By Gurmukh Singh
VANCOUVER: Purewal Blueberry Farms at Pitts Meadow near Vancouver in Canada’s British Columbia province are so big and so famous that even their produce in the market is known as Purewal blueberries.
Run by three brothers Malkit Singh, Charan Singh and Gurjit Singh, Purewal Blueberry Farms are spread as wide as the eye can see.
“Currently, we have over 800 acres under blueberry cultivation,’’ says Gurjit Purewal – the youngest of three brothers who came to Canada in the 1970s. Today, they own the biggest Indian-owned agriculture operations in Canada and possibly the US.
Their farms produce up to 20 million pounds of high-quality blueberries which they ship across Canada, the US and elsewhere, with each pound fetching about $2 in the market.
The North American Blueberry Council has honoured Purewal Farms as one of the best in North America and the Canadian supermarket chain Safeway, which is their biggest buyer, declared them as the Supplier of the Year in 2007.
“Besides our farming operations, we also have the biggest packaging plant in British Columbia and we can package up to 25 million pounds each year,’’ says Gurjit Singh.
If you want to capture the massiveness of their operations, you need to visit Purewal Farms at their peak season from June to September when this place is swarming with workers. “We employ up to 800 workers daily during our peak season. Off season, we reduce the number of daily workers to up to 100,’’ says the Sikh farmer.
Like any immigrant, Purewal brothers also started their Canadian journey as daily wagers when they landed in Vancouver from Hakimpur village near Banga.
Going back in time, Gurjit says, “My elder brothers Malkit Singh and Charan Singh came here in 1970. They worked in foundries in Vancouver for years. I joined them in Canada in 1977. In 1979, we bought 55 acres in partnership with our two neighbours and started cultivating blueberries. But in 1981, we decided to go on our own and set up Purewal Farms with 55 acres.’’
As time went on, the three brothers kept buying more acres and getting bigger and bigger.
What is the secret of their Canadian success story when local farmers were failing?
Explains Gurjit, “It is not that we grow blueberries differently. The reason we have grown that big is that we brothers stayed together. After 40 years, we are still together and our wives have been solidly working with us. But if you go your own way, then your expenses go up exponentially. Our unity is our strength.’’
Have they ever thought of growing blueberries in Punjab?
“We would love to, but the hot climate of Punjab does not suit blueberry cultivation. But we want to do everything possible for Punjab and our people,’’ he says.
The Purewal brothers may have not been able to do anything to promote blueberry cultivation to Punjab, but they have done a lot promote traditional sports of kabaddi and wrestling in the state.
“We are a family of sportsmen and we brothers have been international kabaddi players. In fact, we represented Canada in kabaddi in 1979. Our three children have also represented British Columbia and Canada in wrestling and kabaddi. We always wanted Punjab to excel in kabaddi and wrestling. That’s why when made some money, we started the three-day Purewal Khel Mela in our native Hakimpur village in 1988. The mela has gone from strength to strength,’’ says the youngest brother.
“It is time to pay back to our motherland,’’ he sign off.