McEwans getting out of the berry business

Longtime strawberry farmers passing torch to local couple

For two decades, Allen and Tonette McEwan have welcomed strawberry-seeking visitors to their Pemberton farm as one of the valley's few U-pick destinations.

But that won't be the case starting next year, as the McEwans are getting out of the berry business and passing their knowledge along to another young couple in the same way they first got started 20 years ago.

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"We're looking for a change," said Allen. "It's as simple as that."

It's the McEwans' plan to focus on their cattle and hay production going forward, but Allen said being a strawberry grower has been rewarding on multiple levels.

"From a farming perspective, it was one of the few crops that we could sell and make a few dollars on. From a social perspective, it was nice to have that annual visit with all of the people who came to the farm."

That being said, Allen noted that summers will probably be a little more relaxing for himself and Tonette in the future.

"Strawberries are a really intensive crop," he said. "Lots of hand work, lots of weeding - so we're not going to miss that."

But for those concerned about a shortage of the fruit next year, fear not. The McEwans are working with Carrie and Remi Charron at Camel's Back Harvest to help them set up a new patch on their farm, located about 15 kilometres further up the valley from the McEwans' property.

"We felt it was important to pass the torch along," said Allen. "We don't want to leave these customers all without, because we know they'll be driving up the road looking for berries next spring. So, we wanted to make sure there were berries available for them when next year rolls around."

In fact, the McEwans themselves were the young couple taking advice from longtime locals when they started up 20 years ago, getting help from Hugh and Jan Naylor in setting up strawberries on their land.

"We've passed along some equipment and helped them get started with the planting this spring," said Allen. "And, of course, we're always here and they can give us a call whenever they have a question.

"We're not going to tell them how to run their operation. They may choose to do things much differently than we did. But if they need our advice, we're here."

Carrie Charron (nee Kuurne) and husband Remi moved from Ottawa to Pemberton last fall. Soon after, the McEwans approached the Charrons with the idea of filling the void they'd be leaving behind.

"We started a market garden this year and put a couple thousand plants, just a small patch of strawberries," said Remi. "We had asked the McEwans their opinion on strawberries for the market garden and then a couple of weeks later, they phoned us up and asked if we'd be interested in taking over their strawberry patch because they had decided this was their last year.

"We have just under two acres of strawberries for next year," Remi continued. "It'll be a lot of work to get it going but it should be exciting."

Allen said news of he and Tonette leaving the strawberry business has been met with disappointment from some, but added that most have been supportive and understand why they've decided to go in a different direction.

"We're really appreciative of the people that did make the effort to drive up to the farm and support a local grower. That was nice," he said. "It's a bit more of a drive (to Camel's Back) but it's an opportunity for people to see the rest of the agricultural zone in the Pemberton Valley and maybe grow to appreciate that a little more."

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