Letter: Blueberry picking experience continues

We have some people who come out practically every time we’re open…

To the editor:

Re: Toasting The Family Farm: The Grape Patch Closes, Sept. 24 Kelowna Capital News.

I read with interest the article on The Grape Patch and the Teather family. While we’re practically neighbours, I had never been out there to pick as we have our own patch, which includes grapes. But I understand the comments, such as concern for the “end of an era,” expressed by the pickers going out to the Latta Road location for the last time.

My husband and I know the challenges of becoming second generation farmers. My parents bought our property on the bench in Rutland 51 years ago, and after initially planting a peach orchard, became the first blueberry farm in Kelowna almost 30 years ago. In the early years of our new crop, we (mostly my parents) did all of the picking. Up at 6 am, pick until noon, back out after supper until dark, then sort and pack. Most days it was just too hot to be out in the afternoon, but sometimes it was necessary.

People placed orders by phone or by stopping by. Dad and one or two of my siblings would also sell out of the back of the truck along the highway, and a time or two at the farmer’s market.

I had to move away to work, but I always planned my vacation time to coincide with picking season so I could be here to help.

The bushes grew, and so did the amount of berries, so approximately 15 years ago we began to do u-pick. Now people still come with their teenagers, who were babies in strollers the first time they learned what a blueberry bush looked like.

After my dad had his first stroke, my husband and I started to work towards moving back here with the goal of buying the farm. It took three years to apply for and receive permission to do a homesite severance from the Agricultural Land Reserve, so that my parents could continue to live in the house they built and where they raised their six kids, and so that my husband and I could have our own home.

We barely squeaked through the process—lots of hurdles to jump. But for the past six years my husband and I have been part-time farmers, and continue to work to develop the land to be more productive. Besides the blueberries, we also have grapes, raspberries, blackberries, walnut and hazelnut trees that my parents planted. Plus we still have two of the original peach trees, quite bent but producing delicious fruit!

We’re also trying to diversify with other berries. We use organic growing methods because we know others appreciate our no-spray policy as much as we do.

We’ve been expanding electronically too: We now have a website to announce when our picking days and times are scheduled. In fact, people are so good at checking out our website that we are no longer getting 50 phone calls per day during picking season.

I try to make a point of getting to know as many names as I can, although I definitely recognize more faces than I remember names. But in this type of business, you know that people are coming for more than a product, they also want an experience beyond the grocery store.

We have some people who come out practically every time we’re open, to spend time with their family and friends as they fill their own freezers, and then sometimes to pick a bit to share with their neighbours.

Others come alone to get away from it all, with only the distant chatter of other pickers to interfere with their meditation.

Our clientele comes from Vernon to Penticton, and people from Calgary, Edmonton and Regina regularly make us part of their summer vacation plans.

We will continue trying to make a go of it and preventing that “loss of a lifestyle” that The Grape Patch’s pickers are worried about experiencing. But it’s hard to say if a third generation of our extended family will pick up the torch eventually—we can hope.

Michele Hayes at Blueberry Haven,

Kelowna