For more than 50 years, Sieffert’s Farm Market in Comox has been supplying loyal patrons with an array of wholesome products during the growing season.
The family operation also gives back to the community by donating to the weekly soup kitchen that operates out of St. George’s United Church in Courtenay.
“We do lots of different donations,” said Charlene Sieffert, co-owner along with her husband Bob and their friend Chris Edwards.
“We do a lot of different groups that are doing the Christmas hampers.”
The farm grows its own vegetables but brings in various items for convenience such as eggs and mushrooms.
“And then [we] bring in garlic and onions at this time of year, but when ours are ready we use ours,” Charlene said. “When we start up it’s May. So if there’s B.C. product we buy local; if not, it’s the U.S.
“All the fruit we get is B.C. product. Except for when we start up in the spring. If there aren’t any apples available, then I have to hit the States for Washington. But for the most part it is as close to home as we can.”
Sieffert’s began several decades back when Bob’s parents, Jean and Norm, started out across Knight Road from the current locale.
“Dad was working over there with Lloyd Smith,” Bob said. “When they started on their own it was here in the early-60s. We built the first greenhouse here in ’63.”
“They sold out of their carport,” Charlene said. “People would just drop in. It evolved.”
The market opened in 1975. Bob grew up two houses down from the present location at 720 Knight Rd., which is about a kilometre past the Comox Airport. Charlene grew up on Bates Road. Edwards also grew up in the Valley.
“It amazes me all the new people still coming. But there’s tons of regulars,” said Charlene, who would see more foreigners a few years ago. “We used to get a lot of American bills. We’re not getting as much of that, but that’s also partly because of debit, too.”
They own about 300 acres of land between Comox and Merville.
“There’s 150 acres planted,” Bob said, noting 30,000 square feet of greenhouses.
“We do have another generation involved. Our son-in-law’s (Matt) working with us.”
Matt is married to their daughter, Alysha. Their other daughter, Jennifer, “married a farmer,” Charlene said.
The market runs daily from late-May to Nov. 10. The farm employs more than 50 people at the height of the season.
Charlene says they’ve had “phenomenal staff.” One lady has worked at Sieffert’s for 32 years; another about 18 years.
“Over the last several years it’s been awesome crews,” she said.
“We’re lucky to have some really good people,” Bob said. “It makes a huge difference.”
Running a farm is “probably more (work) than people realize,” Charlene said. “We’ve got the greenhouses, the market, the fields. There’s people out hoeing and weeding, and there’s a crew that does all the potatoes and corn. And then you get the young guys in when the beans and peas and pickles and cucumbers start.
“What’s really nice is if you can get kids starting from high school,” she added. “You get them, they go to the beans and pea patch, and if they handle that, they work up and they do other parts on the farm.”
One girl — who just completed university — is closing in on 10 years at Sieffert’s. She started in the bean and pea patch.
“They (students) can come home, they know they have a job, they live at mom and dad’s for cheap, and then get full-time work,” Charlene said. “We’ve had a lot of people, that’s how they paid for their schooling.”
The farm was a finalist for Agricultural Business of the Year at the 2014 Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce Community Awards.
Another proud moment happened last week when Sieffert’s harvested food for St Joseph’s General Hospital and Glacier View Lodge. The harvesting marked the first farm direct delivery of local food to hospital patients — and the first step towards re-localizing institutional food systems.
“It just makes so much sense to re-localize the food system, which will help revitalize the economy and ensure that we remain a farming community,” said Sandra Hamilton, who has spearheaded FEED Comox Valley (Food, Environment and Economic Development), a pilot project that started at North Island College. It is one of eight such projects across Canada geared to increasing the supply of local food in public institutions.
“A strong local food culture is essential to our brand as a community, driving tourism and creating jobs,” Hamilton said.