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New Okana apples developed by local orchardist are being sold across B.C.
A local fruit grower and orchardist is thrilled one of the province’s largest food distributors has purchased thousands of pounds of his new apple variety and is selling them in grocery stores across British Columbia.
Just last week, David Evans, 80, who has been growing apples and fruit with his wife Jean on their large orchard located off Road 15 between Oliver and Osoyoos, received official certification from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) granting him plant breeders rights allowing them to officially market their new Okana apple across the South Okanagan and across the province.
This comes only days after Evans finished harvesting roughly 30,000 pounds of Okana apples off of 900 trees located on his orchard and bringing them to the Osoyoos-based Fernandes Farms Ltd., the same fruit packing house he has worked with for decades.
Tom Fernandes, the owner of Fernandes Farms Ltd., signed a deal two weeks ago with the Jim Pattison Group, the owner of the huge Buy-Low grocery chain, to purchase “every single Okana apple” grown on Evans’ orchard.
The deal will mean Evans’ new Okana variety will be distributed to Buy Low stores across British Columbia.
“I was pretty happy when I heard about that,” said Evans, who along with his wife, had worked for more than 15 years to develop the Okana variety after an extended budding and grafting process that started back in the late 1990s.
“It’s a pretty neat feeling to walk into a grocery store and see the apples that I’ve developed being sold. It’s a real honour.”
Buy-Low Foods has served Western Canadian retailers for over 85 years and is Canada’s largest food wholesale distributor to independent grocers. Buy-Low also serves consumers in British Columbia and Alberta by providing quality products at low, low prices in its growing base of retail stores across the province.
Evans has been producing tens of thousands of pounds of different varieties of apples – as well as peaches, nectarines and other fruit – on his orchard since 1956.
While he continues to produce such apple varieties as Delicious, Ambrosia, Golden Delicious and Spartan, getting certification to confirm he has developed Canada’s newest variety of apple is the biggest thrill of his long and rewarding career as an orchardist, said Evans.
‘I’m thrilled with the response,” said Evans.
“I’ve felt the industry needed a new apple with commercial appeal for some time … the response has just been great,” he said. “People seem to really be enjoying the taste and that’s all I can ask because I wanted to bring an apple to market that is something new and different.”
The Osoyoos Times wrote a front-page article about the Evans’ developing and getting certification for its Okana variety just over one month ago.
Evans said his phone has rung off the hook since with people offering congratulations and support.
“We’ve had people dropping in wanting to buy our apples … we’ve had a lot of support,” he said.
His next “big step” is to try and convince large nurseries and other large growers across the province to start growing Okana apples, he said.
He is sending several boxes of his new apples to the University of British Columbia Apple Festival and giving the UBC botanical gardens several boxes, he said.
“If I can convince private nurseries to grow them … things would really take off,” he said. “I plan on meeting with several large nurseries and seeing what they have to say.
“It might take up to three years for a grower to take a rootstock and start a budding program and eventually to grow trees. I’m not getting any younger so I would love to see more and more Okanas out there because I think it’s a great apple.”
Fernandes said management from the Pattison Group had read media reports about Evans and his Okana apples and wanted to sign a deal to purchase them as quickly as possible.
“We sent out about 400 boxes within a few days to their main distribution centre in Vancouver,” he said.
His packing house has also received a lot of general interest from members of the public about the Okana apples, he said.
“I’m still getting calls every second or third day with people asking where they can get them,” he said.
Seeing Evans gaining such acclaim at his age is terrific, said Fernandes.
“He’s 80 years old and it’s really nice to see him make his mark,” he said.