Cherries could be planted on property on O’Keefe Road in Vernon. (Photo submitted)

Vernon orchard takes root

David Geen, with Lake Country’s Coral Beach Farms, is clearing land he has leased on Vernon’s O’Keefe Road

An orchardist is expanding his operations but he insists plans aren’t completely confirmed.

David Geen, with Lake Country’s Coral Beach Farms, is clearing land he has leased on Vernon’s O’Keefe Road and cultivation could occur in a couple of weeks.

“I’m still evaluating the plans about what to plant there but tentatively, I am looking at peaches and cherries,” he said.

“We intend to have a neighbourhood information meeting this fall to let people know what the plans are.”

Geen has been the focus of considerable attention recently over his cherry orchard in Coldstream, where some residents have expressed concerns about the noise from helicopters blowing rain off of the fruit.

“The use of helicopters is a listed practice under the Farm Practices Act,” he said, adding that he has been farming in Carr’s Landing since 1992 and there have been no complaints.

Depending on what is ultimately planted on O’Keefe Road, peaches could take root on the eastern side of the property closest to houses.

Geen insists there’s a growing demand in Canada and internationally for cherries.

“Cherry production in the Okanagan has gone from 1,500 acres since the 1990s to 5,000 acres,” he said, adding that the O’Keefe Road site has good soil and plenty of sunshine.

Another issue that has surfaced on his Coldstream farm is worker accommodations but Geen says he’s not sure if the O’Keefe Road site will have accommodations or if his workers will stay in Carr’s Landing and travel back and forth.

The O’Keefe Road property is 70 acres in size but only about 500 to 55 acres is usable because of rock outcroppings. It has been out of production for about 40 years.

“Agricultural land capable of supporting tree fruits is not widely available and use needs to be encouraged,” said Geen of the economic and social benefits of farming.

Akbal Mund, Vernon’s mayor, is interested to see what occurs on O’Keefe Road.

“Do I have concerns about a helicopter flying over an orchard and houses at 4 a.m., yes. But municipalities don’t govern the rules in the Agricultural Land Reserve. The provincial government needs to update the rules and say, ‘This can’t happen,’” he said.

Concerns aside, Mund says agriculture is vital for job creation and the economy.

“We’re happy Greater Vernon has agriculture. It’s important for the region,” he said.