The face of farming is changing in West Kelowna
Jennay Oliver is one of West Kelowna’s most prominent farmers, known for her dedication to the local community, quality produce and maintaining her 105-year-old family-owned farm.
Oliver’s great-grandfather Henry Paynter bought the land that would become Paynter's Fruit Market back in 1919. Close to a century later, Oliver took over the farm with a team of female staff.
“Our farm is like 98% females,” Oliver told iNFOnews.ca. “My dad still kind of tinkers on the farm. But my mother definitely has been a strong inspiration. She has lived on the farm her whole life and it's my mom's side of the family that are the farmers. I think both of my parents have really encouraged me into this role and have been strong role models.”
Oliver said she has witnessed an emerging trend where more and more women are entering what used to be a male-dominated industry.
“Anybody that's in this younger generation (and) getting into farming, a lot of those are female farmers,” Oliver said. “It’s super cool to see that it's becoming more of a trend of people really interested in growing their own food and really interested in getting back to our roots of what we need for survival.”
Oliver is certainly spearheading that trend in West Kelowna, as she and her team manage 50 acres of land and over 100 different crops.
“I've talked to a few of them and I think, because I own the farm, then maybe I attract female farmers,” she said.
However, it can be a tough job, especially with a drastically changing and unpredictable climate.
But for Oliver, that’s what makes farming exciting.
“You never know if you're gonna have a crop or not. So, we're lucky to have such diversification in our crops,” she said. “Half of what we grow is field crops, which we plant in the spring. So, we don't have the risk of losing them over the winter. But yeah, we've certainly felt the effects of having such not consistent weather patterns."
The farm’s fruit trees are particularly temperamental, Oliver explained.
The buds on the trees that will grow into 2024’s peach crop were already forming in the summer of 2023. Oliver must therefore keep that bud alive for 14 months through harsh winter conditions, if she’s to have any crop at all.
So, what’s her secret?
“You just cross your fingers,” she said. “It's all a weather game at that point. You try to make sure you have consistent water and keep the trees healthy… and love them a whole bunch.”
Already the team is constructing a Plan B in case the -25 degree weather that hit the valley last week has ruined the year's peach crop.
“We're already planning like, OK well, we might have a light crop on our tree fruits, nothing if it was really bad and that's the thing, we don't really know,” Oliver said. “So, we're kind of going into it being like, what are the tours we can do? What are the other things we can do going into the spring if we see that there’re no buds pushing in the springtime?”
In the market’s meeting room, there are whiteboards and windows covered in erase marker writing. Lists of hundreds of winter tasks to be completed and equipment to be ordered before the fruit stands can open cover at least two of the walls of the room.
Even in the off-season, farming can be a demanding job. But it’s not just about getting your hands dirty, now marketing and social media play a bigger role than ever.
“It's actually kind of fun because we're always looking on like Pinterest and checking out social media things to be like, what is cool right now? Like, is it cool to still pickle? And it actually is,” Oliver said. “They're wanting to learn how to pickle, pickle carrots, and pickle cucumbers, and get into those homesteading type trends.”
For Oliver, adaptability and the support of the local community are the keys to her farm’s 105-year-long success.
“I love our community so much and feeling that support from our community over the last 20 years has been really cool. I want to make sure that we are supporting our community and the Okanagan as much as I feel that support coming in.”
Paynter's farm offers locals a unique, up-close view on how their produce is grown.
“I always say we kind of have a micro farm compared to the farms across Canada,” Oliver said. “They're in the hundreds of thousands of acres. And so, for us to have such a small farm, but be able to grow food for our community, it's really rewarding to me.
“A lot of customers that are coming in are now asking what was applied to this product or how was this grown or where was this grown? And it's really cool to be able to walk them out into the orchard and into the gardens that are right behind the fruit stand and show them how it's growing and show them that it's kind of just right out back, and the soil is healthy, and we're really reducing the amount of products that we're having to apply.”
Despite the difficult terrain of owning a small business, for Oliver, the pros outweigh the cons.
"It's pretty tricky at this time to have your own small business. It's definitely a challenging time, but rewarding. So yeah, I recommend anybody to be a farmer because I think it's a great lifestyle. I think it's really rewarding and you feel so connected to the land and it's really healthy for your mind and it's healthy for your body and I would recommend it for that.”
The fruit stand will be opening this year on May 1, five weeks earlier than usual.
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