Mel and Elva Groening had been farming organically since the early 1990s only to find themselves squeezed out of the name when mandatory certification came to the industry.
When they realized it would cost $10,000 to replace treated fence posts on their cattle corral and shelter in order to meet certification requirements, they asked advice of those who mattered most: their customers.
The Lowe Farm couple direct markets a large portion of their farm’s produce – beef, pork, chicken and vegetables to a large citizen buying group in Winnipeg.
No one cared if they had creosote fence posts or not, said the Groenings. In fact, their customer poll came back unanimous; don’t bother with the certification. They’ll keep on buying their beef without it.
It is loyal customer relationships that have been their biggest reward, and on many levels.
They derive a steady income from the frequent, smaller sales made to them, and that’s helped when premiums paid for organic bin crops have declined. The last two crops are still in the bin as they’ve waited for prices to rise, says Mel. “But we’re still alive,” he says.
And then there’s the weeds. Groening has taken his share of chiding about his “canola” when that sea of yellow is actually mustard overtaking his young crop of oats.
“There’s been times when I’ve seen the weeds and thought ‘for $5 an acre that stuff could be gone,” he says, but by the time they’re baling oat straw he’ll find hardly a mustard plant in it. “So we just live with it.”