GLEN VALLEY, B.C. — It started with selling pumpkins on the honour system by placing a sign and a jar at the end of the farm lane in 1988.
However, Albert and Dorothy Anderson’s business eventually morphed into Aldor Acres Family Farm, a destination in the Fraser Valley for families, schools and others seeking to learn more about agriculture.
This spring morning, Montessori preschoolers sit on a wagon pulled by a tractor ambling past pens of goats, thickets of trees and farm fields.
“When we talk to people, we try to educate them on where their food comes from,” said Albert, who worked as a veterinarian for 35 years.
“The population we deal with is three generations removed from (the farm).… We’ve got two million people within 45 minutes, and a subdivision within five minutes.… That’s what makes it work, a concentration of people. It’s an easy place to go for half a day.”
The Andersons grow U-pick vegetables, sell preserves made from their own fruit and house animals from pigs, cows and goats to horses, donkeys and chickens on their 80 acres.
“Pumpkins are our main crop, with 95 percent of them going for decoration,” said Albert.
Some of their children farm nearby on another 80 acres of Anderson land. Their son, Mark, and his wife, Leanna, grow trees for the Christmas season, their son, Brian, and his wife, Erin, operate a dairy and their daughter, Gail, and her husband, Bob, have an apple orchard.
Aldor Acres adds 25 staff at harvest, with the Andersons and their granddaughter, Melissa Anderson, 25, serving as the main farm workers.
“It’s just three of us the rest of the time,” Albert said.
The Andersons tried wholesaling pumpkins in the early years but had poor returns.
“(Stores) want us to grow them for next to nothing,” said Albert. “It took us two years to figure that out.”
The farm, which leases some of its animals to a petting zoo from May to September, hosts school groups, birthday parties and family reunions.
“People are so desperate now for space, to let their kids run in the grass. They can see them 30 feet away and don’t have to hold their hands,” said Albert.
Dorothy said the children come with their school and then often return later with relatives.
“We’ve done it so long that now the grandparents are bringing their grandkids,” she said.
Dorothy said patience and people skills are needed in this business because many children have never had any experience with animals.
“So that’s why we do it,” she said.
“We had no idea when we started what it would grow into.”
Albert said the business doubled every year during the first decade in operation.
“We could never do this if we had to buy land,” he added, conceding there is not enough here to support two families.
“Melissa cannot buy the farm from us and support herself on what the return is. It’s a good business for one family.”
They are thankful that the Agricultural Land Reserve protects their farmland from commercial development in the rural municipality of Langley.
Melissa joined them in the business after completing a degree and playing hockey at Boston College and travelling abroad.
“I like to be outside, to have the freedom to reap the benefits, to see the progress you make each day,” she said.
“I like working for myself, putting a smile on people’s faces.”
Dorothy and Albert spend a month in Arizona each year so are pleased to have Melissa in her home across the yard from them.
“Age creeps up on us,” said Dorothy.
She and Albert act as overseers and Melissa does most of the tours, web-site, social media campaigns and marketing.
“We fill in when she can’t,” said Albert.
The trio were all involved in 4-H.
Dorothy and Albert, who met through the group, were involved as members and leaders and served on the district councils and at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, where they supplied animals for 4-H judging competitions. Today, they house a 4-H project calf on site for a girl living on an acreage.
The Andersons said Melissa has brought many new ideas to the farm business, including community service projects to raise funds for causes such as Special Olympics.
“We can’t always say no, we’ve got to let her try,” said Dorothy.
Melissa, who will ease into more of the business during the next five years, isn’t planning wholesale changes.
“Things will just evolve as things come up,” she said.
Her goal is to provide children with a hands-on farm experience, connection to livestock and education in food production.
She wants to introduce young visitors to what she experienced here as a child, doing chores, hiking and harvesting vegetables.
“A little taste of everything while they get dirty,” she said.