Organic Herbs at Roots Organics!

As a downtown Vancouver resident, it's not often that I get into the suburbs, let alone into the farm country near the U.S. - Canada border. It's usually a family dinner at my sister place in Elgin Park that convinces me the drive over two bridges and under one tunnel is a worthy undertaking. Though as this summer is shaping up, I think I'll become very acquainted with this part of our province. 

Today, it was a trip to Roots Organics in Surrey that had me behind the wheel. I can't say it was a beautiful day to be touring farmer's fields, but I was still keen to get out there and learn from the Brar brother's, T.J and Ron. Thankfully, their greenhouses offered some cover from the early (torrential) spring rains.

Perfect, organic mint. I wish you could smell this picture.

Starting in their dad’s garage, they've been growing Organic Herbs since 1996 and have been on our stores shelf since we first opened our doors on Robson street in 2008. As a result, they've been a part of more meals in my home than I can count, and visiting the soil where all that flavour is grown is an opportunity I relish.  I've been so impressed with how they've managed to deliver such a delicate product at such a high quality so consistently. (Seriously, fresh basil is temperamental.) And I’m not just pumping their tires here, as a food nerd it’s something I’ve spent far too much time thinking about.

Maybe the meaning of this trip holds particular value to me for the fact that fresh herbs play such an important part in our family dinners and special occasions. While the herb might not be the star of your thanksgiving meal, what is a turkey without fresh sage? What's a prime-rib roast without a bunch of thyme? Herbs are the unsung heroes of our plates and elevate a pale, bland bird into something truly magical. With that view, these two brothers have been the source of some serious feel good smells coming out of my oven for near a decade now. I'm looking forward to shaking their hands and thanking them for it!

I think you can tell that meals hold with them quite a bit of emotion for me, it’s why I started this whole thing to begin with. So when I asked the brothers about their own sentimental attachments to foods and herbs, T.J. said it was mint that held power over him and Ron his sage. As a family tracing it’s origins back to the Indian Punjab, mint made sense to me, but the sage was a surprise. It turns out he’s a man after my own heart.

Excuse the mud, it had been pouring rain all morning. Thankfully they have over 140 of these greenhouses for us to hide in.

Aside from spending the morning bathing in the fresh scents of mint and tarragon, my goal was to find out how the “organic” label added too or complicated their farming experience. On this, I’ll say that sheer determination and ingenuity on the part of the Brar brothers and their staff have allowed them to manage the added costs associated with organic farming while bringing a superior and affordable product consistently to market. Thankfully too, because our store is better for the work they’re doing!

What do I mean by determination and ingenuity? To start, they hand weed their 140 greenhouses, making up a sizeable 780,000 sq. ft of undercover farmland, a job that requiring over 140 employees in the peak summer season.  They also experiment with alternative growing mediums, like ground coconut husk; an option that limits exposure to pests and weather extremes.

French Tarragon, thriving in a cold BC April. Safe and warm under the greenhouse's roof!

To my last point, I wanted to ask these brothers in farming about their family farm and the state of local family farming more generally.  T.J.  credited the institutional knowledge held within their farm for the success they’ve seen, thanking their father and his generation for learning the lessons the hard way and making that knowledge available to his sons. He called farming an art form, a sentiment I find compelling particularly when considering the incredibly high standard we as customers and retailers demand from farms like these. It truly is an art to create such perfect produce each and every-time. 

As the somewhat romantic notion of a family run farm fades further from the reality of agriculture, Evergreen Organics was a refreshing reminder that these places do exists and that they can compete in our current marketplace, often with great success. Thankfully the demand for more local, high quality produce is trending positively and consumers throughout BC and Canada are starting to recognize the importance of farms like these to our food security and the future sustainability of the food industry as a whole. 

With an ear to the past, the Brar brothers continue what their father started and still provide fresh family gown produce to BC and those further afield!

So the next time you grab a clamshell of your favourite herb from our store or someone else’s, hopefully you’ll look for the “Roots Organic” logo and thank the Brar bros, as I did, for their role in the meal on your plate. 


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