Fruit Forest Farms was my first ever “site visit” with Cow-op. I went along with my co-worker Laura, who is our Community Facilitator.
Fruit Forest Farms is a market garden and mixed Orchard (specializing in apples) located in Cobble Hill. When we approached the address, we turned and started up a hilly driveway to a gorgeous Mexican style home. You would never guess we were visiting an Orchard…. Well, except for the sign on the left side of the driveway saying Fruit Forest Farms 😊
Upon our arrival, we met Danielle, who is the owner-operator. Danielle is a biologist, who previously worked with Parks Canada. She helped do species restoration projects in the parks. When the federal government cut almost 70% of the biologists across Canada, Danielle decided to move the family from Tofino to the Cowichan Valley.
As we started walking towards the back of the house, I realized how many questions I had to ask Danielle. I was a bit shocked by all the fruit I saw, and it was fruit I have only seen in stores, not grown on trees! There, right in front of me, were lemons and limes. Further down, oranges… and the coolest thing? I saw kiwis! I had NO idea you could grow any of these fruits on Vancouver Island.
After seeing the fruit she was growing at the back of the house, we started towards the apple trees. We walked by her ducks, and I noticed she had chickens. She names her chickens after NFL players… I was disappointed not to find Tom Brady! Ha!
The apple orchard portion of the property has nearly a dozen rows of apples. Each row is 150 feet and rows are set ten feet apart. Most of the apple trees never came from a seed, they were cloned. That means their trees take an average of three years to start producing compared to the usual seven years.
In September, you can usually find apples, pears, plums, almonds, walnuts, and quince (I had to look this one up. It is part of the apple family. It is fuzzy and looks like a big pear.)
This year has been quite challenging for farmers, and Fruit Forest Farms is no different. This year, thanks to the cool spring, they only were able to produce twenty-four varieties of apples, instead of their usual thirty-seven. They have had no cherries, and almost no peaches or plums. Their blueberries were late this year, too. Figs were also a week behind.
When it comes to selling, Danielle says she is grateful for Cow-op. The Online Farmers Market is perfect for her business. Considering the time and money she would have had to spend designing her own website and keeping up with sales, customer service inquiries, and accounting, she says it is a no brainer. “I NEED the Cow-op. It is essential.” She says she makes Cow-op her priority when her produce is ready to sell. She changed her U-Pick hours to reflect that.
Danielle offers U-Pick from Thursday to Saturday 10am-2pm. U-Pick prices are the same as if you called and placed an order. About 30% of Fruit Forest Farms’ business comes from their U-Pick. The advantage of doing U-Pick, she says, is you can try the apples before you decide what you are going to pick. There are so many varieties, you want to make sure you pick the right apples for whatever you are making. For example, if you wanted to make Apple Cider, the Liberty apple would be the best since it is high in sugar. Baking a pie? Sweet sixteen, Winter Banana, or Freedom apples are the ones you want, however, if you are from the UK, you may want the Bramley apples for your pies, like the two women who drive from Victoria just for that particular variety!