label, stating the organic certifying body and the name of the farm it comes from. As time goes on you start to notice patterns, whenever you see especially beautiful produce, the names of a handful of farms is usually the source. The chance to meet some of these farmers, is a real honour, especially for someone, like myself, who wants to farm.
You can't spend much time on the orchard before you do get to meet one of the local organic farmers. There are farmers dropping off their amazing produce, to be shipped to Calgary within 24 hours, regularly throughout the day. Rob Horricks, one of the Blush Lane owners, spends his summers taking care of the Blush Lane orchard and ensuring the farmers get a fair price for their product and our customers get the highest quality organic produce. Cutting out the middle man allows the farmers to get a better price for their produce and because of that, they bring their produce to Rob at the orchard, first. Handing the farmer a cheque for their produce as they're dropping it off, is, unfortunately, a rare thing. Usually your lucky to get payment within 30 days of selling produce. Because Rob does this, not only does he get the freshest produce, he also gets the highest quality.
A number of these farmers were nice enough to let me spend some time touring around their farm and picking their brains about the organic industry. One was Fred Danenhower, of Danenhower and Daughters farm. Fred and his family have a main orchard, where they live, and an orchard they lease close by. The Danenhowers provide us with everyone's favourite apple, the Honeycrisp, along with a number of other great varieties. While I was visiting, the Danenhowers were doing summer pruning on their Fuji apples. Summer pruning means removing the foliage blocking the apples from the sunlight. During the hottest part of the summer, you need foliage to protect the fruit from getting sunburned. But in the late summer/early fall, you can prune it off, without risk of sun damage. Pruning the foliage helps improve colour on the apple, resulting in a more marketable piece of fruit. The one thing that the Danenhowers and every other farmer I talked to kept bringing up was how late all the fruit was this season. Most were worried about even being able to harvest some of their later varieties, like Pink Lady. Most of the fruit was up to three weeks later than other years. That's why we haven't seen all of the apple varieties customers are used to at this time of the year, but its also the reason we get to be spoiled with amazing summer fruit a bit longer then other years.
Another farmer who let me pick his brain was Art Nugteren, from Art and Lina's Garden.Art and Lina grow the most amazing cherry tomatoes I've ever had. Everything that comes off this farm just seems special: it stands out from among the rest. Along with cherry tomatoes, they grow amazing peppers, zucchini, roma tomatoes, beans, corn, etc. Art showed me around and gave me a vision of the whole process, start to finish. I saw the greenhouses where they start all their own transplants and where they grow their transplants until they're ready to go in the ground. I got to see the end process as well, as Lina and her family were busy picking peppers while I was visiting.
We have a special friendship with both of these farmers, not only do they provide us with great produce, but both of their daughters work at the Blush Lane fruit stand outside the orchard. Fred Danenhower's daughter is planning on moving to Calgary and you may be able to hear all about her Mom and Dad's orchard as she joins our Blush Lane team at the Calgary Farmers Market. Rob has also set up a university fund for Art's daughter, as the profits from her Dad's cherry tomatoes sold at the fruit stand will help her pay for her schooling.
While at the orchard, I got the opportunity to see a different side of Blush Lane. I've always known a bit about the orchard and I've also known that we buy direct from organic farmers in the area. I knew that buying direct from farmers allow us to provide our customers with the