Organic farmer Michael Allen of Chilliwack says he gets a thrill out of making a difference in people’s lives with his tasty heirloom produce.
The Allen family farm on Luckakuck Way has grown to become the second largest organic greenhouse operation in Western Canada.
The incredibly sweet taste of their heirloom tomatoes, with an incomprehensible 100 varieties grown over the past eight years, is always the “show-stopper,” says Allen, owner of GBE Chilliwack Heirloom Organic Farm.
When you get right down to it, taste counts for a lot.
They sell out regularly because of the superior taste and a savvy clientele.
“When you believe in a lifestyle, it motivates what you do.
“Simplicity is key,” Allen tells The Progress.
Their philosophy is to treat the soil exceptionally well, building it up in the belief that micronutrients can be absorbed more naturally by the plants. They use natural methods for pest control and fertilization.
Making a difference in people’s lives may even have an edge over making money for him.
Now he’s getting a little help with a low-interest low to purchase more equipment, such as an in-line tiller, courtesy of Whole Foods Market and their Local Producer Loan Program.
“This is a great situation,” the farmer notes.
He was planning to attend a cheque presentation at Whole Foods Market in Vancouver Thursday to celebrate the $60,000 low-interest loan.
They planned to offer samples of their brand-new tomato chips at the same time.
“They have built an incredible business and have cultivated a customer base that loves their product,” says Denise Breyley, Whole Foods Market’s ‘local forager’ in the Pacific Northwest. “It’s thrilling to partner with them on the next chapter of their success story.”
Allen is deeply appreciative of the financing program.
“It’s like Whole Foods is telling us they like the food so much they want to support us and help us grow.”
All of the GBE produce is grown in soil. They have more than 20 acres of outdoor fields, and a three-acre greenhouse at Luckakuck Way and Evans Road.
However, not being able to always supply the voracious demand for GBE’s product line is a bit of a sore spot.
“It’s hard dealing with the financials,” he explains. “If you grow too quickly, you can’t keep up with the growth. It can turn around and bite you.”
If he has a pet peeve, it’s the lack of financial support from the provincial government, which only spends about two per cent of the GDP on agriculture, compared to the Canadian average of 11 per cent.
He points to the high fees, duties and levies farmers have to pay.
“It’s always about getting over the hump. Farming is always, ‘let’s set what happens this year.'”
That’s why it helps being passionate about what they do.
The Allen family has been farming since 2002, and the heirloom operation was certified organic in 2007.
GBE grows everything from heirloom tomatoes, beans, peppers and basil, along with watermelons, kale, corn and blueberries.
Some of the varieties of tomatoes and beans are two-toned, or striped, and they come in a rainbow of colours and shapes since they haven’t been crossbred for uniformity of colour and size.
They even cultivate a heritage Jamaican green known as callaloo, and a commercial volume of organic Chilliwack corn — which is rare.
Through their loan program, Whole Foods Market is providing $25 million in low-interest loans to local growers, producers and food artisans, like GBE.
With the financing, GBE is buying new equipment to improve the farm’s efficiency and to enhance production.
“Ultimately, this loan is an investment in our shared commitment to organic farming practices,” Allen adds.