One of Langley’s most deep-rooted family businesses is celebrating a rebirth, of sorts.
Ralph’s Farm Market started in 1991 with produce sales out of a hay wagon positioned along Fraser Highway in Murrayville.
From those humble beginnings grew a business that’s become a Langley staple at 22728 Fraser Hwy.
A new era for Ralph’s begins next Wednesday, Jan. 17 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. when Ralph’s unveils its new 11,000 square foot store to the public. The store includes a meat shoppe, all-day bistro that seats up to 30 customers and offers wi-fi and USB ports, a deli/bakery, as well as grocery and produce sections.
Specializing in fresh B.C. produce, as well as in-season fruit from the Okanagan, the business — owned and operated by founders Ralph and Elizabeth Merk and their family — has grown steadily over the years.
Ralph’s parents Rudy and Marian purchased a small Osoyoos cherry orchard in the early 1980s as they embarked on retirement.
In 1984, Ralph married Elizabeth and they rolled up their sleeves to promote fresh BC fruits and vegetables out of the back of their old, yellow van.
“I started from Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Aldergrove, I sold (the fruit) to friends, and I just went door-to-door, and I sold everything,” Ralph recalled. “So I thought, I’d do it again.”
In the summers of 1983 and 1984, Ralph’s parents along with Elizabeth sold produce in Fort St. John. Then, in the fall of ‘84, Ralph started selling at Granville Island.
“Granville Island supported, basically two families for a long time,” said Murray Redekop, Ralph’s brother-in-law who also worked at Granville Island and now manages the Langley store’s produce department.
“We sold at Granville Island extensively for 17 years, and we wholesaled on the side, as well.”
Murray’s wife (and Ralph’s sister) Dianne, the store’s grocery manager, reminisced about the days in Osoyoos.
“My parents had a lot of trees, and Ralph, at that time, was trying to decide what he wanted to do,” Dianne said. “He was in between jobs. Dad and him thought of selling fruit door-to-door along the coast. For a season, he made enough money to buy a truck and they went up to Fort St. John for another season.”
The establishment and success of Ralph’s Farm Market in Murrayville is the realization of a dream of Rudy’s, who passed away in 2003.
“Dad and mom were behind Ralph in everything he did,” Dianne noted (her brother was unavailable for an interview as he was picking up supplies, with the store unveiling just days away). “Ralph did a lot of the work and his dream was for it to be a family business.”
The property was purchased with a produce market in mind, she said.
Ralph’s started out as a seasonal business, but it didn’t take long before it became a year-round enterprise, spurred by customer demand.
“The two things sold from the hay wagons were corn and potatoes, homegrown right here on 22 acres (along with Okanagan produce),” Murray said, noting that blueberries are also grown on the fields.
This year, 20,000 pounds of blueberries were harvested from the fields.
When Ralph’s opened its doors year-round, the business expanded, adding groceries to the mix.
Fast forward to 2017, and the old building was razed to make way for a newer, more modern structure that’s visible on the south side of Fraser Highway at the top of ‘Hospital Hill.’
“It was never built to be a permanent and long-standing structure,” Murray said. “So over the years it just weathered. I think the option was either to do an extensive renovation, or build. Ralph’s dream was to build, all along.”
Ralph’s daughter Jenny said the anticipation of the new store opening has been off the charts. “People are really wondering when we’re opening,” she said.
Jenny said Ralph’s Farm Market is not just a business, but a lifestyle for the family. She along with her four siblings, as well as their cousins Julie and Karen spent much of their childhoods on the farm.
“When we were little we’d build little forts under the hay wagon and we’d help sample the corn and we were out in the potato field picking potatoes and we’d work in packaging with Auntie Di’,” Jenny said.
“My older brother Jason, he manages the incoming fruit that comes from the Okanagan, and he lives on the farm in a separate house with his wife and two daughters. Ralph’s mom lives with them Murray and Dianne on the farm as well. My mom and dad live with my two younger sisters, so we’re almost all there.”