By Gurmukh Singh
VANCOUVER: Many Indo-Canadian farmers have diversified their agricultural operations. But Chanchal Singh Bal of Kelowna in British Columbia province has pioneered a unique concept in farm diversification.
As the name of his Hillcrest Farm Market suggests, it is both farm and market.
On his 100-acre farm, Bal cultivates cherries, apples and vegetables and ships them to China, Taiwan and Europe.
But his farm is also a marketplace for tourists because it is located at such a vantage point that it offers one of the best views of Kelowna – which is about 400 km east of Vancouver and is one of the major tourist spots in Canada.
Chanchal Singh Bal has cashed in on his farm’s unique location to attract international tourists visiting Kelowna.
“Our farm is a kind of hill station from where tourists can have the best view of Kelowna – the Okanagan lake, the downtown, the airport, the university campus. We take them around our farm to offer the best view of this beautiful city. We hit upon this idea five years ago,’’ explains Bal whose great grandfather Bhagu Singh came to Vancouver from Langeri village near Hoshiarpur in 1906.
Cherry-picking the idea of farm tourism has been a huge success for this cherry farmer.
“When we started getting lots of tourists, we thought of offering them accommodation as well. Now we run some accommodation units by our professional staff and stewards to offer short-term stay on the farm. The tourists get the best accommodation, the best view of the city and the freshest farm produce,’’ says Bal.
In fact, the success of his tourist venture prompted this Sikh farmer two years ago to introduce the concept of `destination wedding’ on his cherry farm.
“Many tourists come here simply to marry in this beautiful place. So we now do destination weddings here. We have earmarked about three acres of the farm for this purpose and beautifully landscaped them. Our wedding site is one of the most beautiful spots. Tourists love it and we have weddings at every weekends,’’ he says.
But farming remains his family’s first profession, he says. “It is for the sake of diversification that we have taken to tourism promotion and destination weddings. We mainly grow cherries, and also apples and vegetables. But growing crops is a risky business because of the weather and market conditions. We wanted to be safe.’’
As his cherry farming and tourist ventures thrive, Bal says, “We are adding 50 more acres of cherry farming next year because the demand is very high. China is becoming our big market.’’
Interestingly, the Bal family farm has developed around the spot of land that his great grandfather bought.
“My great grandfather came to Vancouver in 1906 and worked there in timber mills for many years. Then he walked all the way to Kelowna and started farming on a crop-sharing basis. Since he was not allowed to buy land under the then laws, he bought some land in the name of local workers. That’s how we started out our farming in Canada,’’ narrates Bal whose young son Sukhpaul now runs their operations. Sukhpaul is also the president of the British Columbia Cherry Growers Association.
The Bals are one of the nearly one thousand Punjabi families in and around Kelowna.
(This article appeared in the Times of India on May 30)