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Jens-Hugo and Virginia Jacobsen’s birds have become an important ingredient part of menus in Vancouver’s top restaurants, though the fact that the couple started their operation, Polderside Farms, only 18 months ago. The farm, located outside Yarrow on a road that winds along Vedder Mountain, provides naturally fed ducks and chickens to more than 40 restaurants. Chefs have praised the ducks’ natural flavouring, and the attention the Jacobsens pay to the birds they raise.
The couple have been married for more than 40 years, and have farmed together for most of that time. Virginia has always lived on a farm, while her husband took up farming after coming to Canada from Norway. They moved to the Lower Mainland from Vancouver Island, where they’d grown produce for BC Hot House. They’d always raised animals for their own table, never for sale, but when they saw their costs rising, while the price of their produce remained low, they decided to find a niche where they could excel.
Virginia attributes their success to her opposition to the use of animal protein in feed; Polderside birds are raised on sunflower seeds (which help maintain a healthy immune system), unprocessed vegetable grain, and legumes. Because the birds are not fed meat-based diets, they must be raised over a longer, nine-week cycle. (Commercial farms raise their birds in just 41 days.) Polderside raises 3,000 ducks and 3,000 chickens per cycle in a 24,000-square-foot space, giving each bird at least four square feet of room. Every bird is imported here from France simply because the couple don’t trust the North American genetic stock. Once here, the ducks and chickens don’t leave the barn (to protect them from bird flu), but they still receive lots of light and fresh air. The payoff is that the birds are healthier, tastier, and entirely free of chemicals and pesticides. “I find personally, and I hear from so many of our customers, that the meat our birds produce is almost addictive,” she says. “You always want to go back for more.”
Virginia, who delivers her ducks and chickens to restaurants each Thursday in her Dodge Caravan, admits that it’s a labour-intensive job. “But,” she says, “it’s more than worth it, for the final product and for my own moral well-being. We give them the very best life on earth that we possibly can, and they in turn, become our food.”