Kelowna Fruit Stand: Building a nine-acre dream
When Lakhwinder Brar moved to Canada in 2008, he dreamed of one day owning a farm. Originally from India, he grew up growing grains and rice with his parents and grandparents. When he arrived in British Columbia, the dream seemed a distant possibility.
“I went to school at Okanagan College for [a] trade in plumbing and gas fitting, and worked with a local company in Kelowna,” Brar explains. “I started my own company three years ago in plumbing and heating.”
In 2015, Brar partnered with his uncle to buy a small property on the outskirts of Kelowna and started a fruit stand. Strategically located on the way to the Kelowna airport, the fruit stand sells locally grown fruits and vegetables. Their commitment to selling local produce is more than marketing.
“Our goal is to expand in the farming industry by growing the local market for local farmers.”
“Our goal is to expand in the farming industry by growing the local market for local farmers,” Brar says. “The biggest challenge in the farm industry is to get a good price for your product. I believe we need more competition and buyers to help farmers get better prices.”
He observes that increasing demand from international markets has been a boon for cherry growers in the Okanagan, and the rise of wineries has increased the acreage in grapes in recent years. But previously iconic Okanagan crops like peaches are increasingly difficult to find because they don’t have the same market opportunities.
“The year before last, it was hard to find good peaches because there aren’t many peach orchards left,” he explains. “I think they need a proper market for soft fruit. People weren’t getting good payouts, so they went into grapes and other crops. If there are more farm markets, and they can sell mostly local, it’s good for the growers and they get paid right away, too.”
From selling to growing
Last year, Brar and his young family realized their farming dream and bought a nine-acre orchard. The orchard puts them in charge of some of their own production – and supply chain – while their store ensures a consistent market for their fruit. While it’s a big change from growing grains and rice to running an orchard, with the help of his family, Brar is learning quickly.
“Most of my family has settled and is farming in the Okanagan,” Brar explains. “They’ve supported us both financially and with their knowledge about the fruit industry. When I have questions, they are there for me.”
Family figures prominently in the business. His wife, Param, manages Kelowna Fruit Stand in the summer with the help of family, students, and local workers. His uncle, who farms in the South Okanagan near Osoyoos, is a partner at Kelowna Fruit Stand and one of the first suppliers of a variety of fruits. It gives Brar comfort to see his two sons, now four and six years old, growing up on a farm like he did.
Building solid business foundation
Brar credits his education in trades with helping him develop the strong business skills needed to succeed in all his enterprises. With solid business foundations in place, he’s focused on building. In spring 2017, Kelowna Fruit Stand will re-open in a new building with more space and better amenities.
“We’re really excited for our new building. We’ve worked hard on the architecture,” he says, adding that it has been designed to represent the natural beauty of the Okanagan. “The building features enough space for a variety of local products as well as a commercial kitchen facility, so we can start making baked goods and other value-added products from our fruit.”
The orchard will be undergoing some renovations as well. Some of the apples will be pulled out to make room for a few acres of cherries, in addition to the plums, apples and nectarines that are currently growing. They will also continue to build on their vegetable gardens – expanding production and the variety of vegetables for sale at their stand.
Expanding with the community in mind
It’s just the beginning. Looking further ahead, Brar wants to expand the production side and acquire more orchard acreage, and would like to start packing fruit for other farmers – particularly soft fruit and apples – to open new markets and opportunities.
“We want to do better for the whole farming community. It’s tough out there. You don’t see a lot of young people getting into farming. Most farmers we meet out there are in their 50s,” he says. “We need to steer more people into farming, but if it’s profitable, people will come by themselves.”
With a young family and three growing businesses, there’s not a lot of extra time in a day, but Brar takes pleasure in the work, the people and the vision. He knows that big dreams are built one small step at a time.
“It takes hard work, and you need knowledge of the field you’re going into before you start investing into it,” he says, reflecting on the key ingredients for success. “You need commitment. You don’t get success in a day – it takes time, but it pays off in the end.”
Find them on Facebook or follow @KelownaFruitStand.