B.C. family farm goes big for niche meat market

Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry | Farm connects with customers in Vancouver

YARROW, B.C. — Fifteen family members are on the payroll in a workforce of 100 at Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry.

President Ken Falk rattles off the jobs of each of his relatives, from his sister Carol Dick, who serves as office manager and bookkeeper, to her husband, Paul Dick, who is vice-president of sales, to his grand-nephew, Jordan Dick, who works in web design and marketing, and Jordan’s wife, Katie Dick, who supervises the farm’s latest enterprise, an expanded on-farm retail store near Yarrow.

“We expect as much or more from them as any other employee,” Falk said, noting their wages mirror the non-family workers’ pay stubs.

He and Katie Dick agree they are a farm family that works together.

Dick said she doesn’t look for special treatment, but noted there’s a “homey” and supportive vibe in the family business.

“It’s always been family first,” said Dick, who was raised on a kiwi farm in the Fraser Valley.

“We care about the product we’re putting out. We’re in the family, so it does matter to us.”

Falk’s parents, Abe and Jessie Falk, are retired and live at the main farm near Abbotsford. It is one of five sites the family oversees, comprising close to 100 acres.

Falk said their farming history stretches back to his grandfather, who came from Russia and started a mixed operation in the valley and further north with raspberries, pigs and poultry. They purchased the poultry operation in 1998.

Today, the family’s production focuses on specialty birds for ethnic markets in Vancouver, raising 22,000 Taiwan chickens and 15,000 ducks a week. They also produce 15,000 organic chickens and 5,000 squab a month and 20,000 geese a year.

Falk said ducks are not subject to supply management.

“It’s a free and open market, capitalism at its finest,” he said.

However, that means they’re also at the mercy of any country dumping product into Canada. Local competition has shrunk in recent years, with only one of five competitors remaining from their early days in the business.

They raise birds but also buy from other producers.

“It’s a mix of ours and other contracted growers in the valley,” said Falk.

The farm suffered a serious setback during the avian influenza outbreak of 2004, when the British Columbia government ordered the destruction of flocks. It took the family five years to recover.

“The store came into existence because of the avian influenza,” Dick said. “We set it up to keep revenue being generated, albeit in a small form. As well to help retain key employees.”

Falk said it was the family’s perseverance that got them through those dark days.

“We had to sell family assets just to recover and prop up the business,” he said. “We really needed to reshape the way the business was to look to the future.”

They opted to sell directly and create their own distribution networks to 300 stores and restaurants.

“It’s costly and time consuming,” said Falk.

“We need to do our own distribution. We need to control production.”

Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry is a division of Twin Maple Group of Companies, also run by the family.

It is a wholesale distributor that supplies products to retail lumber and hardware stores across Canada and the United States, offering products such as liquid storage tanks for potable water storage, brewery and wine production, farm and industrial liquid storage and in-ground septic systems.

It also operates construction services for industrial, commercial and agricultural uses.

The new store replaces a small retail space alongside their business offices that saw as many as 30 customers a day.

Dick said it offers the company’s poultry, combined with an assortment of cheese, pork, beef and other products from the Fraser Valley.

She promotes the shop through food demonstrations and community events and stresses the importance of using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, a website and local newspaper advertising.

Falk said the store builds on their business plan to do direct selling.

It also offers a connection to consumers and opportunities to show where food comes from and how it’s produced by a family operation.

“You can’t keep believing that food just comes from Safeway,” he said.

For the future, Falk sees opportunities for continued growth in niche markets.

“We have carved out our piece of the market,” he said.

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