Despite drizzling rain, 21 intrepid History Hunters gathered at 9.30 am outside Tecarte Farms on Kettles Road, Delta. Owners, Jack and Ken Bates, were there to greet us. As Jack explained, they have owned and farmed about 200 acres in this part of Delta for the last forty years, and prior to that, the family farmed another area of land that was expropriated for the rail and highway. In addition, the Bates also rent additional land elsewhere in Delta and their two other brothers farm land nearby.
The farm’s barn was originally built in 1899, with additional wings added in the 1970s. The old farm house was relocated to a neighbour’s property and the roof renovated so that it now looks like a barn. The current farm house is about forty years old. Tecarte Farms is a family farm, producing milk, blueberries and main crop potatoes.
Our first stop on the farm tour was the old barn, which was full of cows sheltering from the weather and comfortably nibbling at hay bales. Three small calves delighted the photographers. Jack described the computer tracking which allows him to customize the cows’ grain intake, and the great care that is taken to track the milk output from each individual cow. This is particularly important if a cow is being treated with antibiotics, as that is not permitted in the Canadian milk supply.
Each cow is tagged on both ears and has a computer chip on a neck collar. After enjoying the cows, we moved on to the milking shed and Jack patiently answered everyone’s numerous questions as to how it all worked. The cows are milked twice a day, and while not fully automated like some farms, the process is pretty streamlined. The milk is collected in tankers for pasteurizing and processing; some is used for yogurt.
Emerging from the barns, we were pleased to see that the rain had stopped and the sun was almost out, just in time for a hayride to the blueberry fields. Ken drove the tractor and we all piled on board a hay wain. This was a big treat for us, especially as some of the History Hunters had not been on a hay ride since childhood. With much chattering, we set off past a neighbouring farm house, some old trucks and alongside a mature grassland set-aside field, part of the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust conservation programs (Jack is a past-Director and long-time supporter of the Trust, as well as a director of the BC Waterfowl Society). The set-aside provides habitat for grassland species like the savannah sparrow and northern harrier (we saw a male harrier flying low over the field), and when the grass dies back in winter, the seeds are eaten by flocks of ducks.
The hay wain ride took us over the canal and through many acres of blueberry fields, with three varieties of varying sweetness and texture. Jack explained how blueberries were grown and picked and the importance of bees in their pollination. The Bates brothers work with a beekeeper who brings his bees to the fields and then sells the honey. They also work with integrated pest management specialists who can advise what pests are present in the blueberries (varnish fly can be a problem) and when and how much to spray. Bird predation is mitigated by the use of cannons for the two month harvest time. The blueberries are sold to processors in Abbotsford for the frozen product market, rather than farm door sales. We enjoyed touring the fields and watching the barn swallows fly alongside.
Thanks to our kind hosts, Jack and Ken Bates, for a fascinating tour. It was extremely interesting for everyone who came; we learned a lot and were reminded how much hard work is involved in running a family farm. We are fortunate to have dedicated farmers like the Bates brothers to carry on the agricultural tradition here in Delta.
After the tour, those who felt inclined gathered for coffee at Stir Coffee House, the new ‘hot spot’ in Ladner village.
Join us next month when the Delta History Hunters will tour the Boundary Bay Cemetery, 56th Street, Tsawwassen and learn the family histories of those buried there.
Delta Museum and Archives Society Trustee