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
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,
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 of grape.
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 (COABC).
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
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.
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 fruit”.
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.
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
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
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 sterile individuals.
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
Fruit Shuttle farm
Keremeos, British Columbia
Operation: Organic orchard and vegetable
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.
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 is effective.
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 farms.
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
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 “Overwhelming.”