family background/ Madeleine continues a multigenerational farm that began north of Kelowna in 1949. The farm is known for growing some of the first Ambrosias and is branching out into wine grapes. Madeleine is the daughter of Marc and Tessa van Roechoudt and granddaughter of Louis and Suzanne van Roechoudt.
grower/ Lake Country, British Columbia, Canada
business/ Dorenberg Orchards Ltd.
How did you get your start?
I didn’t plan on taking over the farm originally. My undergraduate degree in global resource systems could have been a little more precise to what I’m doing now. I was studying with the intent of becoming a landscape architect.
I always felt as if the Okanagan was always my anchor and coming back was my base. After being away a number of years, when I decided to come back in 2006 and live on the farm, I felt I should also be working on the farm, too.
What is the history of the farm?
My grandfather had a horticultural background and they’d heard of the Okanagan’s hot, dry climate, which is ideal for tree fruit production, so they came here to start their farm.
He had experience in high-density systems in Europe, and he experimented with different dwarf plantings here and was one of the first orchardists to prove the commercial viability of high-density plantings in B.C.
What were some of the first things you learned?
After I returned, my father gave me some “special projects,” as he called them, where we put in new chemical and fuel storage systems on the farm.
I apprenticed under the orchard manager, so I mostly learned the horticultural and mechanical side of the business at that time, much of the practical learning — from spraying, the patterns to drive the orchard, spray product use and how to blend them properly.
Most of the things I learned from my father were work ethic, his respect for other people and being an ethical employer with a good workplace.
What challenges does your farm face?
The wonderful part of our orchard is the beautiful location here in Lake Country. The challenging part of our orchard is getting really high quality and consistent volume year over year. Every year is different, from weather patterns, hot bloom, cool bloom and different fruit set issues.
What about modern trellis systems?
My father was experimenting with reducing the cost of construction materials when putting in new blocks. For example, did we need to put in such strong end posts or brace posts, or reducing the amount of posts.
I’ve seen trellises where he pushed the structural limits too far and a trellis fails. There’s always a balance of finding the system that stays vertical but maybe isn’t the Cadillac version at the same time.
What crops has your farm experimented with?
We’ve been growing Sunrise, which is a local, early apple, developed nearby at the Summerland research station (Summerland Research and Development Centre). Then we have Royal Gala and Ambrosia.
We’ve had the Ambrosia for a decade or more, so at one time we were one of the largest growers of Ambrosia in the valley. When we were looking to diversify our crops, workload and cashflow, we decided to put in wine grapes to have some income from another source.
It’s been a good financial decision. Land wise, the grapes were planted on our steepest slope, so it was appealing because workers don’t need to use ladders, and that block had our oldest varieties, like McIntosh and Red Delicious.
We also considered that area as “B” quality land, because it didn’t have original water rights and the soil wasn’t as good as other locations. Grapes don’t need as good of soil as tree fruit, so putting in a vineyard there worked out for us in a couple of different fronts.
What would you tell young growers?
Before jumping into farming, my best advice would be to look at the industry and look at the competitive forces within it. If you can find a competitive advantage, then it’s certainly worth pursuing.
Farming is hard work, long hours, there aren’t holidays similar to other jobs, etc., so you need to look at this career with open eyes. I want to encourage people to do what they love. I’ve always felt the need to prove myself too.
– by TJ Mullinax
The original version of this story printed in the September 2018 issue misspelled the name of her father Marc van Roechoudt. Good Fruit Grower regrets the error.