The founder of Small Farms Manitoba is hoping the organization can grow its membership and raise consumer awareness about locally produced foods.
“Marketing yourself individually is important but we are also a community and a network and the bigger we can promote this across Manitoba, we can inform more consumers about the small-scale movement and the products we have to offer,” said Kalynn Spain, Small Farms Manitoba founder.
Small Farms Manitoba held its second annual conference in Brandon Jan. 23. The one-day event featured 12 interactive workshops with a focus on farmer-to-farmer learning.
“Small farming is what feeds the world. In North America we have a particular perspective that there is only big farming, but that is a very North American perspective,” said David Neufeld, Small Farms Manitoba member and longtime participant in the organic movement in Manitoba. “This whole thing is about relationships and I think that we in the room have a really good grip on relationships with our soil, plants, animals, and particularly with our customers,” said Neufeld.
An online tool for direct marketers
Small Farms Manitoba is a social enterprise aimed at connecting consumers with local food producers through a website and an online directory.
“I hope that we can be a sustainable, consistent network and that we can continue to bring people together, whether it be online or at events like this one,” said Spain. “I think we all need to be working together, meeting each other and sharing ideas. That is how we are going to move this thing forward.”
Spain says the Small Farms Manitoba website aims to be a platform for all local food producers in the province and hopes further producer participation will create a bigger package for consumers.
“This is a one-stop shop for consumers across Manitoba, so the more farmers who are a part of it, the more variety we can see and really get an idea of what Manitoba has to offer,” said Spain.
The directory currently has 157 farm listings and website users are able to search farms by location, products and practices used.
“I really hope to continue to be the bridge between local farmers and consumers. But not only be the bridge, I want to build relationships with these farmers to understand the issues that they are going through and understand who they are as people, so that I can promote them properly to consumers,” said Spain.
At the event, Spain announced Small Farms will be upgrading the website and directory over the next few months.
“Essentially what I am trying to do is create pages to help the website be as user friendly as possible,” said Spain. “The farm profile pages will also be updated and participating farms will be able to upload more photos. So, if you don’t have a website, you are able to use Small Farms Manitoba to get you started.”
Strengthening industry relationships
Along with website upgrades, Spain has a lot in store for the future of the organization, including building relationships within the farming community and developing marketing streams.
“I think that more collaboration between all farming groups needs to happen. It is rare these days to have a farmer who fits into only one box. We see a lot of diversity,” said Spain. “A lot of these farmers are doing everything, grain farming and direct marketing. We see a lot of crossovers, so it is important that the farming community and different farm organizations work together.”
Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president, Dan Mazier was in attendance at the one-day workshop and agrees that only good things can come from strengthening the bond between farming organizations.
“I think we have some good discussions going on and bringing everyone all together for events like this is a really good step for the sector,” said Mazier.
Spain said having Mazier in attendance illustrates the willingness he and KAP have to work together.
“Working more closely with KAP, Small Farms Manitoba can further those relationships and further the work that is being done for farmers of all shapes and sizes,” said Spain.
Mazier says direct marketers face quite a few roadblocks in trying to make a profit, including a lack of processing facilities in the province, but notes their adaptability to be a bright spot.
“The thing is with the small and beginning farmer, they don’t have the baggage, they will change and they will change in a heartbeat. Whereas, if you are a big processor, they can’t turn that ship around quickly, if at all,” said Mazier. “The direct marketer can change on a dime. They can manoeuvre and please the market that they are serving much more efficiently than larger operations.”
Spain has also taken steps to strengthen relationships with various marketing streams, including some local restaurants.
“I am working more closely with chefs in Winnipeg who want to buy local foods, so that maybe they can come to me to connect them with local sources,” said Spain. “Connections like this are really important to me because those are the kinds of people who I want to connect the farmers with. I hope to start building these bridges between farmers and both individual and wholesale buyers.”
Spain arranged for Dustin Peltier, chef from the Winnipeg restaurant Prairie 360, to attend the event and speak with producers on what wholesale buyers may be looking for.
Along with connecting to local restaurants, Spain has been heavily involved in the creation of the Winnipeg Food Hub, which will be piloted this April.
“I am working on a strategic plan with a few others in Winnipeg. The basic idea is to create a space where farmers can bring in bulk orders and meet chefs, chefs can make orders online and pick up from there. I will be sending more information around to our members in the near future.”
For further information on Small Farms Manitoba, visit smallfarmsmanitoba.com.