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Why farming in Kelowna is still viable

Orchardist Alan Gatzke holding a spartan apple, taken from a batch fresh out of storage that will be made into pies at his bakery and sold by the slice at his cafe.
May 23, 2013 - 4:47 PM

To call Oyama's Gatzke Orchards a farm doesn't cut it. It's also a fruit market, cafe-bakery, restaurant, a wedding and music venue, and one of the Okanagan's unique tourist attractions. This is what owner Alan Gatzke calls “diversifying” and he says it churns out the profits of a 35-acre farm from just 25 acres.

And this is the business strategy carving out the future for Kelowna's growers, Gatzke says. Where some see a cloudy horizon for the future of farming, Gatzke sees it rife with opportunity.

“With retail and experiences like the bakery, cafe, and the fruit stand, if all those tools are successful it's an awesome way to make a living,” he says. For example, you don't even have to pick your cherries to make money from them, Gatzke says. A farm tour alone delivers a visual experience that tourists are happy to pay for.

While the door might have closed on commodity level production (selling fruit on the global market) other doors are opening in the local markets. This June Gatzke will be recognized with a fellowship from the Okanagan College as one of the region's leaders in 'farm direct marketing.' Gatzke says succesful farming is all about building a strong relationship between the producer and the customer.

“There is opportunity for agriculture in the long run. It's based on local markets and if we build loyalty with our customers then we will succeed," he says.

His dream is to see younger generations hone in on the lucrative partnership between business, retail and agriculture.

“You have to learn about bugs and flowers and marketing and accounting,” he says.

“We need to expose business students to the opportunities in Okanagan agriculture and inspire them to help grow our industry, because it's a business model that will take commodity production to value-added, to service, to experiential,” he says.

So what would that look like?

Gatzke says there's a natural bridge between culinary programs and agriculture in Kelowna. 

“We need to mate the colleges' culinary programs with agriculture,” he says. “There's a migration of some of the best chefs in western Canada coming to the Okanagan because of what we can grow - the top chefs are here.”

Selling to chefs helps cut downs on the financial risk for growers. “The chef is willing to pay," he says, "and they help farmers sell their surplus food.”

“That's a relationship we could strengthen here, and the farm to table is the first step in that direction.”

And if there's anyone with the business sense to make such a forecast - it would be Gatzke. Over the past 30 years his farming has given him the freedom to explore his passion.

After finishing up with staking his summer peas this afternoon he says he'll be on the phone with the City of Kelowna to discuss the opening of a new tourism centre for Lake Country - and where else to build it but right within Gatzke Orchards.

With a cafe and bakery, Gatzke Orchard is as much a destination for dining out and is it for buying fresh produce.
With a cafe and bakery, Gatzke Orchard is as much a destination for dining out and is it for buying fresh produce.

In July a three-day Woodstock themed concert will draw crowds to the orchards. The music stage also hosts live entertainment for weddings.
In July a three-day Woodstock themed concert will draw crowds to the orchards. The music stage also hosts live entertainment for weddings.

Soil is being prepped to plant flowers with natural pest-deterring chemicals to protect vegetables growing in the gardens at Gatzke Orchards.
Soil is being prepped to plant flowers with natural pest-deterring chemicals to protect vegetables growing in the gardens at Gatzke Orchards.

A wood burning oven is used to bake breads and pizzas with vegetables grown in the gardens. Selling fresh dishes at the cafe is just one of ways Gatzke uses retail to boost the income generated by his farm.
A wood burning oven is used to bake breads and pizzas with vegetables grown in the gardens. Selling fresh dishes at the cafe is just one of ways Gatzke uses retail to boost the income generated by his farm.

The 'King' apple growing in the centre of a bud of fruits will make the best product. Other fruits will be pinched off to make room for the King, sparing the tree's sugars for the next grow season.
The 'King' apple growing in the centre of a bud of fruits will make the best product. Other fruits will be pinched off to make room for the King, sparing the tree's sugars for the next grow season.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at jwhittet@infotelnews.ca or call (250)718-0428.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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