WINDERMERE – Taking on the business of your parents isn’t for everyone, but for Winderberry Nursery and Edible Acres Farm, Cafe and Catering co-owners Lin Egan and Anna Steedman, it was the perfect fit.
“I love growing things – I love growing flowers and I love growing food,” says Egan. “It’s exciting and also stressful owning your own business. But there are moments of adventure in that. I love being able to raise our kids here on the farms, and around plants and flowers.”
“I can definitely second the growing thing,” adds Steedman. “There’s a feeling you get when you walk into a greenhouse that’s full of growing things.”
Their parents, Jack Steedman and Glenda Wah, bought the nursery in 1984 when it had just 2,500 square feet of greenhouse space. The sisters started working at the nursery with summer jobs fresh out of high school, Anna more begrudgingly than Lin. Both eventually attended college before returning to Winderberry – Egan with her husband Oliver and Steedman with her partner Randy MacSteven – to carry on and expand their parents’ operation.
“It was a bit of a succession plan,” says Egan. “Oliver and I bought the property from them several years before we purchased the business from them. We had made the decision many years before; it just took a long time to actually do it.”
They began expanding the retail greenhouses in 2008 and now have 25,000 square feet, 10 times the space in 1984. In addition to flowers and bedding plants, it also offers tree and shrubs.
“They were operating a level they were comfortable operating at,” says Egan. “When we came in and took over managerial roles, we expanded how much we were growing. Our mom said, ‘If you’re coming into the business, you have to bring a stream of income.’”
Lin had earned a degree in sustainable agriculture at UBC, eventually working on the UBC farm, while Oliver had studied economics, worked in landscape irrigation and construction, and drove a forklift. Their combined skill sets suited their new endeavour at Winderberry, as well as the creation of Edible Acres.
“When we moved back from Vancouver, Oliver and I started a little farm garden plot,” says Egan. “We grew too much.”
That led the couple to develop a CSA program, which now offers weekly produce boxes to up to 40 members during the height of the growing season. The farm now has about five acres set to produce, and having water rights to Windermere Creek ensures irrigation is always available.
“This is kind of our saviour,” says Egan.
The cafe, now in its sixth year, came later, a logical pairing of the abundance that Lin and Oliver were growing and the catering company run by Steedman and MacSteven.
“We had this vision of combining the two because we were growing all this food,” says Lin.
Steedman had her sights set on veterinary medicine, but an unexpected pregnancy changed her plans, and she stayed with the farm, working in the greenhouse in the spring and catering with MacSteven in the summer. The couple eventually joined Lin and Oliver as co-owners, and the partnership is now in its third year.
MacSteven attended George Brown College, and later cooked at Fairmont Château Laurier and the Fairmont Banff Springs before becoming the executive chef at Panorama Mountain Resort. His passion for cooking developed early in life, with a desire to expand his palate beyond his mother’s cooking.
“I was tired of her food,” he says. “I love my mom, and I love her food. My brother and I started making our lunches in Grade 5. In high school, I started taking home ec, and just started cooking and baking.”
At Edible Acres Cafe, MacSteven uses as much seasonal farm-fresh produce as possible in his breakfast and lunch menus. The 50,000 garlic bulbs planted each fall, comprising 20 varieties, inspired him to save the often discarded scapes from the compost heap, creating the Great Scape garlic dip line, sold in eight Kootenay grocery stores. The dips proved so successful that Edible Acres’ scapes are now supplemented with those from other growers.
Prior to the pandemic, the owners enjoyed planning events so that customers could experience the farm’s bounty in a fun and lively atmosphere. These have included live music and dancing in the greenhouse, Scotch tasting with a paired menu, and “field dinners” in tents set up among the crops.
“We got meat locally, but they were very veggie heavy,” says Steedman of the dinners.
Edible Acres Farm is certified organic, the only one in the Columbia Valley, as are the farms that supply it. Certification required little change in growing practices, but allows the farm to verify its products.
“My parents never used any pesticides or chemicals,” says Lin. “We wanted to have some sort of verification. At that time, everyone would say ‘organic’, and as a consumer, I would question it. If you’re certified, then yes, you are.”
The certification is almost necessary when interacting with dozens of customers each time Edible Acres attends one of the several farmers’ markets in the region, including Invermere and Kimberley.
“We wanted to stand out,” says Oliver. “Not everyone knew who we were. To the new person who arrives to our booth, it means something. If you’re selling to local people that know you, it’s not as important.
“One lady asked today, ‘How organic are you?’ Right there, that was kind of a reason. We don’t have to explain every time. We’ve spent a lot of time educating people what organic is.”
“We’ve ‘veg-umacated’ a lot of people,” jokes MacSteven.
That education doesn’t apply only to the end result. They also promote soil health when customers pick up new plants and shrubs.
“We encourage people to start from the ground up, and invest in their soil,” says Oliver. “We make our own soil. That’s unique. A lot of greenhouses just use pre-mix. That works the same as the cafe – everything is made from scratch.”
Their soil even includes certified organic coffee bean chaff from Kicking Horse Coffee.
“That’s a cool little symbiosis,” says Oliver.
That high-quality soil ensures a good start for the farm’s bedding plants, all grown from seed, both for walk-in customers, as well as commercial clients including towns, golf courses and hotels.
“One of our popular crops is non-stop begonias, and we start those in the first week of December,” says Lin. “That’s one of our baby crops. We could easily order in from suppliers. Some years, if we lose a crop, we order from suppliers. But they’re not as good a quality. When we start 10 seed trays of begonias in the basement, we have more control.”
Customers appreciate that dedication to quality, which builds on the tradition of service started over 35 years ago.
“Because our parents held out for us, it’s kind of a legacy,” says Lin.
“We definitely want to continue the feeling they created,” says Steedman. “We’ve started to see a change. People used to walk through the door and ask for Jack or Glenda. Now they’re asking for us. That’s kind of cool.”