New Brunswick apple grower diversifies
With too many apples around the world, the Bourgeois family is marketing the orchard experience.
Ferme Bourgeois Farms distributes apples, including those from Washington State, to stores throughout New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in Canada.
History runs deep in Pré-d’en-Haut, where the tang of salt marshes blends with the scent of apple orchards in full bloom. This is the heart of historic Acadia in New Brunswick, Canada, where dense forests and the kindness of the region’s native Miq’maq people hid the handful of French settlers lucky enough to escape deportation by British troops in 1755.
Honoring that history is important at Ferme Bourgeois Farms, which has expanded from simply being a grower into a distributor, processor, and now a tourism destination.
“We want to sell not only our product but the experience of the orchard,” said Maxime Bourgeois, who has coordinated an interpretive display detailing the history of the orchard and its place in the region. The display is part of the farm’s participation in the 45-member, Quebec-based Economuseum Network.
To better handle the growing number of visitors to the orchard, Ferme Bourgeois has doubled the size of its on-farm shop to include a coffee counter where visitors can enjoy poutine à trou, a traditional Acadian apple dumpling.
The low price of fresh apples is a major reason for diversification, said Robert Bourgeois, who manages the family-owned farm with his brother Jean-Louis.
Though New Brunswick is the smallest of Canada’s apple-producing provinces, with production last year estimated at just over 190,000 bushels, buyers are typically loyal to local products. Still, Bourgeois said local growers face the same problem confronting those elsewhere.
“There’s too many apples around the world,” he said.
He believes diversification is one of the few ways growers can remain competitive.
Agritourism opportunities such as the economuseum and a thriving U-pick operation that attracts thousands of visitors to the orchard each fall are just two of the opportunities Bourgeois is pursuing.
He has also worked to replant his 85-acre orchard to high-density dwarf and semidwarf trees that have boosted apple production to between 40,000 and 50,000 bushels annually. Though the primary varieties are McIntosh and Cortland, newer plantings include Honeycrisp, Ginger Gold, and Jonagold.
Seven years ago, Bourgeois added sparkling apple juices and fruit wines to the farm’s offerings.
“I was looking for added value. And you look at what’s going on—there were people making pies, a lot of people making cheaper-priced juice. But there was nobody doing [sparkling juice] in Atlantic Canada. It was a niche market,” he said. “It fit what we wanted to do.”
In 1999, Bourgeois hired winemaker Eric Noel, a recent graduate of the Université de Moncton with a background in biochemistry, to pioneer the farm’s sparkling apple juice. Apple wines soon followed.
New Brunswick law didn’t allow cottage wineries in the 1990s, so Bourgeois lobbied for the legislative changes that in 1998 made it possible for his own farm, as well as cottage distiller Winegarden Estate Ltd. and the Gagetown Cider Co., to produce and sell alcoholic beverages from their fruit.
Since locals considered cider a nonalcoholic drink, Bourgeois called the new products wines to highlight their alcoholic content even though that content is far less than in most fruit wines, running from a mere 2.5 percent to 5, 8, and 10 percent. The wines are not dry, but have a pleasant sparkle and good acidity.
The diversification is part of the dramatic changes the Bourgeois family has made since Robert’s father Louis acquired the orchard from the local Roman Catholic parish in 1967.
“When we started, we had no bins, no forklifts,” Bourgeois said. “It was all barrels, and everything was done by hand.”
The farm upgraded its equipment throughout the 1970s. It installed one of the first controlled-atmosphere storage facilities in the region in 1973, a move that gave it a long-term storage capacity of 400,000 pounds.
A new packing line soon followed, and business grew. From a one-ton truck in the early 1970s, Ferme Bourgeois has become the primary wholesale distributor of apples (packaged under the Belliveau Orchards banner) to retailers in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Two years ago, the business invested in a state-of-the-art packing line that allows better cleaning, grading, and packing of fruit.
“When you have old equipment and old stuff it’s hard to keep track,” Bourgeois said. “With this, you have a traceability system.”
The Bourgeois family’s investments have made it the only major packing operation in New Brunswick, said Paul LeBlanc, general manager of the Apple Growers of New Brunswick.
“The apple industry has been severely affected by two very bad years, but Ferme Bourgeois continues to invest and continues to provide leadership for our provincial apple growers.”
Its diversification into new products has only helped cement its position in the industry.
“The fresh apple cider and farm-produced apple-based wines are a classy addition to the traditional farm operation,” Le Blanc said.