Berries, baking, dogs keep couple busy

NEVILLE, Sask. — The flour bag is open and the rolling pin balances on a bowl ready for the next pie that Jane Unteriner will prepare.

She is creating a fruit slice with a thick filling made from saskatoons grown in the family’s orchard, Cedar Hill Fruit Farm, near Neville. She boasts of making as many as 80 pies in a day, which is a feat considering that she once couldn’t even make pastry.

Adjacent rooms house portable drawers filled with cookies, squares and other treats, while shelves hold fruit preserves and an outbuilding houses a walk-in freezer and extra oven. Most weeks, she will make 20 dozen cinnamon rolls and three kinds of cookies.

She and her husband, Dave, grow eight acres of fruit, including rhubarb, saskatoons, red, white and black cherries, chokecherries, gooseberries and apples.

“There have been years when I made more money off fruit on our acreage than the neighbour made off of one quarter growing grain,” said Jane.

Birds compete for the fruit but also serve a useful purpose.

“I can pick all day and not get bitten by mosquitoes,” Jane said.

In the early years, the couple took their trailer load of fruit to farmers markets and also sold to a bakery. Jane prefers direct marketing.

“Part of the farmers market experience is to talk,” she said.

Dave is colour blind and picking fruit is challenging, so he is largely responsible for spraying for fungus and mowing. They combat fire blight by cutting trees at the ground level and letting them re-grow.

In 2010, they suffered $80,000 worth of damage from a hailstorm that damaged the orchard, vehicles and buildings.

“Every shingle had a hole in it,” said Dave.

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They used irrigation to establish the orchard and three wind turbines in the yard to power the fruit freezer, with excess electricity sold back to the grid.

The pair also raised purebred Newfoundland dogs, breeding as many as 20 adults and asking $3,000 for breeding stock and $1,500 for pet stock.

“People would say I’m a Type A.… I don’t do things halfway. If I get in, I go at it full bore,” Jane said, noting dog breeding grew to include sales of dog hair to a spinner and dog paraphernalia such as collars and leashes.

Their Vespers’ Own kennel dogs can be found in locations as far flung as Norway and South Korea and have been featured in the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York. They’ve also been used as therapy dogs and participated in the Grey Cup parade.

“They are a gentle breed,” said Jane of a dog that dates back to the 1800s and can weigh 68 kilograms and grow 74 centimetres tall.

She initially acquired them to keep wildlife out of the orchards.

“I spread their hair in the trees to keep the deer away,” said Jane.

Jane, who has degrees in both education and social work, co-ordinated 40 volunteers full time for seven years as the first co-ordinator of a victims of crime program.

“Having an orchard and dogs was probably the thing that kept me sane,” said Jane.

“It balanced off all the stress and everything else, other people’s problems. In the orchard, I’m working with my hands and with dogs, it’s a labour of love.”

Dave agreed.

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“One thing about a dog, it loves you no matter what.”

The venture did limit holidays away together.

“We have a trailer at Palliser (Regional Park) and never get to stay in it,” said Dave.

In recent months, Dave’s heart concerns have caused them to rethink their labour intensive lifestyle and future here and have begun downsizing to lower the workload.

“Something we forgot when we bought it was we were going to get old,” said Dave.“Living out here isn’t as much fun when you have to hire things to do that you could (previously) do yourself.”

Dave retired from the Saskatchewan government’s revenue department and now works part-time at the landfill weighing trucks while Jane does substitute teaching.

Dave praised his wife for her strong work ethic, independence and fearlessness. He recounted a story of her rescuing him when he was stranded in a snowstorm.

“She had to clean the yard to get out and brought two dogs,” he said.

Dave said they hoped the orchard would add $1,000 per month to their pensions when they bought the land 20 years ago and started planting trees.

“It afforded us a lifestyle not many people have,” said Dave.

Added Jane: “A person just has to be in the right mind set to see the possibilities.”

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