OUTLOOK: Finding that farming niché

Chilliwack may be in the country, but its food has found a profitable market in the city.

Rows of hops ready for harvest at Sartori Cedar Ranch in the Columbia Valley. With the recent proliferation of smaller

Chilliwack may be in the country, but its food has found a profitable market in the city.

A number of local farmers have tapped into a niche market, growing specifically for restaurants and ethnic communities.

Ducks, Taiwan chickens, beef, San Marzano tomatoes, beer hops and more.

“If you see a barbecued duck hanging in a window in downtown [Vancouver] or Richmond, chances are good it’s ours,” said Ken Falk, owner of Fraser Valley Duck and Goose Farm in Yarrow.

Agriculture has been the backbone of the Chilliwack community for as long as it’s been in existence. With 939 farms, comprising of approximately 67 per cent of Chilliwack’s land dedicated to agriculture, Chilliwack is home to more farmland than any other Lower Mainland community.

But it’s only been in recent years that niche farming has taken its hold – thanks to technology and changing demographics.

“Agriculture isn’t just dirt and solvent manure anymore, it’s a high tech industry with a lot of opportunities,” said Walter Dyck, chair of the Chilliwack Agriculture Commission.

Fraser Valley Duck and Goose Farm processes approximately 20,000 Taiwan chickens, and between 12-15,000 ducks a week – of which, 100 per cent of the chickens and 95 per cent of the ducks are destined for the Chinese marketplace in the Greater Vancouver area.

A small percentage of their ducks has also made its way into high end restaurants in Chilliwack, Vancouver, and wineries in the Okanagan, listed on menus as a “Yarrow Meadow” product.

“I think it does a lot for our community,” said Falk.

“We’re having more and more people from the Greater Vancouver area driving out because of our product.”

Falk expects that traffic to increase in the next couple years when the farm intends to have a fully operating, proper store front on the property to sell from.

Doug Lowe, of Greendale Herb and Vine, made his connections with Vancouver restaurateurs through farmers’ markets.

Last year, Lowe started growing San Marzano tomatoes, considered to be the best paste tomato, for an authentic Italian pizzeria in Vancouver, at the request of a chef he met at the New Westminster Farmers’ Market.

Another chef opening a restaurant in West Vancouver has also expressed interest in Lowe’s tomatoes and herbs.

“I’ve made connections with restaurants through the farmers’ markets; they tell me what they need and I grow it,” said Lowe.

At Sartori Cedar Ranch in the Columbia Valley, Christian Sartori has brought Chilliwack back to another part of its agricultural roots with his hops crops.

For seven years, Sartori has been harvesting beer hops, something that used to be a key agricultural commodity in Chilliwack, but that had pretty much died out in the 1990s.

Sartori’s hops have attracted the attention of brewmasters and beer enthusiasts from across the country, including his main customer, Molson Breweries, which features Sartori in a video on its website that talks about “a hops renaissance in Canada.”

It’s not just the big breweries that are noticing. With the recent proliferation of smaller, craft breweries, the need to secure a reliable source of hops has grown – many of who are going to Sartori Cedar Ranch.

One craft brewer – Driftwood Brewery – produces a wet-hopped “Sartori Harvest IPA” that one blogger calls, “easily the most anticipated beer in B.C.”

Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO) couldn’t be more pleased with the proliferation of niche farming in Chilliwack. They’re further seeding the Chilliwack brand, said Dyck.

“We’re becoming known as a place where people know how to farm properly, how to make a quality product. As farmers, that’s what we all strive for.”