Harker’s Organics in Cawston paid tribute to the Similkameen’s 102-year-old apple tree at its annual farm-to-table five-course meal last October on the property where it stands.
“It’s kind of neat to sit beneath the tree where all the food that is harvested,” said co-owner Sarah Harker.
That famous apple tree has been around almost as long Harker’s Organics, which has been in the Similkameen Valley since 1888. For five generations, the family-owned business has been making the community well-known as the organic heart of the Similkameen Valley.
The current owners and operators, Sarah and Troy Harker, took over the business in April 2016.
Sarah Harker, who has been the winemaker since 2005, said the key to its long term success comes from not putting all their eggs in one basket.
Last spring, when the worst wildfire season in B.C. history resulted in a decline in tourists in the Okanagan, Harker said they could rely on one of the business’ recent addition, the sit-down Barn Door Bistro, to supplement its income.
The patio bistro at the storefront managed to attract enough business from locals to offset the decline, said Harker. It keeps with the company’s dedication to wild, organic and fresh from the farm philosophy.
The menu has four different sandwiches and the ingredients are rotated based on what is seasonally ready at that time. For example, if the customers order the herbivore sandwich on the menu, it has whatever vegetables are in season at the time.
“We’re not using asparagus year-round. We’re not using tomatoes year-round. We use those products as they come in off the field. The focus is to eat seasonally and showcase that product seasonally and just offer good healthy organic options,” Harker said.
As the fifth generation of farmers, husband-wife team Troy and Sara Harker remain committed to the family’s longstanding values of sustainability.
Harker said the goal is to ensure that organic farming remains sustainable and the business can be passed down to the next generation.
“It means working with customers who are willing to pay more for the product. It means utilizing products that are not saleable in the fresh food market but are perfect for turning into wine or cider or preserve and giving growers a return on those products.”
On its 30 acres, the farm, which also includes the Rustic Roots Winery, produces tree fruits and ground crops, as well as forty different types of heirloom tomatoes, 80 varieties of hot peppers, sweet peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, four varieties of apples, two varieties of pears, five varieties of peaches, nectarines and cherries.
Food security is an important tenant of the business, Harker added.
“If you look in organic orchards in the fall when the apples are being harvested, you won’t see many apples on the ground and the reason for that is, in the organic sector, there is demand for the juice grade fruit or the number two fruit, and so that is consumed. A lot of times growers are actually penalized for the fruit that growers take into the packing house that is not perfect,” she said.
“It’s coming up with different avenues of selling number two fruit,” she explained. The company recently partnered with a yogurt company on Vancouver Island and so it’s just being creative the demand exceeds supply on the number one product, but it’s trying to find a better avenue on the number two fruit to see less food go to waste.”