(Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in the April 1, 2010, edition of the Creston Valley Advance.)
Charleen Rast laid to rest any doubts that anyone might have had about her commitment to farming 20 years ago. She started growing and selling cucumbers to help pay for her agricultural education at the University of Saskatchewan.
Today, Rast, her husband, Larry, and their three children live and work on their 200-acre farm in West Creston, at 973 Reclamation Road. She grows vegetables, makes pickles and has a small chicken egg operation, while Larry raises Simmental cattle for breed stock and beef.
“A few years ago I realized that value-added products are the way to go in farming,” she said last week. “You can earn more and have more of a year-round income.”
In 2008, Rast, who was raised on a West Creston farm, jumped right into the value-added business. To her market garden enterprise, she added a pickling business — the Pickle Patch — and also bought chickens to get into egg producing.
The leap into the pickle business wasn’t really a big stretch, she said.
“My grandma had taught me how to pickle, and my mom had, too. They were from generations that taught skills at an early age,” she recalled. “I started pickling cucumbers and kind of branched out from there. Soon I was also pickling asparagus, carrots and so on.”
What Rast doesn’t grow in her farm garden, she buys locally.
“I grow all my own produce other than asparagus and garlic,” she said. “Those I buy locally. I always try to support local growers.”
Today, the Pickle Patch line has 24 different products, including pickled eggs and mustard pickles.
“Our sweet and savoury pickles are a cross between dill and sweet pickle flavours. They are drawing a lot of attention.”
The old standard, dill pickles, remains popular, as are the pickled eggs.
“Stores will only buy large and extra large eggs from us, so I decided to pickle the smalls and mediums,” she laughed.
While Rast had the farming background and education to be a producer, she credits Community Futures for helping her to establish a business plan and get started. Also helpful, she adds, were the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Interior Health Authority, whose standards she must meet in order to sell her food products.
“It’s great to have all of these resources available,” she said.
Rast has been a familiar sight at Creston’s Saturday market for the last two years. Her pickles have become local favourites and they are also sold by food stores in Nelson, Trail and Kimberley, with Cranbrook soon to be added to the list.
It’s a common thread that runs through the farming community that producing food is easier than selling it.
“I’m a farmer. I like to grow the stuff and make the stuff. But marketing is a challenge, and other farmers I’ve talked to say the same thing.”
She admits she’s learned a simple lesson, though.
“If the consumers are happy with the products they will come back,” she said. “The market is out there, but we have a limited supply of goods. We can only grow so much.”
Rast got into the egg business when she learned that a Wynndel producer was closing down. She starts with a new batch of chicks about twice a year, so that production is consistent year-round. About 30 dozen eggs a day are cleaned, candled and graded by hand before being packed into cartons.
The eggs are sold on the farm, in several local stores, as well as Kimberley and Trail.
Rast said she enjoys the fact the pickling and egg businesses are interconnected. The chicken manure fertilizes the gardens, which produce the vegetables, which become pickles. And, of course, some of the eggs are pickled, too.
A visit to the farm allows consumers to purchase not only pickles and eggs, but beef, as well. While many of the Simmental cattle are sold as breeding stock, some is also butchered and sold in sides, quarters, or by the piece. The cattle are raised and fed on the couple’s farm and about 200 leased acres.
With three boys under 10 years of age, Charleen and Larry Rast are part of a declining breed of parents who both work full-time on the family farm. The boys help out “where they can,” she said.
Four-year-old Troy, who likes to hang out in the egg shed, where he can supervise the cleaning, clearly enjoys his life.
“He’s our chicken catcher,” Rast said. “He’s built close to the ground, just like the chickens.”
For more information about the Pickle Patch, contact Charleen or Larry Rast at 250-428-8980 or firstname.lastname@example.org.