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Devastation for owners of Gort's farm
A nightmare, is how Kathy Wikkerink refers to what's been happening at her family's farm.
Last Friday, Sept. 13, Kathy and Gary Wikkerink, who own popular Gort's Gouda Cheese Farm at the west end of Salmon Arm, were feeling pleased with how their summer season had gone.
But then everything changed.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors arrived at their farm to tell them their raw-milk cheese was suspected in illnesses caused by an E. coli bacterium. The inspectors spent all the next day at the farm, trying to find the source – and have continued to do so.
The number of raw-milk cheese products the CFIA has recalled has now risen to 15, with the source of the E. coli not yet determined.
"It's a nightmare. There's so much involved now. It's not good," she said Friday.
Although the owners had initially believed they would be able to keep selling their pasteurized cheese along with import cheese from other sources, Wikkerink says the BC Centre for Disease Control has told them they can't.
"We're allowed to sell yogurt, milk, quark cheese, grass-fed beef… I can't sell any cheese at all."
As of Friday, 12 people were reported to have become ill from E. coli 0157:H7 since July, three from B.C., eight from Alberta and one from Saskatchewan. All had eaten Gort's cheese. Of the three in the Interior Health Authority, IH reports that an elderly woman died in August from the infection, while the other two recovered with no lasting effects.
Wikkerink says she's learning about such developments from the media, as she has not been provided the information by health officials. She said the contamination is under investigation and she and her husband have not yet been provided with the evidence of a link to their farm.
"That has not been confirmed to us. I'm not saying that I'm not to blame, I'm just saying, this world is a complex world we live in. Life is not in my hands or that person's hands; life is in God's hands."
She said people have rallied to support them, for which they're very grateful. However, she expects their misfortune will spread to other parts of Salmon Arm's economy.
"The economy – people are going to get laid off here. That's probably going to happen… It's huge, there's going to be a ripple effect. We lost Pedro's (Pedro Gonzales Fruit and Garden partially burned) last week. And now, we don't know, it looks like we've lost Gorts. There are no customers coming. Some, but it's minimal.
When they come to Gorts, they come for cheese."