If you want to know what the Okanagan is all about, drive past the fancy beach houses and trophy wineries all the way to the 650 acres of Covert Farms, where four generations bring all the Valley’s bounty together.
Covert Farms is where four generations bring all the Valley’s bounty together.
Gene Covert—tanned, relaxed and with his ever-present smile—leans against a bright-red 1952 Mercury pickup. Guests are trickling in, past the alpacas and Highland cattle paddock. He’s ferrying them up a long tree-lined driveway in the back of the classic truck that he uses for farm tours. The custom bench seating holds eight at a time.
They’ve come from Vancouver, Kelowna and Penticton for Covert Farms’ Harvest Dinner, a field-to-table and vineyard-to-glass feast to celebrate what is grown, made and fermented right on this historic 650-acre
farm in Oliver, B.C. Run by Gene and his wife, Shelly, this property has been in the family for three generations—and Gene and Shelly’s three teens, who all have jobs here in the summer, will be the fourth.
A farm is always many things, but Covert is truly an ecosystem. More than 40 different varieties of certified organic fruits and vegetables are grown here. It has its own certified organic vineyards, winery, tasting shop and wine lounge. Grapes are also grown on contract for a large winery neighbour. There’s a small herd of Highland cattle, some Barbados Blackbelly sheep, chickens and even alpacas. There’s a produce store and several farm buildings, not to mention the various homes of the Covert family members and those who work here. Walk the U-pick fields and you might even see Mark James Lucas with his paints, canvas and easel—the property’s own
plein air artist-in-residence (see page 53). Tours, public and private events, school
programs and dinners are now an important part of the mix. Covert’s Freak’n Farmer competition, now in its sixth year, attracts 800 extreme obstacle course racers to hoist tractor tires and shimmy through mud under logs. More than 500 guests attend the annual family-friendly Pig Out vineyard pig roast, and then there is the 1½-hour culinary tour, led by either Gene or by the farm’s chef-inresidence, Campbell Kearns.
On the day I arrive, there’s not just one, but two events. A 160-person wedding is happening in the vines and will soon shift to a large tent near the wine shop and lounge. This means that Gene and Shelly have moved tonight’s Harvest Dinner—the reason I’m here—to the porch at Diana Covert’s home. Diana, Gene’s mother, though now retired from farm duties, is the farm’s
And, as such, her otherwise modest rancher with weathered blue shiplap siding has a sweet promontory view of what seems like the entire region.
Gene brings up another round of guests and Shelly—possibly the bubbliest person on earth—greets them with a glass in hand of Covert Farms’ pale-pink sparkling zinfandel
méthode ancestrale. As they stare slack-jawed out from the lawn, someone whispers, “This is what you get when you’ve been on the farm the longest—the best spot with the best view.”
From here, it’s easy to see why George Covert, Gene’s grandfather, bought this land in November 1959, the very moment he set foot on it. George and his wife, Winifred, co-owned a busy tomato-packing house in California, and they decided it was time to slow the pace somewhat. George drove to the Okanagan on rumours of good farmland for fruit and field crops and he immediately fell in love with the region. He bought both the 600 acres (another 50 were added later) that would become Covert Farms, plus a cattle ranch near Osoyoos. He then had to return home to inform Winifred that they were moving to Canada.
Gene Covert shuttles visitors in his vintage red pickup truck. Old School