With not enough traffic past their Erickson Road farm to justify construction of a fruit stand, Cherrybrook Farms owners Caroline and Gord Martin are pleased to have a new Highway 3 location. The couple recently purchased the former Chocolate Orchard property in Erickson.
“We looked at this property 16 years ago when we first moved here,” Caroline said on Monday. “But we didn’t want to raise kids right next to the highway.”
They also looked at the property several years later and now have made the purchase after the buildings sat empty for more than a year.
Cherrybrook Farms has a unique cherry tree leasing system that allows families to pick all the fruit from “their” tree. The Martins plan to use the trees on the new property for the program starting next year.
“It makes sense to us to use this orchard for our farm memberships,” she said. “It has washrooms and the trees are more accessible.”
In purchasing and renovating the buildings, the couple has worked to maintain close ties to the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market and the College of the Rockies. Martin says she and her husband don’t want to have “just another fruit stand” and their goal is provide a year-round outlet for locally produced foods. The new location, she said, will help.
“Last winter we ended up shipping our (greenhouse-grown) lettuce to Calgary because there weren’t enough local buyers,” she said. “That is not what we want to be doing. …
“Our dream is to become a community hub for local producers. Will we be pulling customers away from the farmers’ market? No, we want to support it in any way possible. Not every vendor sells out at the market and they are left wondering what to do with what remains — maybe they will end up bringing it here to sell.”
Martin, who has been active in the farmers’ market and local organizations, says partnering with other growers and groups will be a major focus as Cherrybrook Farms establishes its Highway 3 presence. A commercial kitchen is being established for use by local people who want to make food products, like jams. Discussions are underway with College of the Rockies that could lead to the eventual construction of a new kitchen that would also be used for students in college programs.
“The college is offering lots of courses related to food but it might not be feasible to build a kitchen just for college use,” Martin said. “It might make more sense for them to partner with us.”
Currently available at the newly opened fruit stand are strawberries, saskatoons and field lettuce. Expect to find products from popular local producers like Garden Hoe Farms, the Pickle Patch and Kootenay Alpine Cheese.
“And there are some amazing producers in Nelson who are interested — makers of tofu, dips, organic baked goods.”
The Martins’ focus is on Creston Valley food, but exceptions will be made when they make sense for the new location.
“We knew we wanted to sell ice cream here but of course there is none produced locally,” she said. “But we did manage to get in Island Farms ice cream, which is made in B.C.”
The major exception is candy.
“Visitors are used to finding candy at this location and I’ve missed my Dutch candy since Hoeve’s store closed, so we are bringing in things that can’t easily be found locally,” Martin said.
Partnering again enters the picture. When she learned that the Creston Museum wanted to carry old-fashioned candies but couldn’t order in sufficient quantities, Martin stepped in and offered to share orders.
“We are taking it slow, learning what the community response is to the market,” she said. “We would like to eventually be open year-round. Is that a dream or reality? We don’t know yet. We are going to start slowly and build the business up the right way, with as many Creston Valley products as possible.”
Meanwhile, with a new storefront and acres of fruit trees in addition to their Erickson farm, the owners of Cherrybrook Farms are taking pleasure from the higher visibility the Highway 3 location offers.
“We’ve sold more dried cherries here than we’ve ever sold before,” she smiled.