LAKE SHUSWAP, B.C. – Back in February 2008 Kristen and Bruce Jordan were relative newcomers to the agricultural community with high hopes for their new venture in the province’s fertile Central Saanich region.
With five fulltime staff, they were growing apple trees from Chisel Jerseys to Kingston Blacks, overseeing pressing in the traditional rack and cloth method and operating fermentation tanks in their 6,000 square foot cider house peering out majestically over Cordova Channel.
Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse was producing high quality organically certified ciders including Wild English, Flag Ship, Kings and Spies, Pippins, Rumrunner, Pommeau, Cyser and Pomona.
More than four years later, Kristen Jordan looks back at how the business has grown significantly and what the new business goals are. She also reflects on a journey that has had its share of highs and lows, the latter most notable in the couple’s personal lives.
“Bruce and I are separated and are getting a divorce,” she said. “He will be selling his shares of the company to me and within the next six months I will be the sole shareholder.
“The business is doing very well and this is the only real cloud – the fact that it took its toll on our lives personally. For new farmers the best advice I could give is that there needs to be some really frank discussions at the onset about what the balance between work and your life is going to be. You really must check in with each other all the time to make sure that things are alright.”
She talks about the business with a genuine sense of pride, pointing to last year’s production of 40,000 litres, well above the 25,000 litre mark she spoke of four years ago. The goal is to produce 60,000 litres from the 2012 harvest and 100,000 litres in three years’ time.
“In 2008 we were only selling in British Columbia, mainly on Vancouver Island,” she continued. “Now our products are sold throughout the province, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Yukon and in Oregon, Washington and Minnesota.
“We got into the States a little more than a year ago and the potential there is massive. My wholesale stream has really taken off and the States is where the biggest growth has come and will continue to come from. At this point our out-of-province sales account for about 15 of our revenue but over the next three years that will probably grow to about half our revenue – primarily in the U.S.”
Social media has played an important role as part of the business’ overall marketing plan, keeping her connected to customers; many of them now well outside the borders of British Columbia, while ensuring the interaction is current and fresh.
“Back in 2008 we had five people on staff but now we’ve got about 17 on payroll now, with six full-time,” she said. We produce about a dozen different ciders with a few new ones with two streams of cider – those that we produce in sufficient quantities to have available year-round and the seasonal varieties only available for a few months a year.
“We now have a couple of operating lines of credit from FCC and from TD Bank and I’m going back to FCC soon for more financing to buy new producing equipment. There are four acres of orchard and we also buy some product from other apple growers.”
Still a member of the BC Fruit Testers Association and the Direct Farm Marketing Association on Vancouver Island, the business now also belongs to Tourism Victoria and the regional Chamber of Commerce.
The two children, 10-year-old Thomas and 12-year-old Evelyn view the business as a positive in their lives, with their mother noting that both have a strong entrepreneurial aptitude.
As for other advice for new farmers, Jordan gets right to the point.
“You have to have a passion for this kind of thing or you will find it’s a real drain,” she said. “It’s not nine-to-five. Today I spent the last four hours on marketing alone. You’re working whenever the job demands it but the rewards are priceless.
“More and more today the world is calling on farmers to have really good business skills. It’s not enough to know how to grow apples or produce whatever commodity you get involved in. You need to know how to make a business out of it. It’s one thing to get into farming as a lifestyle choice but you have to be willing to crunch the numbers and understand what you are doing as a business.
“It can be difficult at times but at the end of the day I am very happy with the decision I made in the beginning.”
Those interested in learning more about the enterprise can log on to the website at www.seacider.ca.