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This article was written on 01 Aug 2018, and is filled under Uncategorized.

A visit to Steve & Dan’s Family Farm

Steve & Dan’s Fresh BC Fruit has been a vendor at our market since the very beginning 7 years ago when we were just starting out and no one knew about us. It means a great deal to us that they have stuck with us all these years and that they continue to be our biggest supporters in all that we do. They are an integral part of our market family and so we were thrilled when Market Manager Lydia was invited out to the farm on her recent holiday to the Okanagan.
This is her experience at the farm.

The Souto Family Farm is located just between Osoyoos and Oliver, in beautiful British Columbia. The valley is very dry and arid with mountains rising around you, the perfect place for growing grapes and stone fruits. The farm is right off Highway 97 heading south on the right hand side with a big sign announcing Souto Farms and Steve & Dan’s Fresh BC Fruit. I was met by Steve who was there for one of his bi-monthly trips home to check on the farm and family. Steve and Dan alternate weeks going home to the farm to help out with picking, packaging, and generally check how things are going with the farm. It is a quick trip, only about 48 hours.

It was just before noon when we began walking through the rows of fruit trees. Steve told me how his mom Helena runs the farm and gets up with the sun everyday to pick fruit with the small team of seasonal workers they hire during their busy season. They need to get in about 7-8 hrs of picking before the sun reaches peak heat. It was a steamy 37 degrees celsius on that particular day and they were just finishing up and heading in doors to do some packaging. They have had their hands full with an overload of cherries as of late. The heat of the season has yielded a lot of fruit and much of it is ripening early. The 25 acres of farm with the help of their aunt and uncle’s farm “Fortunato Farms” across the street grows cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, grapes, apples, nectarines, prunes, rainier and sour cherries, quince, damson plums, and pears. They grow their veg in Alberta at a partner farm in Airdrie which grows beets, carrots, fingerling/creamer/warbaa potatoes, zucchini, green beans, wax beans, mini cucumbers, onions red and white, sugar snap pea, english pea, broad pea, and cucumbers!

As we walked the rows of cherries Steve stopped to show us the proper way to harvest them without ruining the tree for next years crop. Many people don’t know that the nodes that the bundles grow from are actually what produces cherries next season so you have to be careful to pick each bundle separately. This means a lot of time gets spent picking cherries. In fact all the fruit from Steve and Dans is hand picked, hand packaged, and hand distributed by the time it makes it to the market tables. So much care and consideration goes into every step of their operation. There is no giant machine or super technology at play at the farm, just a bunch of hard working folks carefully picking and packaging fruit.

Steve got me working in the apricot orchard and had me try on the picking basket that loops over your shoulders to help distribute the weight equally. I only picked a few apricots but I can imagine how heavy the basket becomes when it is full. There is something wonderfully meditative about picking fruit this way. It is simple and takes time and it is easy to fall into a rhythm.

Frankly not even I knew the scope of the farm before arriving. I knew they grew their own fruit but to see the rows of abundance and variety was incredible. The golden plums were just ripening and we got a first taste.

The irrigation system at the farm is also not complex but is a series of sprinklers throughout the farm that must be turned on from various junctions in the ground. Last summer a fire came down the mountain and could have easily destroyed the farm, luckily Helena noticed it in time to turn on all the sprinklers. The burnt remains of trees and shrubs are visible mere steps from the property line.

It’s clear the farm requires resourcefulness and hard work. Both Dan and Alvin are mechanics and they have a garage on site where they repair all their own equipment. This means that much of it is very old and needs extra love. Steve decided to give me a try on the kangaroo picker and though I am a coordinated person the foot pedals were difficult to maneuver. I managed to get myself to the top of the tree line and the views were spectacular.

Once we made it inside I noticed Helena processing the fruit for shipment. It isn’t some elaborate assembly line but rather just her sorting fruit into crates and weighing them out. There is very little fruit that goes to waste and the fruit that is discarded goes into compost and back out into the fields and nutrients for next years crop.

It amazes me the amount that gets done by such few hands and the Souto family is at the centre of it. Alvin and Helena moved from Portugal to Canada 35 years ago and have been farming every since. Two other Souto’s run fruit from the farm as well. Chris and Melissa have Souto Farms that are at markets in Calgary, and their father Alvin goes to Red Deer. The whole family has committed to providing Albert with the very best fruit that BC has to offer.

We are so thankful to Steve, Dan, and the whole Souto family for doing what they do. And when you get your fruit from them next market day you can know exactly where the fruit came from and the hands that works to get it there.

 

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