Keremeos, British Columbia. Posted May 11, 2004.
The fruit stand was probably the 50th I had passed in the
last hour, but it caught my eye because it said “Organic
Cherries.” Cherries are supposed to be pretty much impossible
to grow organically in BC. Besides, the huge, hilarious sign
depicting a space shuttle craft, full of “organic”
fruit, was irresistible. So I stopped.
This is very near the southern part of the Okanagan Valley,
BC’s fruit growing and wine-producing region. Keremeos
sits in its own little valley, the Similkameen. Nestled between
rocky peaks and ridges, the Similkameen Valley is the “organic
capital” of BC, if not Canada – some 50% of farms
here are certified organic, according to local organic farmers.
The proprietors of the fruit stand, called the Fruit Shuttle,
are a young couple in their early thirties, Doug and Michelle
Nimchuk. The Fruit Shuttle store is certified organic, and as
it turns out, is supplied nearly completely by their own production
from the fields behind the store.
The Fruit Shuttle is a family operation. Doug’s parents,
Jerry and Kathy, help in the production. The four of them
bought the ten acre Fruit Shuttle farm and fruit stand just
this past year, early 2003.
The previous owner, Paul Meikle had bought the farm in 1980,
farming conventionally. He built the Fruit Shuttle store in
1983, went organic in 1990, and last year sold the property
to the Nimchucks.
Doug, who is from Vancouver, BC, got his start in organic
farming in 1998 with the Canadian branch of World-Wide Opportunities
in Organic Farming (WWOOF, also known as Willing Workers in
Organic Farming). In the WWOOF program, volunteer workers,
usually from overseas, are placed with organic farmers. Doug
did a season on an organic farm in nearby Osoyoos. Later he
leased a one acre orchard and began transitioning it to organic
for a couple of years. He also managed a vineyard. Doug and
Michelle were married in 1997 and have two small children.
39 varieties of fruit, 23 varieties of
veggies, all on 10 acres
The Fruit Shuttle farm, directly behind the fruit stand,
produces about every marketable fruit and vegetable that can
grow in southern BC – six varieties of peach, two of
nectarine, four of apricot, four of cherry, seven of plum,
eight of apple, one variety of pear, a dozen varieties of
pepper, four of tomato, two of garlic, two of eggplant, three
of sweet corn, ten of squash, five of melon, and two varieties
Nearly all of the Fruit Shuttle farm production is sold right
there at the fruit stand – now that’s small scale
vertical integration! The key is the Nimchucks’ location.
The business adage – “location, location, location”
was never more appropriate than here. The Fruit Shuttle is
located on a trans-BC highway (#3) that is not a freeway –
it’s a two-lane highway, from which cars can easily
pull over when they see something they like, like “organic
Interestingly though, most of the Fruit Shuttle’s business
comes from repeat customers who regularly drive the route
from Vancouver to the Kootenay region in central and eastern
BC. The Similkameen Valley is half-way.
Certification in Canada: Change is in the wind
The Fruit Shuttle is certified organic by Living
Earth of Oliver, BC. Living Earth is one of some
15 regionally-based organic certification bodies
in BC, and which make up the umbrella organization,
Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia
Canada does not yet have a national organic standard,
as the EU and U.S. now do. Until now the Canadian
organic “community” or “industry”
(depending on your view of organic food) has been
using the voluntary Canada Organic Standard that
organizations like COABC helped define and help
to implement, using their own certification guidelines.
Canada’s ministry of agriculture, Agriculture
and Agri-Foods Canada, began the process of setting
up public meetings for drafting the Canadian organic
program earlier this year. (EDITOR'S NOTE: The
Canadian Standards will be up for a vote by the
Standard Committee in early June, when the two
appendices (Guidance Document and Permitted Substances
List) will be sent for comment.) Experts say that
implementing a national organic standard will
facilitate international trade.
Like the U.S. process was, this one is likely
to be contentious, although Canadians tend to
be much more polite in these matters than Americans.
The southern Okanagan is a picturesque area and gets lots
of tourist traffic during the summer months, which is the
other significant customer base for the Fruit Shuttle. Travelers
crossing Canada, like I was, can take this route through BC
and still easily hook up with the Trans-Canada highway in
Alberta or end up in Vancouver.
As I talk with Michelle, several cars of people who appear
to be tourists stop in and buy fruit. Michelle, baby in hand,
works the cash register and chats. When she needs to attend
to the kids, Kathy or Jerry will step in and work the register.
According to Doug, having his parents there to help them is
a huge boost. “Of course there are always family conflicts
and stuff, but without them, I don’t think we’d
be able to do it.”
While the Fruit Shuttle location is great, it has its challenges.
It is one of scores of fruit stands on Highway 3, although
heading east, it is one of the first. Most of the fruit stands
cluster around Osoyoos, 50 km to the east. The other challenge
is that this is an area that goes into full-on freezing winters
– so for seven months of the year they shut down the
store. The selling season runs from July 1 through October.
The many challenges of pest management
The challenges of growing so many different fruits and vegetables
are many. Powdery mildew hits apples and peaches, peach twig
borer hits peaches and apricots, the western cherry fruit
fly (Rhagoletis indifferens) is a serious pest of cherries,
as well as the pear slug (Caliroa cerasi, the larva of a sawfly).
Doug uses Bt (Dipel) for the peach twig borer and lime sulfur
applications for the pear slug.
For powdery mildew on apples he uses a sulfur compound with
the tradename Kumulus. Doug makes a spray for general plant
health from a mixture of seaweed extract and a 2% solution
of a natural soap made from horsetail and (Equisetum), called
Heavenly Horsetail (available at www.organichealth.com).
The horsetail strategy is notable because silica, which horsetail
has in significant amounts, has been shown to be an inducer
of systemic resistance (to disease and insect attack) in plants.
Research needs to be done on this.
Paul Meikle, the former owner of Fruit Shuttle, used to reject a third of his
apple crop due to coddling moth. But no more – the coddling
moth problem has been reduced virtually to zero with the highly
successful provincial government-run Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile
Insect Release program (www.oksir.org).
A model for regional pest control strategy, the program raises,
irradiates (sterilizes), and releases moths throughout BC’s
apple growing region. The number of sterile moths is high
enough that most mating of non-sterile wild moths occurs with
The black cherry aphid is generally controlled adequately
via the buildup of natural enemies. Aphidoletes aphidimyza,
a midge-type of fly (Diptera:Cecidomyiidae) whose larvae are
predators of aphids, is the main natural enemy.
The Similkemeen Valley is ideally suited for growing fruit,
at least for Canada. The Similkameen’s wind is a big
plus. It keeps things dry and increases the number of days
between frosts, compared to neighboring fruit growing areas.
Brown rot (stone fruits) and scab (apples, pears) are less
of a problem.
Special strategies for a special problem:
the western cherry fruit fly
The western cherry fruit fly (WCFF) has made it near impossible
to grow cherries organically in BC. The WCFF is native to
the northwest and is found on native cherry species. After
pupating in the soil, they emerge toward the end of the season
and fly to the nearest cherry tree, and after 5-10 days of
feeding and mating they lay eggs underneath the cherry surface.
The larvae take about 25-30 days to emerge, which by this
time is often after harvest.
It turns out there is really no secret to growing organic
cherries without WCFF problems at the Fruit Shuttle farm.
According to Meikle, the Fruit Shuttle cherry acreage is small
(1 1/3 acres) and the farm (and valley) is isolated from major
cherry growing areas. If there were lots of cherry orchards
around, it probably would have been impossible to grow them
organically, according to Meikle.
Two strategies against WCFF are important at Fruit Shuttle,
according to both Nimchuk and Meikle. One is to very thoroughly
strip the orchard of cherries at harvest and get all of them
off of the ground, in order to eliminate the WCFF larvae’s
ability to pupate in the soil and over-winter. As long as
no neighbors have cherries left on their trees, this strategy
Fruit Shuttle farm
Keremeos, British Columbia
Operation: Organic orchard and
What is grown: Six varieties
of peach, two of nectarine, four of apricot, four
of cherry, seven of plum, eight of apple, one
variety of pear, a dozen varieties of pepper,
four of tomato, two of garlic, two of eggplant,
three of sweet corn, ten of squash, five of melon,
and two varieties of grape.
On the average, however, according to fruit extension services
in Washington state, on larger farms, about 10,000-20,000
fruit per acre remain in an orchard after harvest, and to
remove them all is not cost-effective. So the sanitation strategy
works only for small farms that are isolated from large cherry
The other WCFF strategy used by Meikle and Nimchuk is the
placement of ammonium carbonate strips in the orchard to attract
the insect and trap it. Ammonium carbonate simulates the odor
of rotting fruit. The attractant strips only work where there
are low levels of the WCFF. It is not practical in orchards
in areas where the WCFF can migrate in from neighboring farms
in large numbers.
The WCFF has no known sexual attractant pheromones. The only
pheromone that females produce is a repellant, believed to
keep other females from laying eggs on a cherry fruit.
In 2003 the biological insecticide spinosad, approved for
use on the WCFF in the U.S., was developed under the trade
name Entrust for organic use and Success for conventional
use. Spinosad is produced from a soil actinomycete Saccharopolyspora
spinosa, and is the first of a new class of natural insecticides
known as naturalytes. Canadian organic farmers are still waiting
for approval of Entrust.
Off-season work never ends, from composting
and pruning to starts and transplants
Although the Fruit Shuttle store closes at the end of October,
the work season never really stops, except for blizzards.
Doug starts pruning and spreading compost in December, as
well as ordering seed.
Manure for composting comes from a nearby conventional turkey
farm, with plenty of carbon in it in the form of sawdust.
Nimchuk is also trying cow manure this year. This year he
bought 72 yards each of turkey and cow manure. After composting
down, and spread over 10 acres, the 140 yards of manure works
out to about 2.5 tons of compost per acre – a standard
application for an organic farm.
Seeding of flats for transplants is started at the end of
February, and in April transplants start going in, and the
money harvest starts June 1.
My own assessment is that the Nimchuks have a pretty good
thing going – they just have to get a few years under
their belts. However, when I asked Doug what his thoughts
were on his and Michelle’s farming endeavor, he replied