Over the Hill Orchards Owners Offer Local Nutritious Organic Products
by Dean Kreutzer
It is hard to believe that fifteen years ago I was a computer consultant, while today, along with my wife Sylvia, we own Over the Hill Orchards, an organic orchard and winery just south of Lumsden, SK. Many people ask why I chose to make this transition, I mean, how could a computer nerd ever hope to become a fruit farmer? Initially, the concept of growing fruit excited me, it was new and challenging, and my dreams were quite unique, at least for this part of the world. It was my belief that until I failed at something, like growing peaches, it was possible, no matter what the experts said. While it’s true that the experts were right more often than not, I eventually had some success, and those peaches taste amazing right off the tree!
Growing up in the city of Regina, I never really understood where our food came from, and to be honest, never really cared about terms like organic, or natural. I assumed food was as simple as the “Nutritional Facts” on a jar of jam. But something changed within me after we moved onto our 40-acre parcel of land. I suddenly felt like I was a custodian of the land; those 40 acres felt like a country to this city boy! I took horticulture classes via correspondence from the University of Saskatchewan, and was told that to grow fruit successfully, you needed to use pesticides. This did not sit well with me and my new found “love of the land,” so I began to search for alternative ideologies.
We travelled to the Okanagan, the Niagara, California, and Minnesota, and learned from fruit growers and fruit breeders. While visiting an organic orchard in BC, the owner told us an inspiring story as to why he switched his orchard from conventional growing, using synthetic pesticides, to an organic growing system. This story confirmed our beliefs that it could be done, and using an organic and natural system was the key. Now, it’s all well and good to have high ethical standards, but the harsh reality of Mother Nature severely challenged us to continue following them. Grasshoppers, mice, raccoons, deer, gophers, birds, porcupines, coyotes, foxes are only a few of the problems we faced. Add in hail, frost, drought, wind, and flooding, we soon realized this was going to be harder than we thought. In the end, no matter how good a grower you are, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and that sense of helplessness is humbling at times. Throw in the challenge of doing all this organically, well it’s just about enough to make us jump off the cliff! But slowly, with each passing year, more knowledge was gained, and out of every failure (like killing an estimated 3,000 plants!), we found some way to succeed.
With our first harvest of cherry fruit, we started to make chocolate covered cherries in a kitchen in a church basement. We needed a name for the cherry so we trademarked “Prairie Cherry” because the trees were developed in Saskatoon, and well, it rhymed! Prairie Cherry Chocolates were born. Soon after, it was announced that Queen Elizabeth II was visiting Saskatchewan for our centennial celebrations, and I told Sylvia, “Mark my words, the Queen will have one of our chocolates,” and sure enough, she had one. (I was so worried that she would make a mess on her dress, but years later I was told, “She scoffed it down.” Phew!) I then put on my chef’s hat and created recipes for jam and syrup in a location in Lumsden. Our products came under the scrutiny of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), who said our products did not have enough sugar in them to be called jam and syrup, so we had to either change our recipe to have 66 per cent sugar or change the name of the product. We chose to change our names to spread and topping because we wanted our products to be as nutritious as possible.
Since then, we have added many products to our line-up, including pies, tarts, and juice. We have also added many new fruits, everything from grapes to blackberries to peaches, and incorporated innovative growing techniques like our 12,000 strawberry plants grown in growbags, 3 feet above the ground! (So easy to pick the fruit!) We built a new processing facility on the orchard site in 2013 and all of our products became gluten and nut free, as well. Our latest product has been the creation of our line-up of wines, which are Raspberry Rhubarb semi-sweet, Apple Cinnamon semi-sweet, and Prairie Cherry dry.
We have open tours of the orchard every Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 pm, the cost is $15, which includes a piece of Prairie Cherry pie and coffee. We have built an outdoor patio so our customers can enjoy their food and wine while overlooking the beauty of the valley, and we host weddings, conferences, and corporate events. It can be a bit confusing to get to our orchard, but we are on googlemaps, and there is a map on our website. Our opening day is May 8 for our Mother’s Day Brunch, which is by reservation only. We invite you to visit our orchard, so we can show you our passion for a healthy environment and our delicious and nutritious food!
Dean Kreutzer, and his wife, Sylvia, operate Over the Hill Orchards, a certified organic orchard south of Lumsden, SK. Dean is also a fruit breeder and environmentalist with an intense interest in solar energy. For more information, visit www.overthehillorchards.ca, twitter: @prairiecherry, facebook: facebook.com/overthehillorchards, and phone (306) 535-1278.