When he walked out of the school in the mid-1970s for the last time, Bill Zylmans got home to the family farm and said to his dad, Wim, “we go big or we go home.”
On Sunday, July 3, it will be time to go home for veteran Richmond farmer and stalwart of the potato and strawberry-growing industry.
This weekend, Zylmans will hand over the last pallet of his famed strawberries at the 78-year-old W & A Farms at Westminster Highway and No. 8 Road, after selling a 20-acre parcel in the fall of last year.
No more pre-dawn forays into the wild, winter weather.
No more fighting with the City of Richmond over irrigation, drainage or giant strawberry signs by the roadside – the latter squabble of which ended up in court…an argument he won.
Nope, the 65-year-old is calling it a career – and it has literally been his entire life – in the produce-farming business.
And there’s one thing in particular Zylmans hopes to experience for the first time, before the end of the summer.
A vacation? What's that?
“I may take one of those things, what are they called? Oh, yes, a holiday. Something I’ve never really ever done,” joked Zylmans, who said he used to send his wife and kids on vacation, because there was always too much to do at the farm.
“Maybe I’ll start to enjoy life a little bit more. I went to Hawaii once, but I tuned into the dozen or so cameras at all the storage barns, checking them 12 times a day.”
He said he didn’t want to the sell the produce side of the business until he was confident his adult children were “well on into their careers. They’re living their dream now.
“We put one of the properties up for sale and the right money came to the table.
“But I’ve still got my other lands, the farm and cattle in Delta and two others here in Richmond…the 30-acre parcel here on Westminster and some more in Gilbert, still growing grass crops and green crops.”
“The produce (side) was very time-consuming. And it has been a horrific last season weather-wise. I won’t miss that I tell you.”
Despite agreeing to sell the parcel last fall, Zylmans said he wanted to have one last go at the strawberry season but had “no idea what the winter and spring was going to be like.
“I’m kinda glad I won’t be going through that again.
“Moving my cattle herd out in the winter was probably one of my toughest days. That’s when it became real.
“I started doing that when I was nine-years-old. I was born and raised on this farm.”
Not totally retiring yet
Zylmans is still going to be involved in the agricultural industry, be it consulting, tending to his remaining acreages or in his role as chair of the Canadian Potato Council.
“I still want to be involved and help where I can,” he added.
“But am I going to miss the customers but not the politics of the municipality.
“I’ve been very proud to bring the crops to harvest and pass them on personally to the customers. That’s a great feeling.
“And as my mom always said, ‘grow good produce and it will sell itself.’”