Original article found HERE

Women in Farming Series: Paula Bryk

Jun 09, 2016 10:30 AM

Posted by Emily Mann

Paula Bryk is the operator of 20 Valley Harvest Farm, a family farm located in Jordan Station, Ontario. Paula is also the Co-Chair for the Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable.

Emily: How did you become involved in farming?

Paula: I grew up farming. Our farm has been in the family for 4 generations. When I’m on our farm, I remember times spent with my father, grandparents and brother. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to spend so many summers working alongside my family. After my father passed away, I had to make a choice: sell or continue farming. My brother didn’t want to farm and it was more than a little daunting for me to do it alone. Ultimately, I decided to continue farming and though it’s been a challenge, I’m glad I did. Thankfully, many friends have helped along the way.

sweet and sour cherries
Sour cherries (left) and sweet cherries (right).

Emily: What do you grow and sell on your farm?

Paula: We mostly grow cherries – both sweet cherries and sour cherries. 21 acres is a lot of cherries and it wasn’t so much a choice as how the farm came to me. My father set up our farm for large-scale wholesale production. Mature trees take time to come into production and are very expensive to replace, so I’m continuing with the crops we have planted and am also diversifying. I’ve expanded vegetable production and have planted new trees. In 5-8 years I’ll have apples, pears and plums, which I’m aiming to grow organically.

Emily: Where do you sell your products?

Paula: Now that the wholesale market has all but disappeared for sweet cherries, I’m relying mainly on people coming to Pick-Your-Own Cherries and will be selling through market stands on both farms in Jordan Station. This is a tall order since I have so many sweet cherries to sell in a short period of time – the season begins around July 1st and lasts 2 to 3 weeks, depending on how hot the weather is.

With sweet cherries, I’ll be selling a small amount wholesale but there is very little demand these days from grocery stores for Ontario cherries. Some stores feature local cherries for a short time, but most stores prefer cheaper US cherries. The past few years have been especially difficult for Ontario cherry growers with the exchange rate being in favour of import. Many Ontario farmers couldn’t sell their cherries and countless tonnes have gone to waste (including past crops on our farm). Many growers pulled out their cherry trees, but I’m hoping that pick-your-own can revive things on our farm.

Sour cherries ripen mid-July and will be sold by Pick-Your-Own, with the remainder being harvested by machine and taken to a factory for processing into pie filling. One of the two processing plants in our area closed a few years ago as a result of US competition, but the other has managed to stay open.

Emily: What are your favourite aspects of the job? What do you find most challenging in your work?

Paula: Favourite aspects: I love working outside, meeting new people and teaching people about fruit and farming. Biggest challenges: the weather and finances. The weather can make or break a crop and sales can make or break a season.

cherry orchard

A cherry orchard at 20 Valley Harvest Farm

Emily: Are you able to find a balance between balancing your responsibilities as farm operator, with other family and volunteer commitments? If so, how?

Balance is as of yet an elusive goal, but I hope to get there someday. I’m basically in the starting a business phase of things so it will likely be a while before I can slow down. Farming is already labour intensive and I seem to like to take on other projects (ehem Roundtable) in addition to my responsibilities at home. Farm girl work ethic and long hours have been my solution 😉

Emily: Has being a woman influenced the work that you do in any way?

Paula: It’s hard to say how much is having been socialized as a woman and how much is simply who I am. I like people, so selling fruit by retail sales is a natural fit for me. I love hosting people, so inviting people to come to our family farm is fun for me. As is party planning, so I’m planning a Canada Day Weekend Pick-Your-Own Party! I have a strong environmental conscience, which informs my farming and life decisions.

Paula and friends

Paula (centre) with some farm visitors