Dan Oostenbrink and Bill de Rover want to reconnect Chilliwack with its food.
And they’ve got just the land to do it with.
The owners of the Local Harvest Market on Lickman Road have 30 acres of land, 15 of which are currently dedicated to fruit, herb, and vegetable crops, which they then sell in the retail shop at the front of the property.
Everything grown is no spray, no chemical fertilizers, picked fresh every day.
“We grow on site, we sell on site,” said Oostenbrink, a former school principal at Mt. Cheam Christian school.
Oostenbrink and de Rover, along with their wives Helen and Teresa respectively, opened Local Harvest Market last month and aside from home gardens and a love of local, fresh food, none have a farming background. But they saw a gap in the Chilliwack community needing to be filled:
“We want to show people where their food is coming from,” said Oostenbrink. “Every customer that comes here will know everything about the food they’re buying, how it’s grown, the varieties available, and the benefits of that particular food – we want to connect people with their food.”
However, they know they face an uphill battle.
For decades, the shopping mentality of most consumers has been based on price. When cucumbers are sold for 10 cents cheaper at the supermarket, it’s expected they be sold for the same everywhere else, regardless of the quality, freshness, time or effort it took to produce.
“It’s going to take a lot of re-educating of our consumers,” said Oostenbrink.
Educational workshops are being held on site; farm tours are encouraged; and the market is going to be partnering with schools to get the younger generation on board in hopes their excitement for fresh, locally grown food will filter down to their parents.
“We want to educate the consumer on things that farms like us can do,” said Oostenbrink.
While supermarkets bring most of their fruits and vegetables in from around the world, Local Harvest Market is getting theirs from not even 20 steps away. It’s never been frozen. It’s picked fresh every day. It’s been handled by just one set of hands. The nutritional value, compared to that coming in from the United States, South America or elsewhere, is through the roof.
“We can eat good, quality, ultra fresh, local food year round,” said Oostenbrink.
The market will sell product based on seasonal selections. At any given time of the year you could find squashes, greens, peppers, root vegetables, raspberries, or other fare, like Japanese greens or kabocha squash, that’s not so commonly recognized.
And if something isn’t stacked on the shelves, it might still be found in the fields.
That’s what happened to one customer recently who was disappointed the market’s shelves were clear of kale. When Oostenbrink heard that, he ran out to the fields and brought back an armful of freshly picked kale.
“She had goosebumps with how fresh it was,” he said. “That’s what we can do.”
de Rover is sure all it will take is one bite to be hooked.
“I’m constantly eating all day,” he said, chomping down on a radish he had just pulled from the soil and wiped clean with a polish on his jeans.
“It’s like a big home garden.”
Because this year was the market’s inaugural year, it will only be opened as long as there is product available. But when they reopen next spring, there will be a full 30 acres grown and will be open year round.
For more information, visit the website www.thelocalharvest.ca.