Whether it’s food, wine or coffee, ‘certified organics’ have a huge following in the Okanagan, showing that you can hold true to your principles while still being commercially viable. There are many examples of organic farms and vineyards in the Okanagan. Taking a few minutes to speak with the people involved gives you a feel for how the process affects the product and where the industry is heading.
Sipping on a Gewurztraminer that tastes like summer in a glass with Ezra Cipes of Summerhill, one of Canada’s best-known organic wineries, we discussed the rise in popularity of organic wines. “For a long time now, organic wine has been the fastest growing segment internationally,” he says. “Wine has always been marketed as a natural product, but the truth is that we don’t have to put an ingredient list on the back of it; there are lots of other adjuncts that get added (to some wines). Our wines have lower sulphites, no additives; just grapes, yeast and very small amounts of SO2. They are vegan and refined with benzonite rather than animal products.”
Summerhill’s commitment runs deeper than simply creating a good vintage though. “It’s not just about wine; it’s about farm-to-table agricultural product. The food in the restaurant is organic and that takes some work. We have an organic hamburger on the menu and we have to buy cows a year in advance to ensure we can keep that there.” Ezra stresses the importance of looking at the land as an ecosystem, nurturing it and nurturing biodiversity in order to be a true citizen and steward of the earth and work in harmony with it. In the end, it is worth it. “Making wine organically is making authentic, true wine. There is a deeper beauty and experience that shows up in the glass.”
Now that you’ve picked out the perfect wine: how about dinner? If you want to have organic locally grown veggies delivered right to your door, Jordan Marr of Homestead Organic Farms in Peachland can help you out. Jordan and his partner Vanessa are going into their 4th season of farming on land that has been certified organic for the last 25 years. They grow a wide variety of culinary vegetables for their home delivery subscription; usually 25-40 different varieties are available from late May to late October to homes from Westbank to Penticton.
“One challenge with organic growers is that we still need to amend our soil to improve nutrient density and it can be very confusing,” says Jordan. “We need a well-kept and updated database; it can be really confusing and challenging to make sure that everything I purchase to use on the farm is permitted as there are always new products coming out. It can be a real headache… But it is getting better. (Some suppliers) here in the valley are getting better about having a list you can work from.”
“I’m really proud to embrace the organic farming community; to have the health of the soil be a primary objective and not just the bottom line.” That being said, Jordan humbly adds a cautionary note, “It’s dangerous when any followers of a certain doctrine become too proud of themselves as it can make them close-minded. I think there are plenty of other farmers who care a lot about soil health.”
After dinner, a good cup of coffee and a sweet treat might be exactly what you’re looking for. The Lake Country Coffee House opened in January 2010. The original owners run an organic farm and used those ethics and ideals to set the menu, but by the end of the first year realized they couldn’t run both farm and coffee house successfully, so sold it to family members to keep the dream alive. Carol and Sean Sproule are now in their fourth year of business. “It’s just getting busier and busier all the time,” says Carol. “More and more people care about what they eat and are embracing a farm-to-table philosophy.” Carol notes that as the big box players like Costco and Superstore are carrying more in the way of organics, they have made it more ecomnomically viable for the little guys to do the same. LCCH uses coffee from Cherryhill – a local organic company – and teas from MOTEAS, which is also local to the Okanagan. 99% of the meat used in the shop is free-range, grass-fed, and effort is made to use locally grown organic veggies in season. She estimates that 75-80% of their ingredients are organic. They have plenty of gluten-free and vegan dessert options and often print ingredient lists for customers to check over. “We know the people who make our food. For example, our dairy and cheese comes from Jerseyland and is delivered on Fridays… The cheesecake is made by a family in Lake Country where the wife and daughter are celiac, so it’s a gluten-free kitchen and they are building a great business. Even five years ago there would have been more challenges, but now everyone is getting on board.”
LCCH take-out containers are designed to breakdown completely in 45-60 days and for the past three years a local gentleman has shown up regularly to pick up all the coffee grounds and eggshells for compost, thus completing the cycle.
In speaking with these three people in very different fields; a winemaker, a farmer, a coffeehouse owner; certain themes emerge. The idea of giving back to the land – that it is something that requires our care – and the idea of giving back to a community that supports them. All three seem to be enthusiastic about the future of the organic scene in the Okanagan and appreciative of their customers who are willing to pay a little more or take a little more time to look into what is best for their bodies and their planet.