The first thing one notices upon entering the grounds of Birchwood Dairy is how clean everything is. Not just clean, though—pretty much spotless.
The tidiness is made all the more impressive given the fact that the approximately 220-acre property, located in the picturesque Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford, is, in fact, a working dairy farm consisting of more than 120 Holstein cows and more than 140 “young stock.” And yet, it looks as pristine as any well-kept home might on a quiet cul-de-sac in West Vancouver or Point Grey.
But it’s not the tidiness, a clear byproduct of the immense pride that owners Len and Grace Krahn have for their busy, family-run operation, that draws customers from near and far to its driveway. It’s the ice cream.
After moving their business from a small farm on the Matsqui Prairie in 1968, the Krahns focused on milk production until the 1980s, when they expanded their enterprise to include feta cheese and the aforementioned cold dessert. Crafted from farm-fresh milk, the smooth, creamy treat comes in classic flavours such as Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Tiger, and Rocky Road; though equally delicious in the winter months, in the summertime, the Birchwood team also creates ice cream varieties featuring British Columbia berries.
On any given day, a stop at the farm’s market yields a steady lineup of community members shopping the selection of fresh local produce, meats, yogurts, and cheeses—each visit routinely punctuated either at the beginning or the end with a scoop or two of the sweet stuff. (For those interested in exploring the rural area further, a free pamphlet in the market offers information and addresses to the 18 other local establishments organized on the Circle Farm Tour, which includes farms, orchards, wineries, and more.)
In addition to delicious licks of smooth ice cream and crunchy bites of fresh waffle cone, the Birchwood experience provides the opportunity for visitors to get up close and personal with the farm’s friendly stars: the cows. The curious can head to the viewing room each afternoon to watch the milking process, but it’s a stop to the nearby Maternity and Calf Barn that proves to be the most memorable. The Birchwood cows produce, on average, 64 quarts of milk each day; that’s enough to create 14 pounds of cheese, five gallons of ice cream, and a whopping six pounds of butter. Over her lifetime, that equates to nearly 200,000 glasses of milk produced by each cow.
During a recent day at the Maternity and Calf Barn, as the cows peacefully eat their feed (random animal fact: cows have four stomachs and 207 bones in their bodies), a few of them venture closer to the gate. Likely curious about what all the fuss is about and probably pondering the prospect of being fed, they stand close, allowing for loving scratches to their noses and behind their ears.
As their large brown eyes stare, this author is afforded a moment to appreciate all that these animals provide. But, with one quick, slippery lick of her tongue around the sleeve of a sweater, one cow realizing these humans have nothing to offer her by way of food, she gives a swift reminder that the main reason for a Birchwood visit is the ice cream. And that it’s time to move along and get some.
Read more from our Food and Drink section.