For the family who owns Blue Canoe Orchards, this summer marked the first of many busy growing seasons to come.
After six years in Fernie, Trent Mason and his wife Emily Chambers made the move to the Creston Valley in 2020 to fulfill their dream of owning an orchard.
“We loved the idea of having our own land, growing our own food, and sharing it. It just seemed like a wonderful way to raise our family and make a living,” said Mason, a realtor and owner of the East Kootenay branch of 2% Realty.
The couple packed and move their children to Creston with the aim of expanding their brokerage across the Kootenays.
They set their sights on a property for sale with 775 mature lapin cherry trees on 2.5 acres of orchard.
“Cherries just happened to be on the property that we fell in love with,” said Mason, admitting that they knew nothing about how to run an orchard before purchasing one. “Every single step of the way has been nerve-wracking and exciting. It’s been all about learning as we go.”
Similar to many other farmers and producers across the Kootenay region, Blue Canoe was hit hard by the summer heatwave. The cherries were damaged by the high temperatures, causing a reduced shelf life.
“We definitely lost approximately half of our crop,” said Mason. “Since the cherries didn’t stay fresh as long, everything we picked had to be cooled right away and sold within two to three days.”
He maintains an optimistic outlook and is thankful that the size of their orchard is manageable enough to pay special attention to all of their trees.
“In this business, these kinds of extremes are going to be our new normal,” said Mason. “We expected many unpredictable extremes in today’s world, so we’ve learned to think on our feet and make things happen anyway.”
At Blue Canoe, one of their mandates is to focus on local sales as much as possible. When the couple found out that most orchard operations in the area ship and sell their cherries overseas, they were shocked.
“We couldn’t believe how much fruit seemed to go to waste as some of it would get culled when it wasn’t the right size to be sent overseas or when there were some small imperfections in it,” said Chambers, who is in charge of overseeing the orchard’s operations. “I love handing boxes of cherries to people, seeing how excited they are, and hearing how much they enjoy them.”
On their list of priorities, Mason and Chambers also stress the importance of giving back to the community.
During the summer months, nearly 5,000 pounds of cherries from Blue Canoe were donated to a number of food bank and food share programs throughout the Kootenays. Different non-profits, such as the Creston Valley Food Action Coalition, came by the orchard to pick the fruit themselves.
“I was told that their clients were super excited to get fresh fruit right off the tree because it’s not something that’s typically available at local food banks,” said Mason. “We are excited to ensure that everyone has the chance to enjoy these amazing cherries.”
For those curious about what a day in the life of a cherry picker is like, they also offered families the option to rent their own tree and get their hands dirty.
“We really tried to create a really unique experience,” said Mason. “About 20 families were able to come out for an afternoon and enjoy the fruits right off the tree. People loved being able to climb up and see how many cherries were on the branches and have a picnic right out in the orchard.”
For next year, their plans are just to improve on what they’ve already accomplished.
“It was just so learn by fire,” said Mason. “But everybody enjoyed our fruit and has said they’re coming back next year. We just absolutely love the Creston area and all it has to offer. We can’t wait to hopefully bring more people to the area because we love it here so much.”
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