Small farms in Langley doing big business

Late May marked what has become an annually anticipated event for those interested in agriculture in the Township of Langley.

This year’s Agricultural Advisory Committee Farm Tour was entitled, “Promotiong and Developing Small Farms” and took participants by bus to Kensingon Prairie Farm, Vista

D’oro Winery and Farm, Driediger Berry Farms, and the Langley Golf and Banquet Centre for a presentation on bees.

Township Mayor Jack Froese attended the event and noted that what is considered a small farm these days is relative.

“The work of these people expands into the community,” he noted.

The first stop was at Kensington Prarie Farm where both alpacas and beef cattle are raised. Not only do the owners take pride in managing their herds, they also take control of what they feed them by leasing approximately 500 acres in various plots near their 45 acre farm to grow hay for their animals and for sale to others.

The alpaca market is not strong in Canada yet, but farm co-owner Catherine Simpson is passionate about the industry.

“These are not pets,” she said of the alpacas. “They aren’t good guard animals.”

At Vista D’oro, Patrick Murphy explained how he and his wife Lee are focused on keeping things local while creating international demand for their fancy jams.

“Of the jams we do 75 per cent [of the ingredients] are grown here,” Murphy said.

The farm has recently picked up a contract with Herrods in London to carry the jams.

“We’ll be shipping Langley fruit to London,” commented Murphy.

Whatever can’t be grown on their own farm is sourced as locally as possible. In addition to jams, the farm produces wine and apple cider.

“The apple cider is really taking off,” Murphy noted.

When discussing small acreages, Murphy said, “You can’t just do one thing, and you have to do it all well.”

Honeybees were the topic at lunch when John Gibeau of the Honey Bee Centre spoke at lunch.

The core of the centre’s business is pollination services, with hives rented out to farmers to aid in pollination of crops.

“There are not enough bees in the Lower Mainland to supply the berry growers of B.C.,” Gibeau told the attendees.

It was because of the Honey Bee Centre’s high profile location at 176th Street and Fraser Highway that the business grew into more of an attraction where people learn about bees and buy products.

Gibeau spoke about the growing concerns around colony collapse disorder – a situation where bees leave their hives or die for uncertain reasons.

“There’s no cause for panic,” he said. “But there is definitely a cause for concern. Bees are responsible for about one third of our food.”

Dave Melnychuk, chair of the Langley Sustainable Agricultural Foundation (LSAF) spoke briefly about the recent successes of the LSAF and noted that a seminar held in late 2013 was very popular.

Further workshops are being planned for September and November.

The final stop of the tour is at Driediger Berry Farms, where attendees got a first-hand view of the packing and freezing facility built in 2013.

Not only does the facility process Driediger-grown berries, but it also helps other B.C. growers according to owner Rhonda Driediger.

“We’re trying to work with our own local guys,” she said. “Our own growers here in B.C.”

The facility is able to flash freeze berries to a temperature of minus 40º C. The berries are frozen instantly and the equipment can manage 10 to 11 thousand pounds an hour.

All of the farms on the tour started at a small scale and grew their operations over time proving what can be done in agriculture in Langley.

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