Only a small group of apple growers are producing organic Ambrosia apples in British Columbia.
Here are some of organic Ambrosia apple growers:
Wilfrid & Sally Mennell
PROFILE – Wilfrid and Sally Mennell are certified organic orchardists, and have been apple farmers for more than 30 years in the sun-drenched Similkameen Valley on an orchard overlooking Cawston, B.C. However, their story is an unusual one: they are also “the originators of the Ambrosia apple.”
The true miracle of this story is that they discovered a seedling growing in a row of their new Jonagold planting in 1991. Classified as a chance-seedling, the Ambrosia is quite distinct from every other apple. In fact, it is really a chance in a million because as Wilfrid states, every apple ” has the potential for 10 different varieties in it.” The Mennells were fortunate to discover this new apple, and they then grafted cuttings several times to see if it would retain its unique characteristics. Overall, it proved to be grower-friendly, and desirable for the customer. Wilfrid named it Ambrosia, from Greek mythology meaning ‘food of the gods.’
Seeing how much the pickers, who usually did not eat the apples they picked, loved this variety, the Mennells knew this apple was special. Wilfrid’s brothers were encouraging them to “identify, commercialize, and market” this crisp, juicy, sweet apple in the organic market. It happened that at this time, the BC Tree Fruit Growers Association had formed a company for developing new varieties called PICO (Plant Improvement Company of the Okanagan) and now renamed Summerland Varieties Corporation. This newly formed company became the prime licensee, developing the apple for commercialization.
Wilfrid grew up in the Similkameen Valley, and after attending university and working abroad, he returned to buy land in Cawston, BC. Wilfrid’s wife Sally, originally from South Africa, had a career in the publishing industry in Vancouver B.C., where she met Wilfrid. Sally not only fell in love with Wilfrid, but with the country life and the valley and then eventually bought her own apple orchard. It was in this orchard that the young sapling grew up and thanks to a “fortuitous bit of negligence” Wilfrid did not weed it out. The seedling survived and Ambrosia was born.
Both Wilfrid and Sally “feel proud, and amazed at bringing Ambrosia to the world.” Sally contends “it has been such a learning experience for us, and has taken us into areas we would never have imagined,” whether traveling abroad or talking to enthusiastic consumers at tasting events. While they continue to farm their organic orchards, the Ambrosia apple has become a large part of Wilfrid and Sally’s journey that shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.
Alain Peron & Donna Bartlett
PROFILE – Alain Peron’s destiny has always been in apple farming. He grew up on a farm near Bordeaux, France where apples were the family business. His father and grandfather were both orchardists.
Alain obtained an education in Agriculture in France. After working for his family farm for ten years, he found he couldn’t agree with the management style and decided to go off to see the “New World” and learn English. He learned very quickly that American growers were looking for people who knew how to prune apple trees the European way and that European growers were looking for new apple varieties from the U.S.
He spend the next 10 years working in apple orchards and apple nurseries in Quebec, South Carolina, Washington State, The Netherlands, New Zealand, France, New York State, and British Columbia. Alain also traveled to Lithuania, Australia, and Japan to visit apple orchards there. Alain learned English from the Mexican laborers he worked with in the U.S., and by taking English courses each day after work.
In all his travels he saw connections to apple farming everywhere and decided that his future lay in Western North America. In 1994 Alain began working on an orchard in Peachland, BC. It was there that he began working on his idea of selling “tattooed” (gift) apples in New York City for the millennium celebrations.
Alain obtained his Canadian landed immigrant status in 1999 and later the same year met his future wife, Donna, in an orchard in Winfield, B.C. where they were both working. Donna, who studied agriculture and entomology in Vancouver, was working as a pest management consultant for Okanagan farmers in the summer, and a lab technician at Summerland Agricultural Research Station in the winter. They were married in 2000 and began leasing an apple orchard in Winfield.
Donna and Alain wanted to raise their family in an organic orchard, at the same time growing apples for the wholesale market, producing gift apples for NYC and other locations, and growing apple rootstocks. In 2001 they bought a certified organic orchard in Keremeos and brought it back into top condition.
Now, Donna and Alain have two sons, Yan (born in 2001) and Marc (born in 2003). The orchard has been grafted over and replanted and now produces mostly apples and a small amount of nectarines. They have sold their gift apples to New York and other locations for 14 years and to The Academy Awards event for 10 years in a row. They also grow certified organic apple rootstocks for the Canadian market. In the warmer months they run a B&B from a small cottage on the farm. Donna and Alain enjoy the farming lifestyle despite its physical demands and they appreciate the support of the organic community in their area. They balance their time between the boy’s activities, the farm, Donna working part time at the school, and volunteering for kid’s sport programs.
Alain says that Ambrosia is the perfect apple for this location and he likes the story of Ambrosia. He and Donna will continue to share their passion for production of Organic food and new business ideas for apples.
Baljit and Kawaljit Bhathal
PROFILE – Baljit and Kawaljit Bhathal both come from generations of farming families in India.
Baljit’s family immigrated to Canada in 1992. They were sponsored by his sister who lives in Cawston, BC. Baljit and his family worked with Brian Mennell and Linda Edwards and learned about organic farming through their guidance. He worked with them for more than 13 years…
Brian Mennell & Linda Edwards
PROFILE – Born to be farmers, Brian Mennell and Linda Edwards found their way to each other and their orchard in a circuitous way. Brian was born and raised on a farm and never wanted to do anything other than grow fruit. When his brother and sister-in-law discovered the first Ambrosia tree on their orchard, Brian was eager to be one of the first to bring organic Ambrosia apples to market….
PROFILE – From fruit trucker to fruit grower to fruit distributor, Billy Potash has played every role in getting fresh, local produce to your family’s table. It all started in 1978 when he and his wife Lucy, came to the Similkameen Valley and were wooed by the idea of setting up a hobby farm. They’d met in Berkley California and lived a wandering life before they finally decided to call Cawston home and their orchard Big Root Organic Farms…
Trucking was his first taste of the apple industry. Soon Big Root was becoming a more viable business (thanks to the sterilization of the coddling moth) and he was growing and shipping tree fruits. The middle part was still being handled elsewhere. That is, until he co-founded Cawston Cold Storage – a state of the art controlled atmosphere storage and packing facility that deals in only organic fruit. Now in semi-retirement, he’s given up the trucking and handed the majority of the farm management over to one of his two sons, Mishak.
That’s not the extent of Billy’s involvement in organic fruit business. He was a pioneer of the organic certification movement in Canada. He was one of the founders of COABC (Certified Organic Association of BC) the organic certification accreditation body and is a past president of SOOPA (Similkameen Okanagan Organic Producers Association). He truly helped to shape the organic industry locally and across the country.
He was also an early adopter of the Ambrosia apple. When they came on the scene in the early 90’s he saw and tasted the potential. He confesses that Ambrosias are his apple; they’re what he eats and when he does, he likes to keep it simple, just biting straight into them.
Jane and Robert Mennell
Just as Ambrosia was a chance seedling, Jane and Robert’s love story is one of a chance romance dating back to the summer of 1976. Jane was studying in England at the time and decided to take a school chum up on her invitation to spend the summer at her cousin’s farm in Canada. That farm was the Mennell farm and it didn’t take long for Jane to fall in love – first with the unrivaled beauty of the Similkameen Valley and then with Robert Mennell. She believes that someone can have both a soul mate and a soul place – she found both that summer…
Raised by parents who moved around the globe for work, Jane had a wandering spirit. After finishing school, she convinced Robert to join her on an 8 month trek to Australia. Robert, however, was born and bred to be a farmer so it was no surprise that they returned to the Similkameen Valley to marry and start their lives together.
Their Ambrosia journey began when Robert’s brother and sister-in-law discovered that first chance seedling and shared some of the fruit. Robert and his brothers decided to graft about 100 trees to see if this new variety might be ‘something’. While they weren’t particularly encouraged by the local industry, the market gave them all the encouragement they needed. Distributors and stores couldn’t get enough of this yet-to-be-named apple, ordering every piece of fruit available. The Mennells listened to the market and planted plenty more Ambrosia apple trees.
In addition to running several organic orchards and giving Ambrosia it’s leg-up, they raised their 3 children and are now proud grandparents. Jane is retired as a primary Teacher on Call but there’s no retirement in sight for Robert. He loves the farming lifestyle so much that he plans to stick with it as long as he is able.
Jane still coaxes Robert away for short stints of travelling – usually to somewhere by the sea so they can Scuba dive and snorkel. Even so, she’s always happy to return to the land that captured her heart.
Surjit & Narinder Lidher
PROFILE – Surjit and Narinder value hard work and healthy living. Their farming lifestyle perfectly suits their values and allows them to be their own boss.
Surjit came to Canada from India in 1981. He married Narinder in 1990 and brought her to Canada. They started farming in 1991. Both came from farming families in India and were destined to farm in Canada.
The Lidher’s farm is 10 acres in size with 4 acres being in Organic Ambrosia apples. It gives them great pride that they are able to supply healthy food to consumers.
They have raised their 2 boys and 3 girls on the farm. The children are now between the ages of 16 and 23. Surjit and Narinder are hopeful that one of their sons will choose to take over the farm in the future.
Organic Ambrosia apples fit perfectly into the Lidher lifestyle. They taste good, have good colour, are easy to pick and the timing of the crop is perfect.
Randhir & Balwinder Dhaliwal
Profile – Farming is hard work but Randhir and Balwinder Dahliwal say they love it and would not choose any other lifestyle.
Balwinder came to Canada from India in 1980 and Randhir joined him when they married in 1987. At that time Balwinder’s family was working in Penticton. Shortly after that, they purchased 10 acres in Oliver and farmed that land with Blawinder’s family.
A dream opportunity arose in 1988 for them to purchase a 60-acre farm in Keremeos. Organic Ambrosia apples were part of the investment and they discovered that the liked farming Ambrosia apples. Randhir says they are easy to grow, provide good returns and they really like the taste!
The Dhaliwals have 3 daughters and a son between the ages of 26 and 11 years. They hope their son Arman will continue to receive guidance from them and one day take over the farm that they have lovingly cared for.
Rupee & Karindeep Bhathal family
PROFILE – When Arbinder (Rupee) Bhathal came to Canada in 1992 he hoped to work with wood. Little did he know that it would take the form of fruit trees. He was sponsored by his sister who lived in the Cawston, area of BC where the easiest way to get a job is to work in the orchard. That’s exactly what Rupee did.
To Rupee’s surprised, he enjoyed growing fruit and never looked back. Rupee learned about growing organically while working in Brian Mennell and Linda Edward’s orchard. When the opportunity to buy a farm presented itself, he and his brother decided to jumped in together. Over the years, the two have bought an adjacent orchard and now also lease Brian and Linda’s orchard. They farm over 35 acres, with close to 8 acres of that being dedicated to organic Ambrosia apples.
Life on the farm suits Rupee. He enjoys the work and finds it a great environment for him and his wife, Kirandeep, to raise their three kids, Gurneet, Nobal and Indy. A visit to the farm reveals a happy multi-generational home, a well kept organic orchard and a great setting for the kids to play. All of which are proof that Rupee’s orchard is overflowing with love and joy.
Meet Rupee and his family in this Grower Profile video.
PROFILE – Not many people would consider running a 60 acre orchard “retirement.” After successful careers with the RCMP, farming seemed like just the right speed for retirees Cristine and Walt Makepeace. The two were high school sweethearts who married at the age of 18. They’d both grown up on farms in the Fraser Valley and longed to return to growing organic food as a sort of second career.
Luckily, they found just what they were looking for in 2005. It was an organic tree fruit farm for sale in Cawston, BC – close to friends and where Cristine had spent many a summer growing up. They bought the farm and jumped in. With help and guidance from the orchard foreman, Baljit Dhaliwal (who they all now refer to as family), they figured out the business of growing fruit. Before too long, all three of the grown Makepeace children, Brad (with wife Tara), Wes, and Jenny joined in the new family business. With all of the helping hands, Cristine and Walt are very much enjoying their working retirement.
The Makepeace Organic Farm currently has about one and half acres of organic Ambrosia apples but Walt reports that they plan to add more. He says Ambrosias are beautiful apples that everyone loves and they’ve been incredibly popular. He’s happy to be adding more.
Robyn & Richard King
PROFILE – It’s hard to imagine Richard and Robyn King doing anything other than running their orchard and farm-gate store in East Kelowna, BC. They’re so passionate about organic farming and joyful in the operation of their store. However, for each of them, it’s a second career.
Bite Me Organics’ origins trace back to 1994 when Richard and Robyn decided that a farm would be a great place to raise a family. At the time, Richard was a marketing professional and Robyn worked in social work, so the farm was more of a pleasant setting than a business.
Over time, they found themselves developing the property, switching to organic and planting Ambrosia apples, among other things. When a few glasses of wine with some witty friends lead to the suggested name Bite Me Organics, there was no turning back.
Bite Me Organics is now a popular stop for people in the Okanagan Valley who want to see how an organic farm is run, admire some local art in the farm-gate store and maybe even pick their very first Ambrosia apple. With their family grown and out of the nest, it’s the visitors that give Richard and Robyn so much satisfaction in growing beautiful organic fruit.
We made a stop at their farm just as the Ambrosia apples were starting to blush into maturity (about 3 weeks before harvest) to meet them and make this video for you. Now you can visit too.
PROFILE – Like many BC Organic Ambrosia growers, Dan Taylor got his start doing the dirty work. He spent 8 years as a farm hand before he was able to purchase a farm of his own. Ambitious and determined, his role in the industry has been steadily growing ever since. He now farms over 48 acres in the Similkameen Valley…”
and is also one of the founders of Cawston Cold Storage and Packinghouse which serves the organic tree fruit industry.
Dan originally moved from Toronto to the valley as an industrial lab technician before he fell in love with farming. He spent 8 years in conventional farming before he turned to organic and he’s never looked back. He and his wife, Sally, had three children of their own and fostered over 30 kids. All three of his children helped out on the farm growing up and are still involved today. One of his daughters works on the farm while his other daughter and his son help run the packinghouse.
He’s happy to know that his hard work will be carried on by the next generation. At 61, Dan talks about retirement but one look at him working at the packinghouse or on the farm and you know there’s little chance he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
PROFILE – Nirmal Sidhu was 14 years old when he and his family immigrated to Canada. They were farmers in their native India, so it was natural for them to find their way back to farming once they got settled. However, in India, their farm produces wheat, corn and rice. They soon discovered it was vastly different from running a tree fruit orchard. However, it didn’t take long for them to learn the business by working in orchards and soon bought a farm of their own.
Now a grandfather, Nirmal has taken over the family farm in Cawston from his retired father. As the first son, he felt it was his duty, but one he was happy to oblige. Sidhu Orchards sits on a hilly 114 acres with just shy of 48 acres in production. Of those acres, Nirmal admits the organic ambrosia block is his favourite to farm. Growing organic Ambrosia is a real pleasure for him because the fruit it delicious, easy to grow and popular with the public.
Nirmal is grateful that he and his wife were able to raise their three children on an organic farm. They liked the peace of mind and freedom of letting the kids run around the orchard and pick fruit to eat right off the trees. Now that his kids are all grown up and have moved on, he continues to feel a sense of pride in providing healthy, beautiful, organic Ambrosia apples to families all over BC. Looking back on his life as an organic Ambrosia grower, he says he would do it again, over and over.
Only a small group of growers are producing organic Ambrosia apples in British Columbia.
|Bhathal, Baljit & Grewal, Jaswinder||B&J ORGANIC ORCHARD|
|Barker, Dave||BARKER ORCHARDS|
|Potash, Billy & Lucy||BIG ROOT FARMS|
|Bhathal, (Arbinder) Rupee||RUPEE’S ORGANIC ORCHARD|
|Bhathal, Arbinder (Rupee) (Brian’s)||ROYAL KING ORCHARD|
|Commandeur, Rajeshvari (Raju)||RAJESHVARI COMMANDEUR|
|Demchuk, Kevin & Dela Cruz, Sonia||SUNSHINE HARVEST|
|Dhaliwal, Gurmail & Jagmail||J&G FARM|
|Dhaliwal, Randhir & Balwinder||RANDHIR K. DHALIWAL|
|Gill, Jarnail||BLOSSOM RIVER ORGANICS LTD.|
|Gill, Mike & Sandy||J&R ORCHARDS|
|Gill, Varinder/Dhaliwal, Sukhwinder||SUKHWINDER DHALIWAL|
|Horrocks, Bryan & Cindy||B & C HORROCKS ORCHARDS|
|Hutchinson, John & Irene||ROLLING SAGE ORCHARD|
|King, Richard & Robyn||BITE ME ORGANICS|
|Lidder, Jagir||LIDDER FARM|
|Lidher, Surjit||NARIND FARM|
|Makepeace, Walter & Christine||MAKEPEACE ORGANIC FARMS LTD.|
|Mennell, Robert & Jane||MUCKABOUT ORCHARDS|
|Mennell, Sally||SALLY MENNELL’S ORCHARD|
|Mennell, Wilfrid||WILFRID MENNELL ORCHARD|
|Nelson, Fred & Phyllis||NELSON FRUIT WORKS|
|Peron, Alain & Bartlett, Donna||OLD TOWER FARM|
|Potash, Isaac & Litowitz, Lorn||SUNREAL ORGANICS|
|Sellmer, Gottfried & Lynne||RIVER VALLEY ORCHARDS|
|Sidhu, Nirmal||SIDHU ORCHARDS|
|Simonsen, Peter||NORTHERN LIGHTS ORCHARD|
|Taylor, Dan & Sally||TAYLOR FARMS|
|Wills, Tony & Elaine Stewart||ELAM’S ORGANICS|
|Wood, Jim & Lorena||EASTWOOD ORGANIC FARM|