Birchwood Dairy Farm
Known as a “City in the Country,” Abbotsford, British Columbia, is one of the main agricultural hubs of western Canada. In this region, nestled on the flatlands of the Sumas Prairie between the Pacific Coast and the Cascade Mountains, east of Vancouver is Birchwood Dairy Farm (Birchwood), a family-owned dairy farm, processing plant, country store and ice cream parlor that has been part of the area’s viable agroindustry for decades.
“We are a family-owned and –operated dairy farm and processing plant,” shares Brian Krahn, general manager and co-owner of Birchwood. “We manufacture gourmet old-fashioned ice cream, bottled milk, hand-crafted cheese, such as feta and Monterrey Jack and cheddar cheese curds, as well as Greek-style yogurts and sour cream.”
Uprooting to chase a dream and build a family story
The 150-acre farm started small in 1968 with Brian’s parents, Len and Grace Krahn. Len was drawn to the Sumas Prairie land and the opportunity to raise a family in the countryside, so when a working farm in the area became available the newly married couple didn’t hesitate to uproot and resettle.
Birchwood, named for the Birchwood trees surrounding the land, was purchased in 1968. In the early 1980s Len and Grace laid the groundwork for the processing plant they had always dreamed of. The couple began processing milk from their own dairy cows into feta cheese and gourmet ice cream. “We started with our own little country farm store selling our gourmet ice cream and milk,” says Brian. “Soon after, Birchwood began distributing products all over the Fraser Valley, as far as Vancouver, Whistler and the Okanagan.”
The company even served regional Starbucks stores from 1986 to 2001.
Since moving to Abbotsford, Birchwood’s success has multiplied and so has the Krahn family, now extending across three generations. “My brother, Rick Krahn, oversees the farm,” reveals Brian. “We also have several nephews involved in the business.”
Focusing on home-grown
Today, Birchwood rests on more than 150 acres of farmland and leases another 70 acres and has 180 dairy cows and calves and a 7,500-square-foot processing plant. “We employ between 20 and 25 people within the farm, retail store and processing plant,” details Brian. “We distribute our dairy products throughout the lower mainland, from Vancouver to Hope, B.C. We not only sell to wholesalers and retailers but also coffee and specialty shops.”
While Birchwood once sold to large corporations such as Starbucks and Safeway, Brian says the company has focused on going local lately. “We are cleaning up our ingredient list, going more local and natural,” he notes. “We want to put in our own kettle to make pure fruit purees for our new fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and to make chocolate sauces for our ice cream. Being a small company, we can take that extra step and time to focus on the details and that is what the consumer is looking for now.”
Life on the farm
Brian says an increasing amount of consumers want to know where their food comes from and Birchwood offers direct insight. From generation to generation, the Birchwood family farm is happy to share in its extensive knowledge.
As a dairy farm, processing plant, country store and ice cream parlor all tied into one, Birchwood is a lively, exciting place for visitors to learn about life on a farm. “Our farm has become a favorite destination for all ages and people come from all over to enjoy the ambiance of the country,” says Brian. “They love to relax and enjoy the view of the mountains and surrounding fields and farms.”
Groups of cyclists, motorcyclists, antique car caravans, seniors, students, international students and farmers, bus tours and even birthday party groups stop into Birchwood to share in the experience. “Most people from the city have never seen an operational farm before,” explains Brian. “They enjoy taking a tour through the barns and seeing how we feed the baby calves. We offer an explanation of how everything is made in our processing plant and the reward is a cone of our homemade gourmet ice cream at the end of the tour.”
Brian goes on to note that the family strongly believes that it is important to educate people, especially young children about where their food comes from. “Some people think milk just comes from the store, but we are giving them a broader perspective,” he says.
Brian says the next step for Birchwood is to build upon an over 30-yearlong legacy. After three generations of family ownership, Birchwood Dairy Farm offers visitors a glimpse of life on a family-run farm and the freshest home-grown goods.