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Abbotsford Agriculture Adventure

by Cate Pedersen, Editor

Field Trip!!

YES! I got to attend my second ag bus tour and had such a fantastic time!

The 2016 Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Bus Tour was quite a learning experience again and revealed the work of brilliant entrepreneurs, visionary minds and agriculture revolutionaries. The weather could not have been more perfect. That early summer warmth with a cool breeze—you could smell the dust in the air, hinting of hot days to come.

On July 17, around one hundred of us (business representatives, council members, media sorts and people passionate about food and agriculture) boarded coaches to visit four pioneers in the ag industry:

  1. ACI: Food Processing Division
  2. Artisan SakeMaker
  3. BC Hop Co.
  4. Petkov Kiwi Production


Pete Scales of ACI describes the benefits of hemp oil. (what a jaunty hat, Pete!)
Pete Scales of ACI describes the benefits of hemp oil. (what a jaunty hat, Pete!)

Our first stop was a surprise—not a field or farm, but an industrial park on Wheel Avenue. Pete Scales of ACI (Absorbent Concepts Inc.): Food Processing Division proudly shared his one-of-a-kind organic hemp seed processing plant—the only one in North America.

Pete’s diverse career has included natural resource protection, biological and environmental consultation, project management, and fiction writing . . . quite the serial entrepreneur!

Pete’s LinkedIn profile describes ACI’s facility features: seed cleaning, sizing, de-hulling, fibre collection, cold press oil extraction and filtering plus production of seed cake (for use in hemp protein flour) production. Hemp is important to the human system; it contains essential Omega fatty acids, and is a protein easily digested and utilized by our bodies.

Many people are still under the assumption that hemp contains THC and can affect them like marijuana, but this is not the case. Agricultural hemp is genetically different and can be grown for fibre, seed or dual-purpose crop.

ACI supplies companies like HEMP HEARTSTM  and Silver Hills Bakery in Abbotsford. Scales is preparing for the company to double its production and expects the site to be a regional hub for future franchises.

Artisan Sake Maker

Osake brand artisan sake
Osake brand artisan sake
Masa Shiroki in his Abbotsford rice field.
Masa Shiroki in his Abbotsford rice field.

Modern Ag Mag featured a story about Masa Shiroki and his wife Yukiko in From Glass to Table: Rice Production in the Fraser Valley. The couple invested in their Artisan Sake production company later in life, winning awards for their hand-made, small-batch sake. They recently participated in the Vancouver International Wine Festival.

The only sake makers in Canada to grow their own Hokkaido sake rice (behind the EcoDairy on Sumas Way in Abbotsford), they now grow organic (though they are waiting on certification) white and brown Northern Lite table rice which you can purchase at Nature’s Pickins.  The Osake wines can be found at the Granville Island location (1339 Railspur Alley, Vancouver, BC) and in a few select liquor outlets.

Walking beside the 2 acres of flooded fields surrounded by berms made me feel I had been transplanted to another country as I listened to Masa explain how the rice seed is propagated at Bevo Greenhouses in Langley, then carefully planted in the watery acres when the plants are six inches high. The water protects the plants and keeps them warm. The equipment for planting, weeding and harvesting was brought over from Japan. It takes one month to drain the fields before harvest in September when the rice is husked and dried before packaging.

Anyone interested in constructing berms, rice production or reclaiming unproductive farmland can contact Masa through his website.

The tour group enjoyed a delicious catered lunch by Klassic Catering which featured a shrimp and rice dish using the Shiroki’s rice, and samples of their sparkling sake which, I must say, is the perfect summer sipping beverage.

BC Hop Co 

Hop fields (Valley Hops and BC Hop Co)
Hop fields (Valley Hops and BC Hop Co)

Not since the 1940s has there been such a surge in hop farms, and the popularity of craft breweries has been steadily increasing over the past decade and there’s still room to grow. The interesting thing about hops is that they can only be grown between the 35th and 55th parallels making the Fraser Valley the perfect place!

BC Hop Co is expanding production operations at Kinloch Farms in Abbotsford to meet the growing demand by local craft breweries that place high value on quality local hops. The hop farm has grown from 10 acres to a planned 125 acres for 2017.

BC Hop Co, partnered with Valley Hops, supports local family farms who wish to take advantage of their lease and profit share model with planning, installation and crop management. Read more about Valley Hops and Ravens Brewing Company in Abbotsford.

More sippin's: Farmer's Ale from Ravens Brewing Company
More sippin’s: Farmer’s Ale from Ravens Brewing Company

The tour took us into the barn where the giant German Wolf hop picker slumbers ready to fly into action come harvest time. The 20 foot bines will be cut from their trellises and the green seed cones gently processed, producing bales of world class product that will be shipped to Oregon to pelletize, reducing the volume so the hops are easier to store and use for brewers.

The company’s passion for perfection was obvious as we walked between rows of hops where natural pest and weed management is used. Hops are planted in north-south rows, and sprayed low to reduce humidity. An app sends a message to the field manager when humidity levels get too high.

Care and commitment brought about this world class facility—the first of its kind in Canada—which will be able to beat all production records, getting the hops from field to cold storage in 24 hrs (the current industry timeline is 4-5 days). Speed and consistent quality is crucial to a perfect harvest!

Upcoming Events: BEERBQ Competition and BC HOPS FEST

Petkov Kiwi Production

After scrutinizing climate, soil and market conditions in Abbotsford, George Petkov planted his kiwi vineyard in 2008 on leased land, waiting 3–4 years for the canopy of wired branches to fill in and produce a bountiful profit in organic fruit. The 8 acre farm is in a beautiful setting, meticulously pruned and cared for. The only frustrations the Petkovs have are the lack of affordable land for future expansion and the squirrels against whom George has a personal vendetta.

In the invitingly cool shade of the green canopy rest two dogs, alert for those squirrels, as George explains that there are 8 female trees for every male. George keeps bees to pollinate the blossoms which can also be pollinated by wind. The more pollen a blossom receives, the bigger the kiwi fruit. These six foot tall trees can be trained to grow taller, but the height is perfect for George to drive under and harvest the fruit.

I learned that kiwi fruit like to be stored at around one degree Celsius so that the starch turns into sugar, making the fruit sweeter.

George Petkov and his kiwis
George Petkov and his kiwis

With a Masters Degree in Horticulture from the Republic of Macedonia (formerly Yugoslavia), George has extensive experience in fruit production as well as in viticulture. His kiwis will be bought by The BC School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program and will grace the shelves of discerning local markets, labelled Petkov Kiwi Production, Abbotsford, BC.

Read our article about Petkov’s kiwi farm from a previous issue.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from this tranquil place, but this was the end of the tour and we headed back to the bus, feeling tired and sun-kissed . . . our heads full of newly acquired knowledge.

There are some amazing, innovative things happening in the Fraser Valley, many of them right here in our hometown. I believe every resident should have an opportunity to ride along on one of these informative and entertaining field trips—I just wish there were more of them!

Check out the Chamber of Commerce’s Twitter and Facebook page to keep tabs on next year’s Agriculture Bus Tour as tickets sell out quickly!

READ about the 2015 Agriculture Bus Tour!

images courtesy of Ronda Payne: Thanks, Ronda!

and Thanks to the tour’s sponsors: KPMG, BC Egg, Community Futures, RBC Royal Bank, Farm Credit Canada and BC Chicken Marketing Board and host EcoDairy.

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