It is very unusual for Chinese immigrants to choose farming as an occupation. kelowna's Chen family is a rare example. Mr. and Mrs. Chen and their three children immigrated to Canada in 2000. Rather than choosing the popular destinations such as the Greater Vancouver and Toronto areas, they came to the Okanagan and settled here. They run a farm in Glenmore named Glenmore Garden Market.
Before the family moved to Canada, Mr. and Mrs. Chen were already in the farming industry in Taiwan, and they were successful. The family lived originally in the western part of Taiwan. They decided to move to the less developed east, where they established their business in farming and wholesaling. Their success attracted friends and relatives, who followed their footsteps and moved to join them. Together they established a thriving community.
The biggest move in their life is immigrating to Canada. This move was purely accidental. Their son Weihang and daughter Sasha made a study trip with their Canadian English teacher to Canada when they were in junior high. They fell in love with this country imminently. After they got back home, they told their parents how great Canada is. That was when Mr. and Mrs. Chen started thinking of immigrating to Canada. Since they had a successful, growing business in Taiwan, everyone they knew thought that it was such a crazy idea for the family to move to another country where the language and culture are so different, but Mr. and Mrs. Chen were willing to take the chance. Mr. Chen applied for immigration as an entrepreneur and the family would come with him.
In 2000, the family arrived in Vancouver. They were expected to start a business in two year as one of the key conditions of immigration. They spent a whole year in Vancouver, where they looked for business opportunities. The family did not have friends and relatives in Canada. Mr. Chen and Mrs. Chen spoke little English. Their only contact person is the Canadian English teacher, who gave them some phone numbers that they could call for help and information.
During the first year they were in Canada, Mr. Chen was traveling back and forth between Canada and Taiwan since his business back home was still running. Then the couple decided to do what they were familiar with - farming. They heard from others that Kelowna would be a great place to start a farming business. In 2001, Mr. and Mrs. Chen bought a piece of land in Glenmore, Kelowna, started their business, Glenmore Garden Market.
It was not easy at all in the beginning. During the first year they worked on their own land and on other farms in order to sustain themselves and learn from local formers. They decided to grow vegetables on part of their land. Because they were not familiar with local produces, they first grew various kinds of Chinese vegetables and then found that they could not sell them. Mr. and Mrs. Chen began to observe what other farmers were growing and learn how to grow them themselves. Still, they did not know where to sell their produces. For a few years, the family struggled – until they discovered the Farmer's Market in 2004.
Going to the Farmer's Market in both Kelowna and Vernon led to the growth of their business. In 2006 their business became steady. The family felt relieved that they were putting down their roots in Canada and no longer needed to kept their business in Taiwan. Today their business is growing and everyone in the family has been doing the best they can to help Glenmore Garden Market. Now they grow over 30 kinds of vegetables, over 20 kinds of seasonal fruits, and over 10 kinds of gorgeous flowers.
They still have to work very hard. During summer months they usually work more than 12 hours a day. Sometimes they have to pick the vegetables and fruits in the dark in order to get them ready for the market next day. Their work is very labour intensive and it is difficult to find workers to deal with the variety of the produces they grow. Still, the Chen family feels happy for being in Kelowna. They now feel part of the local community as they have made friends and have a group of steady customers who really appreciate their products. They have also contributed to the local community by donating their leftover products to the Food Bank at the end of each market day. They've found this particularly rewarding.
A major challenge for them is language barriers. When they just started selling at the Farmer's Market, Mr. Chen could not communicate with the customers, they had to point out what kind of products they wanted. Through doing business he has been learning English over the years. Another big challenge is the climate in Kelowna. It took them years to learn to work with the weather here. In recent years they have built several greenhouses for their plants and that has prolonged the season of production.
Mr. and Mrs.Chen are happily running their business in Glenmore with the help of their three children. Their son weihang has a UBCO business degree, their daughter has a UBCO biology degree and their youngest son is currently studying engineering in UBCO. All the children have been more than happy to work on the farm. Maybe eventually they will pursue a career in the area where they are trained, but for now all members of the family are very satisfied with their life in Kelowna which have worked really hard for it.