The apple tree wasn’t the first priority on the present-day Hopcott Farm. It came later, once the land had been tamed, turned farmable after its rough start. Fred Hopcott had built his one-room house, for himself and his wife, Jane, and the big red barn for their small herd of dairy cows.
The tree was planted when their son, Robert — Bob — turned 10, in the garden their grandchildren and great-grandchildren would come to know. Where they would pick apples decades later.
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It was an “anxious time” to start farming, Fred would later write, the beginning of the “so-called Dirty Thirties.”
Fred and Jane were from Ladner, B.C., about 50 km from the 110 acres of virgin farmland they purchased in the early 1930s. He’s always dreamed of having beef cattle, but in the very beginning, they were too expensive.
He started with a herd of 10 dairy cows and sold milk for $1 in a 10-gallon can.
The Hopcotts and History of Pitt Meadows
In those days, Pitt Meadows was a one-road town. Dewdney Trunk Road was a gravel street. The town was only incorporated in 1914. By 1931 it had 831 residents and would grow to 927 people by the end of the decade. Waterlines wouldn’t arrive in the community until 1948. Most relied on wells and Fred would fill 10-gallon cans at the pump in front of the old hall to lug home.
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Fred continued to save, picking up odd jobs to tackle with his farming equipment. In 1957, he sold his dairy cows, and with the help of his son, got into the steer business. They began a feedlot operation, purchasing cows in the Interior, or at local cattle sale yards. As the operation grew, they rented pasture land in Pitt Polder.
But by the 1980s, the market was unkind to Canadian cattle farmers. Mad cow disease was rampant. The U.S. stopped importing Canadian beef and many of the area’s packing houses either went under or moved to Alberta.
Second-Generation of Farmers
Bob, who by then had taken over farm operations, was worried about its future.
The number of farm operators in Canada has been on a steady decline since 1961. In the 2016 census data (the most recent available) the number of operators younger than 35 inched upward for the first time since 1991.
Bob realized the farm needed to diversify and in 1996 converted 70 acres of corn fields into a cranberry bog. It was a big gamble for him, recalls daughter Jenn Hopcott. “All he ever knew was beef.” Other farmers had also freshly converted to a cranberry bog, so they learned from each other, says Hopcott.
Diversification wasn’t anything new to Pitt Meadows’ farmers, says museum curator Leslie Norman. Even in the 30s when the Hopcotts moved to the community, there were farmers who also ran trucking or logging businesses, or who operated a sawmill.
The cranberries ended up making the bulk of the farm’s profits. But Bob’s passion was beef. “He would never give up the beef,” says Hopcott. “So basically, the cranberries help us keep the beef.” Diversifying the farm also helped Bob carry out what Hopcott calls his “diabolical plan.” He wanted to keep his kids close, and to do that, he wanted to offer them jobs on the family farm.
As farmers age across Canada, their children are not taking over the family business. Only one in 12 farm operations has a formal succession plan in place; the average age of farm operators is 55.
Farming as a Passion Project
Hopcott and her brothers grew up on the farm. Hopcott is a fair redhead and while she enjoyed accompanying her dad on the tractor, she didn’t envision a future for herself working on the land.
“Farming, growing up for my dad was not a job,” says Hopcott. “It was our life.”
Hopcott worked away from the farm for about 10 years but has since returned to raise her family—a dream she’d had since childhood. “I love it,” she says. “I live on the farm, work on the farm.”
One of her brothers has worked for the farm his entire life, while her other brother took a similar path to Hopcott, working away from the farm before his homecoming.
Now the trio of third-generation farming siblings splits duties. Brad cares for the steers, Travis oversees the cranberry bog and Hopcott, well, her title is operations manager. On any given day that could see her designing signs, updating a website, or any of the many tasks required to run the grocery store at Hopcott meats.
The buy-local store is part of a 2006 diversification that saw the farm add a meat shop to the property and the subsequent 2015 expansion including the addition of a bistro that nearly doubled the store’s footprint. The shop’s many products are also sourced locally.
The farm has transitioned from a feedlot-style operation to a more natural approach. “They could quite literally point to a steak in the fresh case of their meat shop and tell you the name of the cow it came from,” writes Sara Harowitz in a 2016 Montecristo Magazine piece. “How’s that for farm to fork?”
The siblings have all had their turn managing the farm’s corn maze and accompanying attractions — petting zoo, corn cannons, pig races — over its 17-year lifespan before it closed in 2017. The area was then transformed into a wedding venue complete with that classic red barn Fred first built for his dairy cows.
The Legacy Continues…
Neither Fred nor Jane is around anymore. Fred died in 2003, and Jane, three years earlier. But the garden he nurtured still blooms every spring producing fresh bounty — including apples — for the family who now cares for it.
Although across the country, many children of farmers are eschewing the family business, the Hopcotts seem to have their heirs apparent. Hopcott’s 15-year-old son is working in the produce department at Hopcott Meats and her 13-year-old daughter wants to take over as operations manager.
Soon it’ll be her turn to be the diabolical matriarch and the fifth generation of Hopcotts will continue the family business.