Sustainable Okanagan: from organic orchards to farm-to-table dining
With sun-drenched hills, verdant valleys, and sparkling sprawling lakes, it's easy to see why the Okanagan is one of Canada's best-loved destinations. It’s the kind of place that fosters awe and appreciation, a pride of place that makes people want to help protect it. This September we teamed up with Thompson Okanagan to explore businesses and communities that are trying to do just that — from organic orchards to indigenous wineries, we visited a handful of environmentally and socially responsible organizations that are helping forge the way to a better future for all of us.
We begin our journey in Kelowna. Nestled on the shores of Okanagan Lake and surrounded by scenic benchlands, Kelowna is the biggest city in BC's wine country, warmed by a friendly culture of good local food and delicious drink.
Kelowna is the heart of winemaking in British Columbia, renowned for world-class wines of exceptional quality. With over 40 wineries within a 20 minute drive of the city, there are plenty of options to choose from... including some notable pioneering and organic ones.
Among Canada's best known organic wineries is the Summerhill Pyramid Winery. Committed to producing biodynamic and responsibly-grown wines since 1986, they first turned heads with their award-winning Cipes Brut sparkling wines. Unique to Summerhill is their use of sacred geometry in the final stage of production, placing each bottle inside a big pyramid to clarify the liquid's qualities and improve the taste. If you have 45 minutes to spare, see it for yourself on the pyramid experience tour!
Producing grapes and carefully-crafted wines since 1925, the Sperling Vineyards have been a family-run business for 4 generations. In 2017 they attained organic certification, realizing their dream to produce honest and elegant wines that don't harm the environment. Stop by the tasting room to try one of their many wines and take a calming stroll in their grape labyrinth.
Indigenous World Winery
A newcomer on Kelowna's wine scene, Indigenous World Winery was started on the benches of West Kelowna by Robert Louie and his wife Bernice. Descendents of the Syilx people who have lived on and protected the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys for thousands of years, they make every effort to produce wine in a respectful way to the environment, the lands, and its people.
FARM TO TABLE
Kelowna comes by its renowned farm-to-table dining naturally. With close proximity to some of BC's best agricultural lands, chefs can pick products at just the right moment of ripeness to create honest dishes that realize their full and delicious potential. From downtown pioneers like RauDZ Regional Table to winery-based restaurants, there are plenty of delectable options to choose from.
Sunset Organic Bistro
Located at Summerhill with sweeping views overlooking the lake and a little vineyard, the Sunset Organic Bistro serves delicious dishes prepared from local and organic ingredients, including many vegetarian options. We stopped by for an afternoon bite of vegan calamari made from oyster mushrooms and a fantastic fennel & olive salad. Very nice.
Red Fox Club
For inspired dishes influenced by traditional indigenous cuisine we highly highly recommend you try the Red Fox Club. Located beside the Indigenous World Winery, chef de cuisine Andrea Callan sources ingredients from local greenhouses, organic farms, foragers, cheese makers, and other purveyors to create an ever-revolving and seasonal menu that is really really tasty.
MARKETS & ORCHARDS
Surrounded by orchards and farms and vineyards, Kelowna has some of the best fruit and agricultural produce anywhere in Canada. There are farm stands and fruit markets and u-pick orchards scattered throughout the city and surrounding areas.
Paynter's Fruit Market
Serving the West Kelowna area for over 60 years, Paynter's Fruit Market has a large roadside farm stand and u-pick plum, pear, peach, apricot, apple, and cherry orchards. Through four generations, sustainable living and respecting the land has remained integral to the market's process.
A bit further up the road in little Oyama waits the Gatzke Orchard. In addition to serving a bustling farm market and fruit stand, Gatzke's flourishing orchard provides fruit to restaurants throughout the region, as well as its own roadside bakery and cafe from May thru September. It's a neat spot, with handsome old tractors and a grape-decked bowery that doubles as a popular event venue.
Lavender & Herb Farm
For a totally different experience, head to the sun-baked benches above Kelowna and stop in at the Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm. A family-run business, they grow, produce, and distill farm-grown botanical skin care and culinary products. Stroll through the fragrant fields or sign up for a workshop on aromatherapy, body care, cooking, or crafting and discover the versatility of herbs and botanicals and how they can be used to create your own take-home products.
Once you've eaten your fill of good foods and fine wine, it's time to head out and do some exploring. From cultural attractions like museums and galleries to outdoor activities like kayaking and hiking, Kelowna has a lot of great things to see and do.
Right on the edge of town, Knox Mountain is Kelowna’s largest natural park. A protected area of diverse riparian lakeshore, ponderosa pine, golden grasslands, and scenic rocky perches, it hosts a web of hiking and biking trails, tennis courts and beaches, and is a popular recreation area for locals.
The Sncewips Heritage Museum in West Kelowna offers a snapshot of the history and heritage of the local Sqilxw people. It's a small space filled with everyday items, repatriated artifacts, and documents of cultural significance, but the displays only tell half the story — when we stopped in we found the front desk empty, the staff instead in another room sharing origin myths with a couple visitors. The stories wove one into the next, engaging, modern retellings of well-worn tales passed down through generations, stories of coyote and the age before animals took their final form, stories of how things came to be. The culture felt so alive, these stories so vivid and vibrant, a tiny glimpse into a different way of being in the world, a hint at something that extended well beyond the museum's little walls.
One of Kelowna's most iconic attractions are the Myra Canyon Trestles. High above the city on a section of the historical Kettle Valley Railway, the trail winds over 18 wooden trestles and through two tunnels, offering almost constant views of the canyon and the distant Okanagan Lake. Well-maintained and exceptionally flat, it makes for a nice easy stroll — but to see it all 12km (24km [15 miles] return) you'll want to rent a bike onsite from the friendly folks at Myra Canyon Bicycle Rental.