Our Story and Our Family
Ruby Red Farms is a certified organic grower of blueberries on Vancouver Island. The farm is family owned and was founded by Ruby Commandeur and Ivan Mishchenko.
Ruby Red Farms grew from Ruby's and Ivan's deep desire to grow healthy foods based on organic principles and sustainable farming. After many years of research, the perfect location was found and purchased in 1999 on a beautiful 20 acre property located on the Saanich Peninsula of Southern Vancouver Island.
The farm grows over 11,800 blueberry bushs, with two varieties, Duke and Reka. Both varieties are excellent medium to large berries with long shelf life and great taste. They are excellent for freezing and ideal for eating fresh, baking, or making sauces and jam.
Our commitment to our customers is to provide delicious organic blueberries from our farm to your table. We are local, organic and proud farmers in North Saanich, BC. Find out more on how to get on our mailing list to pre-order your blueberries.
Are you curious and want to learn more about our family, our story and Ruby Red Farms, check out the "How Did You Get Into Farming" in the next section below.
How Did You Get Into Farming?
This is the most common question I get from customers and my response is "How much time do you have for this story?"
Let me share our story with you. This is not a story about farming or blueberries but a story about Family and Connection. Interested? Read on ...
Ruby and I moved to Victoria in 1990 with our daughter, Kira. Ruby was a chiropractor and I started a high tech company that eventually went public and then sold to a European software company. Our daughter Kira has severe global physical and mental disabilities.
Through Kira's nursery program, Ruby met a young boy of three years old also with disabilities who was in foster care. She fell in love with Robert and soon our family grew to four when we adopted him.
Well, with our busy lives we needed help so we searched for a live in caregiver. That is when we hired Rose Diaz. She was in Canada on the Live In Caregiver program. She was so shy in her interview that she didn't say a word and her cousin did all the talking. Having hired hundreds of people in my career, I was astounded that someone could not say a word during a job interview. But Kira fell in love with her and she joined our family. A year later, Rose's husband Elmer and their two children came over from the Philippines and moved in with us. Ok, so we are not yet at the farm part yet - just bear with me a bit longer while I share the back story with you.
Ruby and Kira
When I sold my company, Ruby and I decided we would go into a farming with her sister and her husband and two kids. As the entrepreneur, I was tasked with looking for possible farms on Vancouver Island and researching every variety of plant and animal that can be farmed on the island.
After a year of searching and one particular detailed look at a farm up island, I declared to our two families that we would be better off putting our money in a GIC and earning the interest than having our two families buy into a farm and scrounge a meager living.
The farm dream was done. Ruby and I decided to find a few acres on the Saanich Peninsula. I would go back to information technology consulting and she would continue with chiropractic. And our entire family could enjoy the rural lifestyle on a few acres.
End of story! Right?
Ahh, Not quite yet and yes, I really am getting to the farm part. Remember, this is about and Family and Connection. And each of us are far more connected to each other than we can see!
Ok, In 2000, we found a 20 acre property in Deep Cove, North Saanich. It was absolutely beautiful and a bit more expensive than our budget.
We forged ahead and bought this completely undeveloped property. Ruby and I designed the home and she took on the job of general contrator.
A year later, she not only built our home but also a studio that she could continue her chiropractic practice. We moved out to our new home with Rose and Elmer and their kids.
Rose, her daughter Mary-Rose and Kira and yep - that is what the farm looked like when we started
Yoda, our Papillon laptop dog came with us to the farm. (He thought he was a grizzly bear, not a dog)
This is where the farm comes in. I simply couldn't sit on 20 acres of land. I dusted off my very best business plan and Ruby and I decided to start farming blueberries and it had to be organic. After all we were both deeply committed to organic growing and eating organic!
How did we get our name? And what does Red have to do with blueberries? Absolutely nothing. But here is the story. Ruby and I had hot chocolate with a dear friend, former employee and my favourite sales expert Frank Towler. My best ideas come in collobration (not on my own). Funny how that works. After some brainstorming, out pops "Ruby Red Farms". Ruby didn't really like it but I loved how it rolls off the tongue and is so easy to remember. Do you know what the farm name is? See it works!
So we cleared 10 acres and planted almost 12,000 bushes over two years. Now please understand, Ruby and I were both successful business people but not farmers. Our connections were about to grow. We met Harvey and Joan Smith in the lower mainland. They are third generation into blueberry farming. Joan's grandfather was one of the originals bringing blueberry farming to BC as a Polish immigrant. These two generous and kind and very busy farmers found time to mentor us, sell us wonderful plants and come over time and time again to help us. They showed us how to plant and care for our bushes. Thank you to the Smith family for coming into our circle.
Ruby and Ivan in farm season
Is farming hard work? You bet especially during the two intense months of 7 days a week work harvesting. In our first year before we had all of our harvest, processing and packing equipment, Ruby, Rose, Elmer, their teenage kids and I would be working in our garage sorting and packing berries by hand for sales at the Moss Street Market until midnight. We have come along way with investments in picking equipment, facilties for packing, cooling and freezing and housing for our overseas workers.
Nina, our newest family member arrives!
Nina in the farm stand with Kira supervising.
Calling this a farm or a business seems like such a poor choice. Ruby Red Farms is a social organziation that is focused on being in service to others - whether its customers, family, staff or the many organizations we support. But more about that in a moment.
Enter onto the scene a new family member. We adopted one more teenager along the way, my niece, Nina who became our "front person" in taking customer orders, scheduling and taking charge in the farm stand. She was the go to person for not only sales but also filling in the packing area if we need extra help when we were short staffed.
Father Niel From the Philippines Blessing Our Farm
And the family kept growing. As the bushes matured we needed more help on the farm. I have met many staff that have remained in touch over the years but our growth outstripped our ability to hire locally. We searched a bit further for help. This is where our family really grew - by an entire town half way around the earth! I decided to bring family members of Rose and Elmer from the town they grew up in. Each year this beautiful, kind, hard working and happy group come from the Philippines to help us harvest. We still hire a lot of staff locally as well to help with processing and packing. We have a wonderful combination each year. The picking team are absolute blueberry picking experts that know the difference between a ripe blueberry and a berry that has turned blue but doesn't have the taste you deserve to eat!
Check out the photo gallery below.
The farm grew rapidly each year selling to hundreds of customers that were coming into our life year after year and of course many grocery stores, distributors, restaurants and bakeries joined our connections. The list of companies that supported the farm were growing as well. To call them customers and suppliers seems so cold. What I love about the farm community that is different than other business sectors I have been in, is that there is a sense of family and team and caring. I could share story after story with you on how a customer or supplier would go far far beyond to help us in a tough spot. I want to mention a few names here but this is a tiny list compared to the immense group that support Ruby Red Farms. There is a group of managers and staff at Thrifty Foods that have been instrumental in supporting our farm year after year after year. Our relationship started ten year priors to the farm when my company modernized their information technology systems and now we have supplied organic berries for over 12 years. A special thanks to the founder, Alex Campbell Sr. how taught me so much about business simply through his example. Naked Naturals, Fol Epi, Wild Fire Bakery, PSC Natural Foods, CNF, Discovery Organics - there are brilliant and supportive people in each of these companies and many more that have helped us blossom. Our farm direct customers are a loyal, enthusiastic and understanding group of people that enjoy the bounty and offer us encouragement each season. Behind the scenes to keep the equipment working, packaging, fertilizer and other suppliers are dozens of incredible and dedicated professionals giving us their best each season. Thank you to Dwight and family at Integrity, Yasir, Rob Clements (the mobile repair guru that can fix anything 7 days a week!), Mike and Sean from Greater Little Box Company, Coldstar, Bill Clarke from Clarke Refrigeration, Ocean Refrigeration and team, and so many more that help me each and every season bring organization to the chaos we call harvest time.
Mike from GLBC filled in for me when I couldn't make it home in time to load a truck - Thanks Mike.
Now thats service and he is in sales!
The sign says it all.
Ruby at the District of North Saanich
At this stage we were also able to give back to the community. Ruby and I were members of the Peninsula Agriculture Commission, District of North Saanich Agriculture Commission and eventually Ruby was elected as a councillour to the District of North Saanich with a record high number of votes. We also started to give back to food banks and other organizations in our community with funds, food and expertise. And our giving back wasn't just here in Victoria. Ruby Red Farms provided a positive and impactful difference in the community of Hipona where Rose and Elmer grew up. Rebuilding homes after a devasting typhoon, supporting schools, community events and the needs of young widows with families has been a mission for Ruby Red Farms. We even discovered that there is a Ruby Red Farms basketball team in the Philippines.
Well you can now see that the family and connections have grown to touch many thousands of lives. Robert and Kira were so blessed to have their lives enriched in so many different ways from living on the farm and in the beauty and richness of the Deep Cove community in North Saanich.
Now we come to a very hard part of the story. Our family lost one member in 2012 when Ruby passed away. Our family and the community was devasted by this tragedy. But our family and connections continued to grow. I could tell you many stories about how family came from all over BC to help. For the next two years, I had one couple that had worked on the farm in 2011 come from New York in 2012 and then Guatemala in 2013 to help run the packing line - WITHOUT me asking. Customers and suppliers all pitched in. What a wonderful blessing.
Over the past few years the farm family grew a bit smaller. Robert has moved up island to a supported home and Nina has gone onto Calgary and completed another degree and started her career. Elmer and Rose's "kids" are grown up too and have started families. Our farm family just changes as time moves on and we adjust!
Now our farm family is growing again with my partner Angela, a few cats and a few horses that were rescued, rehabilitated and placed in retirement. Now we have a few permanent horse residents on the farm that are solid. One of Kira's staff and her kids are living here too.
And yes look closely in the background, part of our family includes that deer who lives around the house.
I continue to be blessed to work with companies that support the farm and many hundreds of customers that make each harvest season a success.
Thank you for letting me share the story of the Family and Connections behind Ruby Red Farms.
Should I share a little about farm?
I often get asked "How was the last season". Well let me share a few things. Climate change is here - we have experienced a lot of challenges likely early seasons and damaged crop from heat in the past three years but we are adjusting as any good farm must. After all Mother Nature is in control. Ruby Red Farms is the first farm on the West Coast to develop and use a retractable system to shade blueberries during heat waves. Who of us could have imagined needing such a thing just a few years ago? I have also implemented new technologies in the cooler that improve quality. I am experimenting with new fertilization and irrigation techniques to adapt to our changing planet and its working! We are committed to your wellness and love of local food by delivering delicious organic blueberries from our farm to your table. Simply, that is what inspired us to create Ruby Red Farms and what keeps us going.
Would you like to be part of our family and connections. Join our customer list here.
With Gratitude for Your Support of Local Farming
Ivan Mishchenko (the farmer)