Gouwenberg Farms owner, Anna, met up with The Observer last week for a candid tour of the dairy and seasonal cranberry farm with her granddaughter Summer.
The farm boasts some of the most enviable and delicious cranberries in the Fraser Valley, and they’re right on cue, with Thanksgiving fast approaching.
Along with husband Henry, the family owned and operated business, is one the Gouwenberg’s take pride in.
Red and round, these bold little berries are known for their powerful medicinal properties and antioxidant benefits. Cranberries help sustain multiple organs in the human body such as the bladder, eyes and skin as well as being rich in Vitamin C.
Demand for cranberries is high this time of year as folks prepare for Thanksgiving.
The time honoured tradition of enjoying good food with friends and family, while celebrating the many things in life to be grateful for, is alive and well at the farm.
Thanksgiving Tradition for the Gouwenberg’s includes a bustling crew of extended family members who all get together to enjoy one another’s company and a big meal, with faithful K9 companion Bowser at their side.
“It’s a really good time for our kids to spend time with the extended family,” said Anna of the occasion. “And to see what’s going on with one another.”
The Gouwenberg’s have ten children and five grandchildren between them, and believe in keeping those family bonds strong.
Canadian Thanksgiving tradition started with the end of the harvest season around the time it was started in 1578. It’s a long standing practice that promises to sustain the human spirit, during the winter months leading up to Christmas.
As one envisions pumpkins, spice and everything nice, this time of year (cranberries can be made into teas, muffins, scones, you name it,) the glorious if not bitter berry is the cornerstone of any fall celebration and has its place among the gourds, squash, and scarecrow staples that are visible in yards and on tables.
Careful signage on Highway 7, let’s cranberry enthusiasts know the Gouwenberg’s are open for business, and Anna promises their berries will stand the taste test of even the pickiest consumer.
Grown on peat bog, the cranberries are on par with organics, and just as flavourful and healthy.
“I don’t believe there are organic cranberry producers, it’s just wall to wall bushes down on the ground and it’s all natural, according to the berry grower and enthusiast. “It’s pretty well impossible. Peat bog is the result of thousands of years of trees falling down, and that’s how it gets its boggy type of feel.”
There is an incredibly unique texture to it.
“My husband was walking on it and he said wow this feels different than the rest of the farm. He realized that it wasn’t sandy soil, which is common along most of the Fraser River, having formed over thousands and thousands of years — but that it was peat bog.”
Not many things grow on peat bog, the cranberry being an exception, so it was a toss up for the family as they decided whether to grow blueberries, or cranberries — the family ultimately chose the cranberry because it doesn’t attract predators, who would otherwise be drawn to the sweetness of the blueberry.
“Bears would demolish it, if there were blueberries growing on it, but cranberries, a bear will not touch,” she said. “They’re too bitter — most people won’t eat a plain cranberry, and bears are not much different from us.”
The family have had customers drive in from as far away as 100 mile house to enjoy a bag of the Gouwenberg’s signature cranberries.
It all started in 1995, when the family bought some property at Seabird Bluff, and started producing them on their predominantly dairy farm.
Cranberries are the only fruit that grow off season, making them especially high in demand this time of year.
Once the cranberries have been picked, the real task of sifting, sorting and packaging begins.
“There’s a lot of vine mixed in with the cranberries, so you don’t want to sell vine to the customers.”
The sifting can take hours, upon hours, during the day and is a practice that is a labour of love for Anna.
“We utilize a dry picker to extract the berries and then sift through them, separating vine from each individual berry,” said Anna of the technique.
The baskets that she stores the freshly picked berries in are heavy, heavier than one might suspect, but she handles them with ease. Once the berries are put into the basket they are transported to the ‘cranberry shack’ where they are sorted and packaged by hand.
Then they are ready to sell, going at $2.50 per bag, a steal for the amount of intensive labour that goes into the harvesting of the desirable and coveted holiday berry.
“We all have a need to be thankful for things in life; whether, it be your food or your family. It’s just so much happier, when you’re thankful — so, this is an occasion to be thankful.”