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Dempsey Corner Orchards farmer sees longevity in trying new things

Dave Bowlby gives a calf in the petting zoo at Dempsey Corner Orchards a scratch under the chin.
Dave Bowlby gives a calf in the petting zoo at Dempsey Corner Orchards a scratch under the chin. - Ashley Thompson

‘You need to have a niche’

DEMPSEYS CORNER, N.S. - Dave Bowlby’s farm has been in the family longer than Canada has been a country.

“We’re one year older than Canada,” said the fifth-generation farmer in a recent interview at Dempsey Corner Orchards.

Bowlby’s great-great grandfather started the farm lining the Annapolis Valley’s picturesque rural route now known as HIghway 221 in 1866. Like his own father, Bowlby grew up on the farm and had a keen interest in running the place one day.

“That’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” the 51-year-old recalled in a recent interview.

He studied plant and animal sciences at agriculture college and purchased a couple of farms along the way until it was time to buy the family business from his father in the late 1990s.

“The farm has evolved so many times over the years. At one point we had foxes and we had cattle and we had sheep, and then it was mostly orchard production… to sell to wholesalers,” he said.

“It’s just changed 100 per cent.”

Dave Bowlby stands by the courting wagon used when his grandparents, Harold Bowlby and Dora Robbins, were married in March 1934.
Dave Bowlby stands by the courting wagon used when his grandparents, Harold Bowlby and Dora Robbins, were married in March 1934.

Agritourism destination

Now Dempsey Corner Orchards is a well-known agritourism destination, offering a variety of hands-on experiences that give members of the public some insight into the world of a farmer.

“We’re not only a place to buy food, it’s more of an experience for kids to come and learn where an egg comes from and to pull out a potato plant.”

“We have every ethnicity going here on a weekend, and there’s all kinds of different languages, but everyone is laughing and smiling and having a good time. I like what we’re doing with the place.”

Bowlby’s father retired in his early 60s when his son took over, but still helps out on the farm. Bowlby delights in watching his father count the cars in the yard when hundreds of guests visit the farm for special events.

“He’s proud as a peacock, I think, to see the people in here picking fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Bowlby.

“When you finally get to slow down enough to actually look around and see what is happening here, it’s pretty impressive.”

A wide range of fruits and vegetables are grown on the expansive property that has become a fixture within the quiet Kings County community generations of Bowlby farmers chose to call home.

Bowlby, who works alongside his partner, author Allison Maher, continually seeks to find new ways to attract people to the farm. They have a petting zoo playground, tea room, market, U-Pick options and a sound garden that’s meant to sooth the soul for young and old alike.

“It needs to be unique to get the people to come here so we can sell a little bit of what we grow at the retail price to remain competitive and remain in business,” he said.

“You need to have a niche and play upon that nice to survive.”

He draws energy from reinventing and trying new things, something he hopes to find more time for in the future.

“In 2013 we put in the first vineyard and I find that relaxing and enjoyable.”

Selling the farm

Bowlby has listed Dempsey Corner Orchards for sale knowing that the day will eventually come when he has to pass it along, and he doesn’t have any volunteers stepping up to be his successor at this time.

“I wanted to be here, so here I am. I’ve been here all my life. I have two boys and they’ve got other interests,” he said.

“It’s time to move ahead and maybe let somebody else have a crack at it, see what they want to develop.”

Bowlby’s watched many good farmers based along the 221 eventually go down a similar route.

“When I was a boy on the street, from Morden Road to the Berwick north-south road, there was 25 farms. There’s now five,” he said. 

He knows it could take years to find a buyer for the farm, and he’s prepared to wait until the right fit comes along. He plans to keep his full-time job as a farm manager at the agricultural research station in Kentville for a number of years yet, and says he will continue to enjoy the sights of inquisitive guests gleefully exploring the property he proudly calls home for as long as possible.

He’s certain that farming will always be a part of his life – some way, somehow and somewhere.

“I’m not putting my feet up because there are so many things that I want to do and try,” he said, adding that selling the farm would open up more options to travel and learn how to grow commodities that flourish elsewhere in the world.

Come what may, Bowlby hopes memories of Dempsey Corner Orchards will remain close at heart for the guests they’ve happily welcomed to their ever-evolving farm.

“If I was to be removed from this earth today, I would like to think that all the customers that we’ve come to know over the years would say that’s the best damn place I’ve ever been.”

Dave Bowlby, pictured in the market based at his farm along Highway 221, is always open to trying new things at Dempsey Corner Orchards.
Dave Bowlby, pictured in the market based at his farm along Highway 221, is always open to trying new things at Dempsey Corner Orchards.

Read the entire BACK ON THE FARM SERIES: A collection devoted to a vital industry in the Annapolis Valley:

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