From the growing success of agri-tourism, to the technical sophistication of a modern dairy farm, this year’s Chilliwack Agriculture Tour on Friday highlighted the diversity of the local agriculture sector.
The annual event, now in its 11th year, is organized by the Chilliwack Agricultural Commission and Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation. “We try to get as wide a variety of producers as possible,” said Ag Commission chair Walter Dyck.
The commission’s role, said Dyck, is to not only encourage excellence in the industry, but also educate the public on its importance to the local economy.
Agriculture accounts for 29 per cent of Chilliwack’s economic activity, he said. And that does not include contributions made by related businesses like feed, fertilizer and farm equipment.
This year, the two tour buses took their 80 passengers to four different operations in Chilliwack. The group included members of the business community, education professionals, politicians and a substantial number of students.
Observed Chilliwack city councillor Jason Lum: “Every time I come on this tour there are more and more young people.”
Education has become a big component of agriculture, agreed Mark Evered, president of the University of the Fraser Valley. He said UFV is committed to ensuring young people have the tools to succeed in an increasingly complex industry. For example, UFV allows students to merge diploma programs, enabling them to graduate with a four-year bachelor degree in agriculture business.
First stop on the tour was an operation that has successfully melded education, agriculture and business. Opened 14 years ago, The Chilliwack Corn Maze, owned by John and Diane Bruinsma, and Lloyd and Wendy Taekema, continues to entertain and educate thousands of visitors from throughout the Lower Mainland every year. The aim is not only to have fun, but also inform guests on the work farmers do.
In addition to the actual corn maze, which is carved into a shape representing the year’s charity of choice (this year it’s the Canucks Autism Network), there are other displays and activities that help the public gain an appreciation for where their food comes from.
Food production was certainly the theme at the next stop on the tour, Eggstraordinary Poultry. The state-of-the-art facility – owned by Art and Joan Friesen and run by daughters Melanie and Leanne – produces more than 12.7 million eggs a year and can hold 36,000 laying hens. Highly automated systems deliver 3.5 tonnes of feed to the birds each day, transport eggs for sorting and packaging, and whisk away manure on conveyer belts where it’s stored, dried and held for future use as fertilizer.
Greendale Herb and Vine offered food production on a more personal scale. The four-acre farm, operated by retired school teacher Doug Lowe and his wife, Katy, raises a variety of produce, including tomatoes (grown from seed), peppers, herbs and garlic. A strong advocate of the Farmers’ Market movement in the province, Lowe and his farm are regular stops on the Circle Farm Tour and the Slow Food Cycle. “I love that connection with the people who consume our food,” he says.
The final stop on the tour offered participants a peek inside one of the newest additions to Chilliwack’s agriculture landscape. Kloot Farms, owned by Alfred Kloot and his wife, Rita, recently constructed a dairy barn that features the latest advances in milk production and animal care. The centre piece is a 50-stall DeLaval rotary milk carousel that can milk the Kloot’s 300 head in just 90 minutes. The automated system also tracks each cow’s data and monitors its health before the animals are returned to the main barn. The cows are milked three times a day, generating 18,000 litres of milk daily.
It total the Kloot Farm has 600 head of dairy cattle, which are fed forage grown on the farm’s surrounding 300 acres of corn and grass.