Visitors to the Okanagan’s Golden Mile, home to British Columbia’s most celebrated wineries, might be surprised to glimpse a greenhouse tucked into the rolling vineyard landscape. But perhaps it should come as no surprise that the same high light and low humidity that nurture Canada’s finest wine grapes also yield some of its best-tasting organic greenhouse vegetables.
Greg Thorp of Thorp Family Organic Farms in Oliver, B.C. describes the micro-environment where he grows beefsteak tomatoes, grape tomatoes and cucumbers as “Canada’s only desert.”
“We have crystal-clear, high-sunlight, frost-free days that extend from early spring to late fall,” he said. “Our plant production utilizes the unique climate advantages.”
To make a good thing even better, a few years ago, Greg discovered a natural spring on the property.
“It was a sunny day in late spring when several hundred feet from the greenhouses water started to gush from the base of a bank,” he explained. “The water―despite causing a flooding issue at first!―was cold, clean and pure. Immediately, I knew we could use it in the irrigation process in the greenhouses. We call it Miracle Springs because in the middle of Canada’s desert we have water bursting from the ground―and the plants love it!”
Greg was raised in a farming family. His grandfather, skilled nurseryman Gordon Thorp, immigrated from Europe to the Okanagan in 1910. His son John, Greg’s father, became one of the largest vegetable seed producers in the area and later expanded into the tree fruit industry. Greg diversified the family business into commercial greenhouse production 1984, originally growing conventional tomatoes and cucumbers, later propagating flowers and bedding plants.
His interest in organics began about a decade and a half ago, and was heightened when he and a colleague observed the contrast between organic plants growing alongside conventional.
“I became fascinated with the organic way of doing things when I noticed a visible difference between organic and conventional plants of the same variety and cultivar,” he said. “My curiosity was ramped up. The organic seedlings in the propagation tray were more robust and darker in color, and more consistent across the line.”
Subsequently, Thorp Family Organic Farms undertook the rigorous process of becoming organically certified to the high Canadian standard. With new greenhouse facilities recently constructed, organic cucumbers will be produced under lights throughout the year, while tomatoes are available during the spring and summer months.
“When someone buys organic produce, they enjoy the full bouquet of nutrients and antioxidants,” Greg said, citing studies indicating that organics deliver a higher nutrition benefit than conventional items. “Not to mention they also taste pretty good too!”
Greg also notes the benefits that organic growing returns to the Earth itself; “We’re rebuilding the fertility of the soil, one shovel at a time.”