Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Klippers Organic Acres
Kevin and Annamarie Klippenstein, co-owners
Photography - HIRO
Interview - MINA
“Food is both nourishment and a journey of taste.In our society, there's often this habit of ‘eat to eat,’ but I believe in ‘eat to taste’”
-Klippers Organic Acres
If you've ever visited Vancouver's Trout Lake Farmers Market, chances are you've seen the bustling Klippers Organic Acres stand. Laden with a colorful array of freshly picked fruits and veggies, dried fruits, homemade jams and pickles, artisanal bread, and even apple cider, this stand is a highlight of the market, attracting a lively crowd. Every Saturday during the summer, Kevin and Annamarie, a husband-and-wife team behind Klipper’s Organics, devote their time to traveling long hours from Cawston, Canada's organic capital, leaving a night before to grace the Trout Lake Farmers Market.
Once high school friends from Chilliwack, the duo started Klipper’s Organic Acres in Cawston over 22 years ago. With Kevin's early interest in the restaurant industry and Annamarie's organic farming heritage from the pioneering Forstbauer family in British Columbia, they formed an organic powerhouse. Even before "organic" became a buzzword, they were charting a course in organic and biodynamic farming.
Fast forward, and their original 5-acre plot in Cawston has blossomed into 60 acres. Their venture goes beyond organic farming; it offers a farm-stay experience, a restaurant exclusively showcasing homegrown produce, a café dishing up freshly baked goodies, and a direct-to-market retail outlet. Klipper’s Organics not only reshaped farming but also has given a solid answer to that lingering question: "Where does our food come from?"
In the picturesque Similkameen Valley, surrounded by mountains and a meandering river, their farm stands like an oasis. Amid neighboring farms and wineries, they cultivate a unique abundance. Their no-spray policy and working with nature result in veggies and fruits that carry the essence of their origins in their taste.
And by the way, the flavor of melons from Klippers' market stand was more robust and intense than melons from anywhere else in the Okanagan. Once you've experienced that flavor, there's no going back. Klipper’s Organics is all about giving you that genuine taste of real food. We've delved into the life journey of a couple who have chosen to live hand in hand with the essence of organics.
VOICE(V): How did the paths of you two cross, ultimately leading to the creation of Klipper’s Organics?
Kevin(K): I grew up in Sardis, Chilliwack, and my early career was in the hospitality business. I started by washing dishes and eventually became a kitchen supervisor and a full-time manager at a local restaurant in Chilliwack during my senior year. After high school, I pursued night courses for a business degree at the University of Fraser Valley. When the opportunity arose to open a new restaurant concept focused on fresh food, I moved to Red Deer, Alberta for a year to launch this new venture. Returning to BC, I joined fine dining at the Best Western Hotel Chilliwack, gradually becoming the food and beverage manager and then assistant general manager. Around the same time, I reconnected with Annamarie, who had just returned from her job in Vancouver and was helping her parents with farmers' markets in White Rock. I would free up Sundays to spend time with her at the markets. During our time together, we discussed the idea of starting our own business in the food production side and owning a farm.
One pivotal moment came when a customer mentioned that her mother was selling a 5-acre property in Cawston. This property included 4 acres of fruit trees – peaches, apples, apricots, and nectarines, and a greenhouse. It sounded like a dream, and we decided to visit the property on a Thanksgiving Monday in 2001. Standing on that land, we instantly felt a connection and made the decision right away to purchase it. That marked the beginning of our journey towards creating Klipper’s Organics.
Annamarie(A): I was born and raised on an organic farm in Chilliwack. My father's family was from Germany, and our family's traditions have always centered around organic farming. After high school, I studied engineering and worked in a bar and grill in Vancouver. However, life came full circle, leading me back to my parent's farm after my marriage and subsequent divorce. During this period, my path reconnected with Kevin. I was eager for my children to reconnect with the land, and see where the food comes from. And so, what initially began as a 5-acre farming venture 22 years ago has since evolved into the best of everything. Farming has ceased to be merely a profession; it has become our lifestyle. It is a lot of work, but when you do what you love, it is like you’re living a dream.
V: What was Cawston like when you first moved in 2001?
A: When we initially settled here, Cawston had only two wineries. There were Crowsnest Vineyards, and Orofino Vineyards, owned by John and Virginia Weber, who joined the scene around the same time we did in 2001. As we gradually expanded, we began acquiring land from elderly neighbors who could no longer manage their farms. This transformative process saw our land holdings grow from a modest 5-acres to an expansive 60 acres.
Starting a farm in our twenties, most of the fellow farmers we encountered were in their sixties. Even when we first arrived in Cawston, our decision raised eyebrows with bemusement and curiosity from the existing farmers. Their perspective was rooted in encouraging their children to pursue higher education and careers beyond farming.
K: Back then, people thought we were crazy starting a farm. Many farmers sold their produce to packing houses and didn't interact with the public. It wasn't a gratifying job from that perspective.
Right from the beginning, we had a different approach. We wanted to teach people about food, so we chose to sell at farmers' markets and talk directly to customers. We connect producers and consumers, sharing the story behind organic food, and helping people understand its value.
V: How did Row Fourteen and other ventures take shape?
K: We began by constructing four 1100-square-foot guest suites, offering people from Vancouver a chance to experience life on the farm. Each suite has a full kitchen, yet guests often ask for dining recommendations, sparking the idea of a restaurant. Hosting long table dinners with city chefs and wine pairings from our region further solidified our interest in having a permanent restaurant on-site.
However, our plans hit a hurdle when we discovered that the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) prohibited an on-site restaurant unless we produced and sold alcohol. This unexpected twist led us to establish a farm cidery with Untangled Craft Cider, crafted from organic apples on our farm. Row Fourteen, our farm-to-table restaurant, was opened at the same time in 2019.
A: When we opened the restaurant, people loved the food so much that they asked where to buy the fresh produce. Guests in the suites wanted to know about good coffee and pastries nearby. Plus, we noticed by living here for so long that there was no community gathering place. So, two years ago, we launched the Marketplace and Cafe. Now, it's a community hub where people come to chill, chat, and be part of the scene.
K: Listening to people has always been our guiding principle. Being at the farmers' market has given us a unique advantage – we get to hear what folks say and what they want. Initially, when we started, we weren't necessarily aiming for all these big ventures. But it's the feedback from our customers that sparked the expansion.
Even in farming, we embraced a similar approach. We started growing shishito peppers, a hot pepper variety, when anyone else was doing it. It's all about understanding what folks want and finding ways to deliver.
V: What does organic farming mean to you?
A: My parents were early adopters of organic farming in the 1970s. I have vivid memories from my childhood of sitting around a long table with my mother and a group of people, writing down the standards and principles of organic farming. My mother emerged as a pioneer in the organic industry, a voice, and not only that, she was very involved in the political side of things and defining what it means to be organic in Canada. She later became the founder and president of the Certified Organic Association of BC, president of the BC Association of Farmers Markets, and the advocate for GMO labeling.
K: The term "organic" is now officially regulated throughout the province, meaning you can't use the label unless it's certified. There are pros and cons to this development. On the positive side, it has raised awareness about what organic truly means. However, as organic becomes mainstream, large corporations have entered the scene, often adhering to minimal requirements to earn the organic label. Additionally, different countries have their organic certifications, and these varying standards are now being allowed into the country, which can lead to confusion. People buy from us because of who we are and how we grow it. We follow a more "natural" organic farming philosophy, which means we don't use any sprays, not even organic ones.
A: Anytime you spray something, you disrupt the natural ecosystem on the farm, whether it is organic spray or not. If you can create an ecosystem where everything is working together, that is a lot more symbiotic.
V: Is it hard to be certified organic?
A: Becoming certified organic comes with a bunch of paperwork. It's not just about farming; there's a whole process involved. We go through third-party audits, with two inspections each year – and sometimes, we get surprise visits too. It's all part of the routine for organic food growers. It's our way of proving to consumers that we're not just preaching things but practicing them.
K: Just last week, we had an inspection. The inspector showed up at 9 in the morning and stuck around for 8 hours. It was a thorough process – she looked into our harvest records and checked every invoice in depth. If you are not certified, you might not even know what the rules are. For instance, our inspector joined me to survey all our buffer zones next to our neighbors. If they have ever sprayed, she'd measure out a 25-foot distance from the spray line. If any of our rows fall within that 25 feet, we can't label those as organic.
Speaking of numbers, we pay $3000 a year for certification, given our farm size. But if you're a small operation with minimal sales, you might not even pay, or it could be as low as $300. So when folks say they can't afford certification, it's not necessarily cost-prohibitive. The crazy thing is when people come to the farmers' market, everyone assumes that we are all selling organic. But the reality is different. Nowadays, they have compliance officers patrolling the markets, and if you're not truly organic, you either pay a fine or drop the organic label. Cawston is the organic capital of Canada. That's a good thing. It draws in farmers keen on going organic. We don't have to stress about people using sprays here.
V: How do you see your role in the community?
A: We have this program called 'Farmers Feeding Families.' Our mission is to provide CSA shares to single-parent families in need. Last year, we supported 11 families, and this year, we expanded to help 14 families. But our commitment doesn't stop there. We're constantly running fundraisers to back up this cause throughout the season.
On Women's Day, we rolled out a fundraiser, and every single sale made at our café that day went directly into this program. This year, we've partnered with OneSky Community Resources, an organization that supports preschool children in low-income families. We're not just about talking; we're all about taking risks and being trendsetters. Our mindset is to live your dream, live your best life, and stay true to who you are. We're passing on this mentality to our employees too.
K: I guess we are the leaders and passionate about community building. Annamarie has taught and coached all the kids' sports teams. As for me, I was a volunteer firefighter, past member of the OCP (Official Community Plan), and Chair of the Organic Farming Institute of BC. I was also the Chair of the BC Turkey Marketing Board for the last five years, and currently, I am the Chair of the BC Chicken Marketing Board. We always try to be very involved.
V: Do you see any climate change in your region?
K: I would say we always see some changes. I get calls from the media to talk about the climate change we see here. Yes, we have forest fires, but if you think about wildfires, they are a natural cycle of forest regeneration. We, humans, try to stop it. Farming, on the other hand, brings its own set of challenges. We contend with hail, early freezes, or even lakes freezing over, but these have been part of our reality for the past two decades. You rarely have a perfect year.
V: What are the hardest and most joyful things about being a farmer?
A: For me, one of the hardest parts is feeling misunderstood or undervalued. But, on the flip side, there are those incredible moments when people treat us like celebrities because we're growing their food. So, it is the hardest and most joyful aspect of being a farmer. Also, when we plant tiny seeds at the beginning of the season, maintain and look after them, and produce a bounty of food for people to eat, it is a magical journey. Knowing a carrot once upon a time was a tiny little seed, and being a part of nourishment to people is such a joy.
K: There's an immense joy when I'm at the market, watching people pick out our produce. It's a heartwarming sight. What makes it even more remarkable is that we've formed these generational connections with our customers. Kids who once savored our food have now grown up and are introducing their children to what we offer. It's a beautiful cycle that speaks volumes about the relationships we've nurtured with our community over time. These moments are incredibly fulfilling.
V: What does food mean to you?
K: Nourishment. That is also a good question to ask other people because sometimes they don't care about what goes into their bodies!
A: To me, food is both nourishment and a journey of taste. In our society, there's often this habit of "eat to eat," but I believe in "eat to taste." When you bite into an apple, what do you experience? It's a symphony of flavors. Our Spartan apples, we call them Strawberry Spartans because they carry this incredible strawberry undertone. The Golden Delicious Apple has tropical hints of bananas. See, an apple isn't just an apple; it's a unique flavor adventure that varies from one variety to another. So, we should all embrace the idea of "eat to taste."
V: What advice would you give to young farmers or people who are starting a farm?
A: Seek out a mentor. Look for someone you admire and trust, and absorb all the knowledge they're willing to share.
K: If you're considering farming, buy a piece of land. But don't stop there – research that lands as well. Ensure you've got reliable water and good neighbors. Once you're in, remember that business skills are crucial. Many people come to our farm because they find it romantic to work on a farm. We try to bridge the gap and teach them the realities, and how to make it as farmers. If you grow tons of carrots and can't sell them, you won't be able to make it as a farmer. You have to know a business to be sustainable.