From the Squamish farm to table during COVID-19 | Squamish Chief

From the Squamish farm to table during COVID-19

Squamish's Hop Creek Farms stand has been operating as an essential service throughout the pandemic; family aims to expand into poultry processing

Early on in the pandemic, farmers' markets and farm stands —like Squamish's Hop Creek Farms stand in Brackendale —were declared essential services.

Hop Creek owners Burt and Steph Wright (along with Steph's parents Ingrid and Greg McDougall) raise pork and chicken on their 33-acre farm.

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Beef and some lamb that they sell at the stand are sourced from the family ranch, Murphy Meadow Ranch, located just south of Williams Lake.

They opened their Squamish stand in September 2019.

Other than the now-familiar COVID-19 protocols of hand sanitizers, physical distancing and the like, one of the things that was different at the stand at the start of the pandemic was that they had to make sure people didn't buy out all the meat, says Burt Wright.

"We did have people who attempted to buy everything... There was a little bit of panic buying and we had to reassure everyone that there are no issues when it comes to meat supplies."

Wright said that there are certain cuts of meat that have been most popular since the start of the pandemic including bacon, steaks and hamburger.

"Everybody is cooking at home and eating more at home. The money that was normally going into restaurants is going into operations like ours, the farmers' market and grocery stores," he said.

Wright said one thing he would encourage Squamish residents to do during this time, is try cuts of meat they aren't as familiar with.

"One of my favourites is pork hock. It is one of those cuts that people don't realize is so good for you, because of all the collagen and connective tissue, and they are incredibly tasty," he said. "It is a tougher cut, like brisket... If you cook it properly, it is incredible. If you don't cook it properly, it is just a really chewy, gristly piece of meat."

Short ribs and round steaks are other cuts that Wright says to give a try if you are currently able to spend more time in the kitchen.

Recipes are available at the stand and the Wrights can answer questions about how to cook each cut.

At the farm stand the Wright’s are also currently selling plant starters and families can catch a glimpse of some of the farm animals from the parking lot, he said.

In the future, the family is looking to move into doing poultry processing on-site in Squamish.

They recently purchased a mobile commercial poultry-processing unit.

News of chicken processing plant employees in B.C. and elsewhere testing positive for COVID-19 supports the idea of having small-scale local processing, but Wright says regardless of the pandemic, it is a sustainable move to simplify the food supply from farm to table.

"Putting the current pandemic situation aside, being able to control how our animals are processed is huge for us," he said. "It doesn't matter if it is a cow, a pig, a lamb or a chicken, being able to control every aspect of that product right through to the delivery day is key to us — to be able to deliver a quality product that we can stick our name behind."

Write said with a large amount of food going through one area of any large commercial facility, whether it is meat or vegetables, it becomes easier for the food supply to be vulnerable to contamination and thus, to be shut down.

"If you have more numerous family farms supplying meat directly to the consumer, that is a pretty resilient system," he said, adding food sustainability is an important goal for Squamish.

The family is currently working with the ministry of health and the ministry of environment to meet the requirements to turn the newly purchased unit initially into a Class D slaughter facility, and eventually a Class B or Class A facility, he said.

They hope to be ready to begin processing operations some time summer, but it all depends on the approval processes.

Find out more about the stand at hopcreekfarms.com.

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