Articles by Rosemary Phillips

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When all the valley was flower seeds

UPDATE: Agriculture is flourishing in Grand Forks. Potatoes are still a huge crop, and not far behind, organic produce. Land that was left fallow is now being utilized and rows of crops are being planted. Farmers come together in the summer for Farmer's Markets where locals and visitors alike can shop, and organizations have been established to promote, inspire and educate on growing food locally. There is still land that can be plowed, but as with everything else in life, it's one step at a time. I give thanks for the farmers and their hard work that puts food on our tables.

Grand Forks BC takes over for Belgium and Holland during WWII

By Rosemary Phillips, the first article in a series about agriculture in Grand Forks
Written for and originally published in the Grand Forks Gazette in 2001

From the range lands of Rock Creek to the irrigated fields of Grand Forks' valleys, and the nurseries east towards Christina Lake, it doesn't take much effort to see that the Boundary region has an active agricultural industry.

What seemed at first like an effortless project, to examine the industry and it's role in the Boundary, has become anything but, when seeing the diversity of an industry that includes everything from bee hives and fruit trees, to greenhouses, field crops, nurseries, livestock, feed and seed, tourism, dairy, and all the spin-offs such as packing, shipping, distribution, marketing, retail, pest control, and even new technology support. It's no simple industry. And it's not an easy industry to be in.
"It's a lifestyle choice that has commercialization with it," explains Garfield Marshall of Advance Orchards.

Agriculture is a historical business

Agriculture is a historical business. Societies start out with agriculture, then fob it off to smaller areas. Yet a society requires food for survival. The Roman Empire, for example, conquered nations to draw upon resources to sustain their growing population. Similarly, with globalization we can get fresh anything from anywhere in the world, 365 days a year.

"We take food for granted," explains Marshall. "If we go to Japan, Europe and Asia where people have starved, food has different value. In North America we've had the luxury of never having had a war, and never experiencing a food shortage, so food is cheaper and easily accessible. Looking at it from a producers point of view, whether fruit or vegetable, you're dealing with first world cost, and regulations, which means getting first world revenue, which is minimal. Not many folks in agriculture would say they're not having a difficult time."

Everything is world priced

Everything is world priced, and protectionism is a thing of the past. Apples are produced in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South Africa, Chile and China. They all use the same technology, and have the same varieties. Freight allows produce to be anywhere in the world in two weeks.

It's the folks in the commodity business that are seeing it the worst. "The only ones who can survive are those with a niche market, or like the lifestyle," adds Marshall. "In Grand Forks, what we are looking at is green pasture by and large. But if you do the map it's not operating farms; owners have five acres, a house, a car. It's a luxury and a wonderful thing to have. Very few people make their livelihood from agriculture."

"At one time all the valley was pretty well used for farming," says Tony Lodder, long time potato grower and area representative for the B.C. Vegetable Market Commission. "Families used to do it together, now everything is done with machines. It hurts me to see the land idle and not producing."

Irrigating the valley of Grand Forks

Part of that problem is lack of irrigation. In the 1920's an irrigation system was installed throughout the valley, and by the 1990's it had started to deteriorate. "A new irrigation system got squashed in 1976," adds Lodder. "We finally got it later, but it cost so much more. To be included in the system farmers had to sign into it. Many didn't because of the cost, and some were not interested in farming anymore. There's land I'd like to grow on but there's no water. The only alternative is to put a well in."

At the end of the 19th century the Boundary area was used mostly for grazing. In 1885 William Covert settled in west Grand Forks and started the first orchard and mixed farm, with apples, plums, cherries, prune trees, grapes and strawberries, along with milk cows, chickens and turkeys. Settlers who followed expanded on this and Grand Forks was recognized on provincial, federal, and international levels for it's quality of fruit and vegetables.

In 1905 the Frache Bros. opened up a large greenhouse complex just west of the city, and specialized in vegetables, flowers and bedding plants. By 1908 Riverside Nurseries had the largest area in the province of nursery stock, supplying thousands of fruit trees to the Okanagan and the valley west of Kamloops. Considerable acreage in the area was also given to carrots, beets, lettuce and radishes, expanding to premium quality tomatoes, corn, melons, cucumbers and cabbage. In addition to fruit, potatoes and wheat were grown and shipped by rail from the valley. There was a canning company, potato evaporating and fruit packing plants, and a creamery. The Doukhobor community specialized in apples, ran a jam factory, and grew flax.

Grand Forks takes over from Holland and Belgium growing seeds during the war

During the Second World War, Grand Forks took over from Holland and Belgium in seed growing. "The whole valley was flower seeds," adds Lodder. When European countries recovered, the business was taken away from Grand Forks which then found it's niche in potatoes, and became the potato capitol of B.C. Lodder is still into potatoes and onions, but after fifty years in the business he has handed over the reigns to son Blair and wife Irene of Shady Acres.

There continues to be change in the industry. Some farmers are turning hay fields into ginseng, and research continues on the possible future development of a hemp industry. It takes finding a niche, developing a market, and investment.

"The nursery business has done wonders in the last few years," says Lodder, "and has taken over a large portion of the industry."

Three major nurseries moved into the area over the last twenty years; Advance Orchard, Bron & Sons., and Stewart Bros. "All three are targetted to different products," explains Marshall. "It was a new investment in the area, which employs many folks, is a niche market, and is totally non-dependent upon the region. It's the kind of business that has a long-time horizon."

Other articles in the series were about hothouse production, potatoes, fruits and vegetables, nurseries and organic dairies - cow and goat.

NOTE: There are many more articles on this site - see Index of Articles.

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