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Roost Farm Centre offers field to loaf experience
[Tamara Leigh]

NORTH SAANICH – There aren’t many bakeries that can claim to grow their own grain, nor farms that grow, mill and bake it, but the Roost Farm Centre in North Saanich does it all. The family operation claims to be Vancouver Island’s largest, and possibly only, fully integrated grain farm.

The farm started in 1989 when Hamish Crawford bought 10 acres from the old federal government quarantine station that was part of the experimental farm. For the first decade, he tried his hand at raising sheep and ostriches while he worked off farm. A trip to the Northwest Farm Direct Marketing Association conference in Sacremento, California gave Hamish the inspiration he needed to commit to building a farm enterprise.

The conference visited Apple Hill, a fruit growing area that had to reinvent itself when an influx of apples from China undercut the apple market for California growers. The growers responded by looking for ways to add value, opening pie houses, cideries, fruit leathers and agri-tourism operations that created a destination for people looking for a day-trip from Sacremento.

“On the way back, we decided we could do something like that on the Saanich peninsula, but my background was in grain,” says Hamish, who had previously owned a small grain operation in Alberta. “We decided our main component would be grains and flour, so we would start a farm bakery and it all evolved from there.”

By 2002, the grain was in the bin and the bakery opened for business. Today, Hamish has four and a half acres in grain, producing eight tonnes per year of hard red spring wheat that is milled and blended for use in the bakery. He also raises sheep and chickens, and grows blueberries and a vegetable garden that supplements the growing needs of the bakery-café.

A more recent addition has been a two-acre vineyard and estate winery. In 2008, Hamish’s daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Dallas Bohl, took over management of the bakery from an outside partner and planted the first vines. In 2015, they produced 5,000 litres of wine and 1,000 litres of blackberry port available exclusively at The Roost Farm Bakery & Estate Winery.

“Dallas is doing a great job of developing the business and the brand and doing the farm winery,” says Hamish. “I’m just the farm help.”

There’s a strong family bond and respect between the two men.

“It’s Hamish’s energy that drives it all,” says Dallas with a laugh. “He has enough projects for four people, but somehow he gets it all done.”

Last winter, The Roost broke ground on a new addition that will more than double capacity for the bakery and create better facilities for special events. It is part of a family vision to continue expanding opportunities for visitors to learn and appreciate where the farm meets the table, and is expected to open this fall.

With the support of the Government of British Columbia’s Buy Local program, the Roost has been able to increase their social media marketing, launch a new website and develop new marketing materials and packaging.

“Thanks to the Buy Local funding we are able to connect with visitors online with the launch of our new website and promote our renovations to encourage people to check us out,” says Dallas. “It has been a great thing for us and really helped us focus.”

In the meantime, Hamish continues to diversify the offerings beyond the bakery, providing a unique blend of education and entertainment. A new outbuilding houses the farm machinery and a spectacular collection of antique cars and hidden in The Roost’s wine cellar is a pumpkin carriage, a rubber chicken canon and a new dungeon.

“We’re always having fun and doing something different. There’s always something going on. The passionate farm experience – that’s our slogan,” says Dallas.

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Vol.102 Issue 9