Little Qualicum Cheeseworks has new owners.
The on-farm processor, as well as Morningstar Farm, have been sold to Albert Gorter and Chelsea Enns from Manitoba.
Gorter grew up as a second-generation farmer. His parents emigrated from Holland in 1988 and began dairy farming on 600 acres in Otterburne, just south of Winnipeg. After studying animal science at Lakeland College in Vermillion, Gorter worked in other fields before taking over management of the 180-head farm, Optimist Holstein Ltd.
Gorter was joined by his partner Enns, who helped grow the farm further with her variety of skills including bookkeeping. One farm innovation included a large solar panel installation, producing 274 kilowatt hours annually. It was the first solar project of that scale on a Canadian dairy farm and allowed them to get almost completely off the grid.
A passion that developed for Gorter and Enns during those years was farmstead processing and direct-to-consumer sales. Initially attracted to yogurt, being a whole-milk, high-yield product, they developed, marketed, and sold their own brand through local retailers and farmers markets for about a year. So when they heard that Little Qualicum Cheeseworks was for sale, they felt ready to take the next step in their processing and business aspirations.
The couple moved to Morningstar Farm in July 2021 and began working alongside the Gourlay family and staff. Gorter focused primarily on the farm operations and Enns on the processing and tourism aspects of the business. Both admit it has been a huge learning curve farming in such a different context while understanding the many complex business facets, but their drive, passion and work ethic will ensure a wonderful journey.
Reflecting on the summer transition period, Chelsea said: “The staff have been super helpful and encouraging and we don’t feel like we’re doing this on our own; we’re a part of a team and we’re hoping to continue the success that’s already been established.”
Gorter and Enns took formal ownership of both the farm and processing businesses on Sept. 1. They are starting to feel settled in their new community. Together with two-year-old Rory, they are excited to welcome their second child in December.
Their plans for the future include refining and improving the farm operations, adding new products and continuing to strengthen the role Little Qualicum Cheeseworks plays, providing quality products and education about dairy farming in their community. They are excited to fulfill their life-long dream of farming on Vancouver Island and to be part of the broader dairy community in British Columbia.
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks was established in 2001 by Clarke and Nancy Gourlay on a leased farm in French Creek, the scenic region between Parksville and Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. It was family business that involved sons Ray, John and Kennedy, who all embraced farm life enthusiastically.
In 2004 the Gourlays purchased their own farm down the road and made local headlines when they shut down the street to walk their herd of cows to their new pastures. Little Qualicum Cheeseworks found its permanent home on Morningstar Farm. Over the following years, the Gourlays continued to grow their farm operations to include a farmgate store, guided and self-guided tours, a wide variety of farm animals to entertain their visitors, as well as weddings and annual events such as ‘Jazz, Tea, and Cheesecake’ and ‘Christmas on the Farm.’
Life changed dramatically for the Gourlay family the summer of 2019 when Clarke, an avid mountaineer, died in a hiking accident in Strathcona Park; he was 55. His death was a tremendous loss to the family and business.
While family and staff adjusted to operations without Clarke, COVID-19 presented new challenges in 2020, especially for a business with significant stakes in the tourism and food service industries. But with remarkable community support, the business remained strong.
In the winter of 2021, Nancy made the decision to sell the farm and cheese company and retire. They began reaching out to friends and contacts in the dairy community. Albert Gorter had expressed interest and after many video meetings and an on-site visit, the Gourlays felt it was a good fit.
— NEWS Staff, submitted