Evergreen Herbs Ltd. & Roots Organic Inc.: A Gold Standard in Sustainable Specialty Produce

The Brar family has a long history of farming in Surrey, British Columbia, but by 1996 shrinking margins on crops like onions, carrots and leaf lettuces prompted the younger generation to branch out. Armed with a labeler, printer and the family garage, brothers TJ and Ron Brar established Evergreen Herbs Ltd. & Roots Organic Inc. (Evergreen). The brothers used the family greenhouses to raise herbs, and the Brar’s simplistic idealism worked.

Evergreen now numbers amongst the largest distributors of herbs, baby vegetables and edible flowers in Canada, relying on an organic-inspired process and a balance of technology and traditional farming practices.

Evergreen didn’t officially catch its big break until 1997, when Ron took a chance and headed out to the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s Annual Convention in Alberta. “My mom, my dad, my brother, my wife Jessie and I had all worked on the project and we knew this was our opportunity,” recalls Ron, president and cofounder of Evergreen. “So Jessie and I packed up suitcases of product and bussed all the way to Banff. We stayed in the cheapest motel we could find, but we set up our exhibit at the trade show and talked to as many people as we could.”

The family’s efforts paid off, and by the time Ron and Jessie got on their return bus to British Columbia the family farm was fielding more calls than it could handle. Within a year a whopping 67 percent of all contacts made at the convention became customers. The next five years had Evergreen’s revenue blossom 1,300 percent, as chefs, upscale restaurants and gourmet manufacturers clamored for a consistent supplier of freshly picked herbs, baby vegetables and tender edible blossoms.

Above and Beyond

Evergreen was built on equal parts commitment to quality and unwavering consistency, especially in its supply. In one case, the Brar brothers managed to calm a frantic customer in Calgary whose supplier of edible blossoms fell through. The client had less than 24 hours to source enough red and white blossoms to garnish an important dinner he would be serving to a host of visiting officials. To make matters worse, the blossoms were out of season.

One phone call to a contact in the Dominican Republic and one hefty FedEx bill later, the Brar brothers came through.

“It’s been one hell of a ride,” chuckles Ron. “Herbs are our specialty and we grow them with perfection, but we also deal in a variety of specialty products.” Evergreen now produces an array of edible blossoms, including chrysanthemums, roses, squash blossoms, violas and snap dragons, which are desired as much for their visual appeal as for their aroma and delicate flavor. The company also distributes an array of gourmet lettuces from the buttery Mache to spicy dandelion greens and earthy Tatsoi. Evergreen is also the company of choice when looking for golden crookneck squash, tender young turnips, brightly colored beets, sweet kohlrabi, summer patti squash and baby French beans.

Roots Organics was established as the certified organic division and brand of Evergreen, but the company insists on maintaining ambitious standards in food safety and sustainable crop production across all of its operations. Evergreen denies genetically modified seeds and opts to delicately remove weeds by hand to protect the crop’s root establishment. Four adjacent farms in British Columbia house Evergreen’s greenhouse campus and ancillary packaging and storage facilities. Each Evergreen crop begins in the company’s own greenhouses, and finishes growing in the adjacent farm fields or in the greenhouse depending on the season.

Two state-of-the-art water purification systems were implemented for the irrigation of the fields and green houses. “This system is a milestone in our farming operations and we consider this to be a valuable asset to ensure food safety and controlling possible contamination right at the source,” says Ron. “With the recent scares with produce recalls that there has been all around the world, it is imperative that we stay ahead of the game and do everything we can to prevent similar incidents.” Additionally, oats are planted as cover crops between growing cycles to minimize soil erosion and renew nutrient content at the farm.

Farming for the Future

Though the brothers have many capabilities close by, they strive for the best. The company works with contract farmers as far away as Hawaii, California, Mexico, Israel and Colombia during the off-season to ensure a consistently high-quality supply of product. Additionally, the company has invested over $2.1 million in infrastructure in the past year alone, “because we don’t want to leave anything to chance,” asserts Ron.

Evergreen handles every stage from washing and processing product to labeling, packaging, assembling orders and shipping product across the country. The company’s Canadian storage facilities have been equipped with specialized equipment to ensure products are stored at the optimal temperatures and humidity levels to retain their fresh-off-the-farm taste.

“We’re always trying to stay on the cutting edge of change,” adds Ron. “We were early adopters of HACCP food safety practices and we continue to invest in the best packaging technology.” More recently, Evergreen has focused efforts on introducing a greater variety of heirloom varieties into its product lineup, with the help of some North American producers.

Even so, the Brar family is hesitant to bite off more than chewable, which is one of the main reasons Evergreen has focused exclusively on the Canadian market. Still, Evergreen’s more manageable annual growth rate has hovered between 25 and 33 percent in recent years, and the third generation of Brar family members are young, but already showing some interest in agriculture. “There’s so much opportunity in Canada that we haven’t even tapped into, but we’re happy with our growth, because we don’t want to be inundated with stress,” admits Ron. “We’re a family company and we pride ourselves on celebrating our amazing staff more than company milestones.”

No matter the direction Evergreen’s future unfolds, the Brar family’s dedication, entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to sustainable, safe farming practices will ensure Evergreen Herbs Ltd. & Roots Organic Inc. sets a high standard for gourmet specialty produce.