After 8 years following an amazing trail, it led me back to my home town of Cabri. I took employment at the local salt plant at first but later worked many jobs in the area to keep the bills paid and work toward a chunk of land to start growing fruit. It took a lot of looking but I finally came across a small parcel of land that had the proper slope and drainage I needed, and I put in an offer. I took possession of 21.5 acres within the village of Shackleton, about 45 mins NW of Swift Current, in Sept of 1997.
Cherries were always a favourite of mine and I had read of a variety of cherries called Evans that were surviving in our climate so I planted 100 through ‘98 and ‘99. In ‘99 the U of S came out with a variety of dwarf sour cherry called the Carmine Jewel Sk. Over the next 7 years I planted 3700 of these little jewels and actually lucked out that they became known as a “Super Fruit” noted for a number of health properties.
The trees are a short bushy plant that can be pruned annually to increase production. Because of the size and the pruning, the Carmine Jewel can be mechanically harvested, and the trees shake clean when ripe. The blossoms come on in mid-May and harvest begins in July. This very short growing season is perfect for the region. The trees have not been pushed along with any fertilizers or pampered in any way. They are very hardy, and like this area. I had the property certified Organic in ‘07, ‘08, and ‘09. I have let the “organic certification” go due to the costs involved, but kept the same practices. I have never used spray on the trees but do a ground application of a sopesidol compound for the control of the cherry fruit fly which became evident at the end of harvest of ‘13. Yearly June applications have proven successful. I control weeds by mowing and trimming.
Other fruit planted on the property since ‘99 were more for landscaping rather than major production. They include Gooseberries, Currents, Plums, Apples, Hascaps, Cherry plums, and Choke cherries.
Over the years I have made improvements to the property such as digging water reservoirs for irrigation and putting up an 8 foot game fence to protect trees from deer and moose. In 2004 I bought an adjoining piece of property, 22.5 acres in size. I was not planning to expand but wanted control of how it was used. In ’06 I bought a commercial pitter from a plant in Michigan and started offering pitted cherries. In ‘07 I put up a 48ft. x 24ft. fruit handling facility where I could sort, cool, pit, package, and freeze my cherries. In ‘08 I bought a harvester, and put a walk in freezer in the facility.
In ‘08 I quit my job, took on a sizable loan from Community Futures for the harvester and freezer, …. and got hailed out. All of this led to a separation and divorce in ‘09, and I went back to work. It took a couple of years to get back on track but I quit the workforce in March of 2011 and devoted all my time and resources to starting a new food company. In May, I registered Santa Fe Food Company with the plan to make good, clean, healthy products. A company, that not only grows hearty plants that produce a very high quality, healthy fruit, but complete the value added cycle. An end product that has NO: salt, gluten, preservatives, artificial colour or flavour and no corn. Nothing you can’t pronounce ……… a Clean Label.
In Sept. 2011, I had my first production run at the U of S. Since then I have processed about 30,000 bottles of sauce at the university which led me to building a processing plant right on site. My goal was to simplify my life by setting up a facility that would meet Provincial standards and enable me to have a complete business within the property. I have always tried to do everything myself to keep costs down. I bring in help in April for pruning and a few students at harvest time. When I processed at the U of S I needed to use 6 or 7 people over 2 or 3 days. At the Santa Fe processing plant, I can do juice with just myself and one employee and the Chertney, Chelish and Rib N Wing Sauce with 2 employees. With a facility here on the property, I am able to process according to orders coming in, in a timely fashion. I am now able to process my existing products in smaller batches, allowing me to have space and time to let products cool for a proper seal and label on the finished product.
By converting my home into a processing plant with an office & lunchroom and adding a warehouse I was able to eliminate wasted time and money on travel and in-town production costs, not to mention the stress factor that goes with being in the city, needing to hire university staff, making huge batches, storage, restrictive time lines, etc. etc. etc.
I am now in control of the production.
There is always more a person can do but there is only so much a person can do. It is exciting to plan and explore new avenues, bringing people unique flavors and creative ingredients.