Pilgrims’ Produce is a certified organic farm in the Okanagan Valley growing excellent veggies, fruits, herbs and nuts for our local community on just under 14 acres.
We marry modern organic practices with tried and true techniques. For example, for season extension we use high-tunnel greenhouses; for pest management, row-covers; for weed control, stale-bedding, flame-weeding and old-fashioned hoeing! With fruit and nut orchards, some using permaculture principles, a wild habitat area, berries, plus about 7 acres planted in garden-style veggies from Asparagus to Zucchini, this farm has a lot going on!
Setting Down Roots
It all began in 1991 when Robert and Kathryn Hettler and their four children returned from working with poor farmers in Brazil. Robert felt a sense of calling to grow organic food in a sustainable way for our local community.
Pilgrims’ was one of the first organic farms in the area. Robert was involved with the local organic certification agency, NOOA, and was also a founding member of the provincial organization, COABC. Robert served as director and president of the Vernon Farmers’ Market; he also helped create Vernon’s Food Policy and the Food Action Society of the North Okanagan. Kathryn served as a director of the Armstrong Farmers’ Market and also organized farm events for the community such as Shoots and Blooms.
Why Our Name?
The Christian allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, came to Rob and Kathryn’s minds since they felt like pilgrims going from Alberta to Brazil to BC. As well, the word “pilgrims” brought images of simple old-fashioned methods of farming before the days of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Meet the Farmers
Coming from generations of farmers, Rob grew up on a mixed farm in central Alberta. Rob was transformed during six years in Brazil where he, his wife and their children worked with small-scale farmers in fruit and vegetable production. They came back to Canada with a passion to grow healthy food in a sustainable manner using organic methods. Rob is happiest when he is outside working on the farm, caring for God’s creation or mentoring future farmers. Rob is now enjoying a bit of retirement life and keeps busy kayaking, reading, bird-watching, biking in the summer or cross-country skiing in the winter.
Born a city girl but always having a love for the outdoors, Kathryn is a retired secondary school teacher. Through the years, Kathryn has enjoyed expanding the diversity of the farm, finding excitement in seeing what edibles can be grown in this area, eating the great food grown here, and freezing, drying, canning for the winter months. She’s very thankful for their four adult children and seven thriving grandchildren! In 2010 Kathryn teamed up with Dr. Maureen Clement to gather knowledge and recipes from local growers to create the book Real Food Real Health. An updated version is now available; see our Resources page to get your copy.
Relatively new to the farming scene, Dan was born to do this job! With a passion to match his work ethic, he’s a natural at farming! Dan is the main workhorse here, managing the production of the crops from planting and irrigating to harvesting, organizing the crew and selling at the Farmers’ Markets. With his steady, positive personality, never disheartened by a rainy day, he is a joy to have around. When not farming, Dan is out having fun with his three kiddos or enjoying a coffee with Kat.
Kat has been involved in farming for 2 decades! Starting in the fresh-cut flower industry in Ontario as a young teen, she’s tried her hand at forestry, greenhouse operations, ranching and beekeeping. She first joined the crew at Pilgrims’ Produce to learn about veggie production over a dozen years ago. The common thread in all these experiences has been a love for the outdoors, working with her hands and enjoying the beauty of the natural world. Kat would rather be out gardening her flower plot or capturing beauty through her camera lens, but she also juggles the office tasks for running the farm business. Also filling her time and heart are their three young children, who are happy to join in any farming adventures!
Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, Pilgrims’ Produce has been committed to certified organic practices. Rob and Kathryn felt they were simply stewards on this piece of God’s land. If they were to grow healthy food for their family and community, how could they consider using toxic agro-chemicals for short-term fixes to pest or weed problems?
Why does organic matter?
Recognizing that the ecosystems which surround us are more complex and dynamic than most of us understand, we seek to work with the natural world as much as possible. It takes good healthy soil – biologically active – to produce nutrient-dense plants which will result in healthy people. We are committed long-term to our small parcel of land and the community that surrounds it. Like Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, we believe that by focusing on the “wonders and realities of this universe about us, the less taste we shall have for its destruction.”
For further insight on why organic matters, see “Why Buy Organic?“
Join the Crew (aka Employment Opportunies)
We are looking to hire berry pickers for the summer! Consider joining our summer-time berry crew for 2021!
Job description: Must be fit and flexible and able to work in all weather. Potential picking days will be between Monday- Fridays, likely 2-4 days a week. Starting at 7am or earlier if it’s going to be really hot. The berry season will kick off with strawberries and will likely begin the week of June 7 and run for approximately 4 weeks. The summer fruits will continue with saskatoons, raspberries, currants, cherries, plums and more. We pay by the pound picked.
If you’re keen we’d love to hear from you! Please email Kat at [email protected].
Rob and Kathryn have and continue to be great mentors to us as young farmers, as well as great friends.
We worked for/with them for a few years on their wonderful farm Pilgrims’ Produce. They not only taught us so much by showing and explaining how they do things but by letting us try it on our own. This was a strong example of their trust and faith and really gave us the best learning environment.
All of their positive influence helped us in starting up our own organic produce farm- Mara Valley Produce. We still share a great relationship and they continue to teach us and help us. We hope to pass along this knowledge as well as this feeling of community to other farmers as they have to us.
Mara Valley Produce
I started working at Pilgrims’ Produce in 2010 to learn how to grow my own food. It turns out that I fell in love with farming and the community that surrounds it.
For four seasons, I helped out with (almost) all facets of the farm and especially loved the CSA program. Working at PP and learning from both Rob and Kathryn laid the foundation to move to a different farm (Golden Ears Farm, Chase BC) and build up the market garden there. Their mentorship meant that I was able to navigate the season and all that it brings with it (e.g., staffing, strawberry season — oh my!, adapting to surprises, expanding a CSA program, and contributing to the community).
Working at PP helped us to expand our CSA by five times — it’s the part of our farm that we love the most. The depth of relationships with our CSA members is incredible. Being involved with food system organizations has also been important to me, from serving on the board of NOOA and COABC to working as the Communications Lead for the Kamloops Food Policy Council — engaging with the macro world of food systems is just as important as the micro world of what is happening on the ground.
A huge thank you to the Hettlers for their openness to share knowledge, skills and the appreciation for what the land provides us. Such a gift.
Golden Ears Farm
We are so blessed to be here, growing good food and raising our family on this land that Rob and Kathryn worked so hard to establish.
They have a great reputation in the community and we are honoured to step into this journey with them. The Hettlers have a passion to provide healthy, organic food for folks in our community; Food that is grown in a sustainable way on this land. We are delighted to be able to partner with them to carry on the farm’s legacy for the future generations.