Neal and Louisa Carter have come a long way since they used to go swimming in the Similkameen River after a hot day of picking at an uncle’s orchard in Keremeos.
Today, the Summerland couple farm more than 60 acres – and have stepped forward with a $250,000 donation to the South Okanagan Similkameen (SOS) Medical Foundation. This will help provide the medical equipment for the new Patient Care Tower at Penticton Regional Hospital.
The Carters’ generous donation follows the recent sale of their company, Okanagan Speciality Fruits Inc. which successfully developed the non-browning, genetically modified Arctic Apple. They remain on the company’s board – Neal as CEO and Louisa as Chief Financial Officer.
“An Arctic apple has exactly all the same proteins of a conventional apple, other than the fact that we’ve turned off the enzyme that creates the browning,” he said. “It’s there, but it’s only expressed at three or four per cent of its normal level.”
While acknowledging their donation to the SOS Medical Foundation is only possible because of the sale of their company, the Carters remain enthusiastic fruit growers.
They have lived in Summerland since 1992 when they bought a one-acre property on Tada Avenue. Three years later they purchased their current 21-acre apple orchard overlooking Prairie Valley. They also grow cherries on part of their 40 acres of leased land.
Neal and Louisa both grew up in Vancouver and moved to the Similkameen after they graduated from university and got married in 1982, just as the economic recession hit. Neal was a bio-resource engineer, while Louisa had a degree in forestry.
With jobs scarce, the young couple opted to live in a small cabin on Neal’s uncle’s orchard and “live the simple life” picking fruit. Despite their city roots, they quickly adapted to the rural lifestyle.
“Neal told me he just thought he was a farm boy that was born in the city,” Louisa said with a smile.
“We had so much fun and just knew that someplace down the road, we would like to do this ourselves,” Neal added. “I wanted to have our own farm, instead of always working on other people’s farms. It’s our passion.”
Their orchard is now a family affair.
“We’ve got a son (Joel) and a nephew (Neal Vander Helm) both working on the farm with us, which is really fun,” Louisa said.
All three of their children – two boys and a girl – graduated from Summerland Secondary School.
The Carters say they are delighted to be able to give so generously to the hospital campaign. Rather than make several smaller donations to a number of different organizations, they opted to make a substantial gift to PRH.
“If there was a place to put a donation, it’s certainly a good recipient because it benefits an awful lot of people,” Neal said. “It was a pretty simple decision on our part. We really wanted to be part of this.”
The Carters have no plans to leave Summerland and want to continue farming. However, they may step back a bit and leave the main farm operation to their son and nephew.
Janice Perrino, executive director of the SOS Medical Foundation, has strong praise for the Carter’s donation.
“To see the success of this family and then watch them give back to their communities is just incredible. They’re sharing their good fortune by giving to the hospital that we all use,” Perrino said.
Construction of the new Patient Care Tower at PRH is due to start next spring and be completed by late 2019.