A farm-based processor
There’s more money to be made in processing.” Gerard and Marie-Paule De Ruyck began the switch to organic on their Swan Lake farm in 2001. That year they broke up 25 acres of pasture, sowed and harvested what turned out to be a very good field of oats and never looked back. In 2005 they also began milling small volumes of organic flours, now sold to health food stores, bakeries and co-ops. They’ve also recently struck a partnership with Grass Roots Prairie Kitchen in Winnipeg, which buys their organically grown oilseed sunflower crops and cold presses them into a popular sunflower oil. “It’s been challenging,” she says. Rewarding, too. Their products are readily stocked and sold by smaller stores, she said. “We really went into this at the right time.” Nearby, the De Ruycks’ son Dan and daughter-in-law Fran grow and market a variety of organic vegetables as well as confectionery sunflower seeds. Their biggest challenge is distance to market, Fran says.
A rural retailer
Nathan and Suzy Hiebert are two young entrepreneurs who bought the former Plum Coulee Co-op grocery store in March 2008. Their intent was to ensure their community had a grocery store, but the Hieberts were also keen to stock locally grown and organic foods too. Nathan Hiebert estimates as much as 15 per cent of their stock is organic, including a variety of grains and flours plus further-processed products such as crackers, cookies and pizza sauces. About five to eight per cent of their stock is locally grown, including meat products, lines of ready-made pastas and locally made noodles. The Hieberts say they’d like to be able to make organic food as affordable as possible to customers. The average age in Plum Coulee is 26.5 and that means lots of young families trying to stick to a food budget. They don’t want small but expensive packaged organic food. “That works best in cities, where people are willing to pay a premium for a smaller item. Their customers are concerned about packaging,” says Nathan. Here, “they’d rather buy bigger quantities for a better price.”
A greenhouse grower and organic market gardener
It was after they certified their production in 2003 that sales began to increase, says Lori Ann Regnier at St. Francois Xavier. Her family operates Blue Lagoon Florascape, an organic market garden and solar-heated winter greenhouse operation supplying fresh herbs and vegetables to retailers and restaurants and direct to consumer through the farmers’ market season. “We have sold everything we grow,” says Lori Ann. Retailers, however, used to tell them they’d get more consistent supplies if they ordered from B. C. or elsewhere. The move toward eating a more locally sourced diet has really helped their business, says Lori Ann. “I think it’s basically been a shift in the marketplace.” Their biggest challenges stem from selling in such a short growing season and competing on price against sellers who haven’t certified, she said.
Lori Ann said Manitoba’s Bill 13: The Organic Agricultural Products Act (OAP) will create a more level playing field and looks forward to its implementation.
Winnipeg-based chef Marnie Feeleus began Fresh Option Organic Delivery (FOOD) six years ago to help connect more farmers growing organic product with those in the city who wanted to eat it. Her biggest challenge over the years has been finding value-added locally made foods to offer her customers, says Marnie.
“My main thing is getting a critical mass of products. I’d really like to have more product,” she said.
There have been a few things added in recent years, she said, noting the recent launch of the organically grown pea snack Yumpeez, made by Best Cooking Pulses at Portage la Prairie. “That just totally fits the bill,” she said. “It’s a primary crop that we can grow a lot of, and someone’s done something really innovative with it.”
Local didn’t matter so much a few years ago, Marnie said, but it does now. “Some want organic and don’t care if it’s local and some want local and don’t care if it’s organic,” she said. “The majority of people want both.”