Award-winning is probably the best descriptor for Kevin and Annamarie Klippenstein. These two young farmers have been chalking up nominations and awards aplenty in the last few years, the latest of which is the 2011 BC and Yukon Outstanding Young Farmers. They were finalists in 2005 through 2007. The awards in those years went to a chicken farmer who ran his farm off his laptop; a greenhouse flower grower; and a sod farmer. Normally the realm of conventional farming, it is a particularly satisfying coup for the organic industry to have two of its own receive this award. Klippers also won the organic harvest award from Certified Organic Association of BC for the best direct farm marketer in 2006.
Kevin and Annamarie are thirty-somethings who defy the odds in many respects. They have had no land access issues for example, often a barrier for young farmers. In fact, farmland has been falling into their laps since they purchased a five acre farm in Cawston in November 2001. A farm they describe as perfect for doing markets. It had been farmed organically, there were greenhouses for early starts, mixed tree fruit varieties and a ground crop area. The first year they focused on getting the orchard in shape and both worked at nearby Apex Mountain during the winter to help make ends meet. But the following year, they realized if they were going to make a living at this venture, they would need more growing room. They approached a neighbour to see if he’d be willing to let them use some of his land. He said he’d sell it to them. Together they came up with a creative purchase agreement and thus began their foray into many creative land agreements, some purchased, some leased, some just neighbourly arrangements. As they proved their abilities, their reputation grew, as did local respect for the young duo. The land began to come to them. In just over a decade, they have built their original five acres into forty, growing a variety of crops from tree fruits and nuts to ground crops. They also sell their own dried fruit and herbs, juices, low and no sugar jams, and eggs from their own chickens. They are certified by PACS. The larger acreage, even if it is not all in one place, has caused them a few problems however.
Their intention was always to sell at farmers’ markets. Kevin and Annamarie are social types, who thrive on interacting with their customers. “If we had to just sell to a packinghouse, we wouldn’t be doing this,” said Kevin on the phone from Cawston. They wanted to sell at the Penticton Farmers Market, but the organizers deemed them too large. They did sell at the Kelowna Market for a time, but then the organizers there redrew the boundaries and shut them out too. So Kevin and Annamarie drive down to Vancouver each week, they do six markets including the winter market and sell to some Vancouver restaurants.
They also run an apprenticeship program, training up to ten paid apprentices a year, as well as eight WWOOF’ers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). The trainees stay in a comfortable five-bedroom suite atop the solar powered drying facility. The roof top panels also heat the hot water in the bunkhouse. With the added help, including two other paid staff (drawn from their trainees), Annamarie can now stay home during the week. They have four children ranging from six to thirteen years old who also require feeding, watering and tender loving care.
You might think the Klippenstein’s have quite enough on their plate, but they continue to lead and to innovate. It probably helps that they both have backgrounds in hospitality and management. When they built their dream home in 2006, powered by geothermal energy, they also began planning a bed and breakfast. They were the first organic farm to have an Environmental Farm Plan and the first to be Salmon-Safe certified. They run a community shared agriculture program and have started a gift certificate program. Kevin just stepped down from the board of the Vancouver Farmers Markets, and is now chair of the Organic Farming Institute of BC.
Both farmers grew up in Chilliwack and went to school there. “But we weren’t high school sweethearts,” Annamarie chimes in. They got together in their mid-twenties. Annamarie’s mother insisted that if Kevin wanted to see her daughter, he would have to help her sell the family farm’s produce at local markets on the weekends. Her mother is Mary Forstbauer by the way, longtime organic farmer, industry advocate and (now former) president of the BC Farmers Market Society, which probably hasn’t hurt either. You might say that Mary’s enforcement of the “work-for-date” rule set the stage for what was to come next.
One morning, during the courtship years, when Kevin was at work at the local Best Western, a couple came in to the restaurant and ordered the steak and egg special. “Hey, don’t you sell at the White Rock farmers’ market?” they asked. Turns out the couple had a farm for sale. In Cawston. Five acres. And the prize went to…
This article first appeared in BC Organic Grower, Volume 14, Spring 2011 Issue.