The Family Behind Maan Farms
How the Maan’s Keep Maan Farms in the Family.
Maan Farms has been a popular agri-tourism destination in Abbotsford for over 30 years. It’s blossomed from a roadside stand to a full-blown farm experience for the whole family, but what makes the farm a truly unique destination is the family. All of Devinder and Kris Maan’s adult children have a hand on the farm and are playing a big part in bringing it into the future.
In BC there are 17,500 farms and 98 percent of those farms are family-owned, but as the majority of farmers are over the age of 55 and the cost of land in Metro Vancouver ranges from $110,000 to $350,000 per acre, succession is a growing concern for farmers.
For Devinder ‘Mama’ Maan that means she fields a lot of phone calls from fellow farmers asking her how she has succeeded at keeping the family interested in the business.
“A lot of our friends say they can’t convince their children to work on the farm or come back to the farm after they go to school,” said Devinder. “I think for each of our kids it was different, but we knew they had to choose to be a part of the farm for themselves.”
The Maan’s have four children, Preena and Gurleen, who were followed by two younger sons six years later, Amir and Gaurav.
Traditionally, Devinder points out, in Indian culture the boys are expected to stay at home and take over the family business, while the girls go off, get married and live elsewhere. Gurleen, the second eldest, also points out that those expectations did not carry weight in her family and that each kid came back to the farm after university on their own accord.
“I don’t feel like we’re like that,” said Gurleen. “At least for me, I forced my brothers and my parents to step away from the cultural expectations.”
However, after graduating from university Gurleen did fly the coup, as did her sister who lives off the farm and plays a consulting role.
“My sister and I actually did the labour on the farm so we really got a taste of what was involved,” said Gurleen. “It was just what we had to do because our parents were immigrants and we didn’t have a lot of money. My brothers grew up at a different time and didn’t have to do it until they were older, so their appreciation came about in a different way.”
Gurleen wanted the exact opposite experience and got a corporate job and a Yaletown apartment, but after five years she went back to the farm.
“I wanted to just live in the city and have fun because I didn’t get to do that growing up,” said Gurleen. “I didn’t feel like I was making a difference so I decided to come back and it has the best decision.”
Now Gurleen is an operations manager focusing on events, food and customer service. You may have heard of goat yoga in the last couple of years, that’s all Gurleen.
Amir is also an operations manager but oversees labour and marketing. He studied business and agricultural management knowing he would come back to the farm. Gaurav, the youngest, took more convincing. When he had the opportunity to further develop Maan Farms’ line of fruit wines he took the role and ran with it, especially after the family experienced an arson in 2014 that burned down their market barn.
“After our barn burned down, Gaurav became more of a salesperson and he would go to farmers’ markets and get the wine in stores,” said Devinder. “He put in a lot of work and now it’s like, we don’t bother him and he doesn’t bother us.”
“We Are All Entrepreneurs”
To say that the Maan’s are hugely entrepreneurial is an understatement. The farm started out in the 70s as a wholesale operation with a farmstand. In the early 2000s, agri-tourism began to rise and the Maan’s saw an opportunity to create an experience to attract tourists – local or otherwise.
Over the years the 80-acre farm has expanded to include a family area complete with a petting zoo and tire mountain, a market that serves food to order and prepared foods to go like samosas and berry pies. They have converted a portion of the market into a wine tasting bar where you can slide up and sample their fruit wines. They also host weddings and large events like their annual sunflower festival and haunted corn maze. Oh yes, there’s also a U-pick.
Even during the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic, they opened their gates on Mother’s Day for a “Zoo Safari” experience where families could partake in a drive-through to get a glimpse of the animals. Their latest venture? A Skincare line.
“My parents always joke that we are all entrepreneurs so we can’t really get along because we all want to be the leader,” said Gurleen. “I think a big reason why other farms and other businesses don’t have successors is maybe that the parents aren’t able to let go and create space for new ideas, but my parents say there is always room on the farm and they let us make mistakes.”
“We get creative ideas from young people, which means that we can do more than rather than just growing and selling the berries,” said Devinder. “We get into fights and I tell them to go work for someone else, but what leverage do I really have? I want their talent and skills on the farm.”
The Maan’s are putting that knowledge and talent towards moving their Mama Maan collection to market and converting another portion of the market into a lounge. Their fruit wine is already distributed to 200 stores across the province and they just made it into Save-On-Foods.
“I think in everything we do we try to infuse our true brand and that’s the family,” said Gurleen. “Everyone comes to Maan Farms and feels the love of family and I think we are blessed.”
We catch up with Jennifer McCarthy of Bluhouse Market and Café in Deep Cove to talk why she supports local, the importance of eating whole food and her new soup venture.
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