Thieves strike Cloverdale family farm

A traditionally-run beef and produce farm in Cloverdale already hurting from B.C.'s cool, late spring has now been struck by a lowly theft of the young family's winter food.

Ron Tamis of Rondriso Farms

It’s already been a difficult year for Ron and Pam Tamis of Rondriso Farms, a traditional family farm in Cloverdale.

Like other local farmers, they’ve had to contend with a late spring. Crops like beets and carrots are well behind where they should be and some – like the parsnips and onions – have failed outright.

Instead of opening up their seasonal farm gate shop this week, the Tamises are hoping the weather will cooperate long enough for the their remaining veggie crops to catch up.

And now this.

Ron, Pam and their three young sons returned home from a recent family camping trip to a devastating discovery: while they were away, someone broke in and stole their SPCA-certified beef from two large storage freezers in the shop.

In emptying out the freezers, the thieves took beef meant for customers along with the family’s winter food. For the first time in years, they’ll have to buy meat from the grocery store.

“They took everything,” said Ron. “They took the heart. They took the liver, the oxtail, everything.”

The family only takes one holiday a year – a week-long camping trip to rendezvous with other relatives.

But the 43.5-acre property was far from abandoned in their absence. Not only was a nephew house sitting, Ron’s father also lives on the property. He looks after the cows and keeps an eye on things while they’re away.

But the thieves were sneaky, breaking into the shop through the barn, ignoring the pressure washer and other tools that had been left out, heading straight for the store’s freezers instead.

“It was like a beeline. They were covered, out of sight from the house,” Ron said.

He figures whoever stole the food watched as the family packed up the trailer and hit the road – and knew how to elude existing security measures – because the next morning, his father noticed a light was on in the shop. And sure enough, he eventually found packages of ground beef laying in the grass, betraying the path of their pillage.

“They had to go back and forth (from the road to the shop). There were multiple boxes.”

Originally a dairy farm, Tamis took over the burgeoning beef operations in 2001, when his father retired, and moved into full-time farming in 2005, when the farm expanded to a handful of vegetable crops, including pumpkin and the sweet corn, a favourite with customers.

Poor spring growing temperatures had already forced the family to push back the opening of its farm store.

The theft of food from a farm that prides itself on welcoming local school children and parents each Autumn for barn and pumpkin patch tours and hayrides is particularly galling.

It’s left the family wondering what sort of person would steal the personal food of a farmer.

Ron estimates the theft represents about one 10th of his net proceeds.

“It’s a super-tight margin on beef anyways,” he said, explaining Rondriso Farms at 8390 172 Street operates the pumpkin patch attraction in the fall as an additional source of revenue. “The animals are a 365-days-a-year job. Every penny counts.”

About 20 calves are born and raised at the farm each year. The farm produces SPCA-certified beef, third-party certification that means the cattle are milk and grass-fed, grass and grain finished, and are antibiotic and growth hormone-free.

Fortunately, all of their current processed beef production had been sold, although some of the frozen beef stolen belonged to a couple of customers whose orders were being stored at Rondriso Farms.

In the wake of the theft, Ron plans to boost security on the farm.

“It just means more money that’s not available right now you have to invest into the farm, otherwise it’s going to happen again.”

Despite the setback, he’s confident that there will soon be better times ahead.

“That’s just it. In farming, it’s not over until it’s over. We could end up with a fantastic fall, and as a farmer, that’s what you hope for.”

Nor will the family give up their precious annual one-week holiday.

“Your kids are only young once,” he said, adding the boys are 7, 5, and 3. “You never get that time back.”Follow the Cloverdale Reporter on Twitter and Facebook. View our print edition online.