Prairie Magic in a Bottle

Originally published in Canola Digest – November 1, 2018 


Six Manitoba canola growers are bottling and marketing cold-pressed canola oils with flavour characteristics unique to their own farms. Described as ‘Prairie magic in a bottle’, the oils are a locally-grown alternative to imported extra-virgin olive oils.

Bruce Dalgarno, who farms at Newdale, admits the past year and a half since the growers joined forces to form CanFarm Foods Ltd. has been anything but easy, but he and the other farmers are extremely proud of the work they have done.

“When you tell people the canola from your farm is in that bottle, you can see their surprise,” says Keenan Wiebe, another partner. “They don’t get to meet the farmer behind the product that often.”

Cold-pressed canola oil comes from mechanically pressing and grinding the seed at a slow speed with temperatures not exceeding 60°C. While the process means less oil is extracted, the end product is extremely unique.

The terroir — a combination of geography, geology and climate — gives each region’s oil distinct differences in colour, flavour and even nutritional profile. Described as earthy, grassy and nutty, these distinct vintages are perfect for adding flavour to bread dips, salad dressings and marinades or drizzling over a variety of foods as a finishing oil.

As a premium, specialty product, a 250ml bottle retails at $10 — about 20 times the price of conventional canola oil. CanFarm Foods produces three cold-pressed oils — Northern Lights, Heartland and Big Prairie Sky — from the Interlake, Pembina Valley and Parkland regions of Manitoba.

As developing new markets is one of MCGA’s goals, the organization launched a research project in 2014. The Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network (MAHRN) studied virgin, cold-pressed canola oil, meal and co-products from processing. Growing Forward II provided $396,000 funding and MCGA contributed $10,000. The concept of this value-added oil began with Ellen Pruden, education and promotions manager with the Manitoba Canola Growers Association (MCGA). She noticed slight taste differences in conventional canola oil, was aware of terroir in other foods and beverages and knew there was a growing consumer interest in cold-pressed oils.

The research confirmed terroir did exist in canola. The Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie provided guidance in getting the product ready for retail and food service testing. Consumers, chefs and culinary professionals approved. The stage was set to fill a niche market.

MCGA put out a call for members interested in the commercialization of these new oils. Seventeen farmers initially expressed interest, but in the end it was Brian Chorney and son-in-law Kyle Norquay from Selkirk, Bruce Dalgarno from Newdale, David Reykdal and daughter Rebecca from Winnipeg Beach and Keenan Wiebe from Starbuck who incorporated CanFarm Foods in July 2017. Each stakeholder contributed $10,000 to get the company off the ground.

Dalgarno acknowledges getting the oil from farm gate to market has been slow and frustrating. The paperwork and legalities were easy. The challenges included sourcing reasonably priced packaging to improve margins, obtaining accurate nutritional analysis, development of new labels, marketing, shipping costs, working with facilities to crush and bottle the oil, and maintaining consistency in the amount of oil per bushel crushed.

Yet despite obstacles and set-backs, the partners are anxious to move ahead. Economic benefits will depend on how the company fares. But those involved speak more passionately about the opportunity to connect directly with consumers and share their farm story.

“I believe our long-term sustainability goals and the way we work our land means a lot to people who are concerned about where their food comes from,” Chorney says.

“I think as a farmer we need to be more involved,” Dalgarno adds. “The consumer is looking for info on how their food is produced. It is all about education, and it goes both ways. We can also try to understand what the consumer wants and is looking for.”

Sales to date have been mostly consumer-driven through retail outlets in Winnipeg and rural Manitoba. A few chefs are using the product, including Kyle Lew of Chew restaurant in Winnipeg.

“We’ve used it for a ton of different dishes in the past few years,” Lew says. “In a similar fashion to wine, the different types really reflect the terroir that they are grown in. I don’t really have a favourite (flavour). The oil itself is my favourite.”

Erin MacGregor, self-proclaimed food fanatic, registered dietitian and home economist from Toronto, is also a fan. “I’ve used them exclusively for drizzling over salads and cooked veggies for fresh grassy flavour.”

Online sales have seen the product shipped to Toronto, Vancouver and even New York.

Media coverage in the Toronto Star, Chatelaine, Canadian Living and Manitoba Co-operator has been beneficial. Last fall, Dalgarno took Big Prairie Sky oil to the Great Manitoba Food Fight, a competition featuring Manitoba entrepreneurs who have developed, but not fully commercialized, new and innovative food or alcoholic beverage products. While it didn’t win, he says the experience was phenomenal with valuable connections made in the food industry.

The local, authentic food movement is strong and growing – and with it, the potential for increased sales. As an example, CanFarm’s oils were purchased by a company this spring for a customer-giveaway. Made-in-Manitoba gift baskets and food box subscription services offer alternatives to direct retail sales.

Small-scale food processing may be challenging, but determination and resourcefulness is nothing new to farmers. CanFarm’s unique local oils give its partners a good opportunity to connect with their customers. “Usually, the seed would get hauled away as a bulk commodity and we would never get to be part of the equation,” said Reykdal. “I’m interested in making that connection — directly from the farm to the plate.”

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Agvocating through Experience

 

Originally published in the Manitoba Co-operator October 18, 2018


Tracy Wood & Taralea Simpson

Tracy Wood and Taralea Simpson knew they found the perfect spot when they discovered a 95-acre wooded river lot just outside of Portage la Prairie was for sale.

Having long dreamt of owning their own farm-stay, bed and breakfast business, the sisters officially opened “Farm Away Retreat” last month.

With their roots deeply embedded in agriculture, advocating for the industry was an integral part of their business model.

“Agriculture is who we are, it’s what shaped us, it’s what we do now for jobs, it’s where we spend our volunteer hours at — from 4-H to fair board to educating kids at the school level to 4R nutrient management promotion,” said Wood. “We want to bring our knowledge, first-hand experience and love of agriculture to those who are eager to learn more. Plus, there is really no place exactly like this anywhere nearby.”

The sisters grew up on a farm south of Portage la Prairie. Both furthered their education at the University of Manitoba — Wood with a Diploma in Agriculture and Simpson with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Degree.

Wood and her husband, along with their two sons, operate a 250-head cow-calf operation. She obtained Equine Assisted Learning Certification in 2014 and began her business, “Touch of Equine”. Currently, she is also General Manager for the Portage Industrial Exhibition Association.

Simpson has worked as agrologist for the last 25 years, and runs a 50-head cow-calf operation with her daughter and husband.

With their busy schedules, assistance from family and friends was crucial.

“Honestly, it’s a bit hectic at times. Our new business is like an extension of our existing family farms. Through the help of family and some great friends we are able to make it work. It takes organization, teamwork and communication,” Simpson acknowledged. “I think all those things are skills we have learned from 4-H, our farms, our jobs etc. Our ultimate goal is to transition to Farm Away full time as soon as it can support itself independently.”

Wood extensively researched both bed & breakfast and care farm (the use of farming practices for providing or promoting mental or physical healing, social or education services) before the sisters decided on how they would run their farm-stay business. Bridging the ever-growing urban-rural divide was one of their main goals.

“We want people to come and immerse themselves in agriculture and nature, to experience it first hand. Ask questions and hopefully leave feeling they understand more about where their food comes from,” explained Wood.

They see a wide variety of opportunities to do this, with their motto, “Gather – Learn – Stay” guiding the way.

Pasture tours are complimentary to anyone who stays and offer the opportunity to discuss hay processing, pasture and land management. Calving dates for the various family herds are September/October, February/March and April/May. Winter provides the experience of feeding and bedding for the cattle.

Horses, sheep and chickens are on-site with ‘guest appearances’ from occasional cows, calves and pigs. Lambing takes place throughout the year and Equine Assisted Learning runs from spring to late fall.

While the farm experience is an integral part of Farm Away, it also offers the opportunity to simply relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of country life. It’s a perfect spot for photo shoots. The house is surrounded by meticulously, manicured gardens. An outdoor pool provides a place to cool off on a hot summer day. Trails and walking paths are abundant. You can wander through an old farmhouse filled with antique decor.

Wood and Simpson are quick to acknowledge the previous owners for the love and care they put into the property which perfectly suited their vision. Serendipity played a part as it only took two weeks to find once they decided to pursue their dream together.

Financing a new business is always a challenge, but the sisters admit the first and toughest hurdle they faced was believing they could do it. “It’s daunting to step out of the familiar and into something new, admitted Simpson. “Putting the plan into place and how to make it happen was challenging.”

The biggest rewards to date has been the enthusiasm of others – those who have visited the property or checked out the website are cheering them on, supporting and encouraging them in their venture.

Knowledge is nothing unless you share it with others. These two passionate agvocates are taking that message to heart. They hope the first-hand experiences they are offering at Farm Away will leave a lasting impact and better understanding of agriculture with each and every guest.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Their advice to anyone wanting to follow their agvocating through experience model: Do your research, talk to people to get ideas. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Do something you are passionate about.


 

For more information visit www.farmawayretreat.com

E-mail:  hello@farmawayretreat.com

Phone: 1-204-870-1564 or 1-204-857-1910

No sponsorship required

Sometimes there is irony to a post. This would be one such case. 


There is something I always carry in my purse or backpack to avoid being ‘hangry’ — whether it’s for me or anyone else who might be in need. In my life, emergency snacks have always been essential. Over the years, exactly what that is has changed, and my ‘go to’ are now GORP energy bars.

Recently when I shared one at a meeting, and was extolling the virtues, I was asked if I worked for the company.

“No,” I replied, “I just love the bars, the story behind them, the company’s values, the packaging — plus it’s made-in-Manitoba!” Apparently I’m a little passionate about GORP!

I wondered afterwards why, when we praise or promote a product or service, it’s assumed either we must work for, or be sponsored by, a company.

Is it the way advertising is evolving with more endorsement-based promotion on social media? Has society changed to the point that no one believes you will support something unless you get something back? Is that really who we’ve become? Does there always have to be an underlying motive?

I don’t think so. Whether it’s food, or any other type of product or service I love, I share my positive experiences with others. Perhaps it’s to introduce them to something new,  especially if it’s locally-made, or to support a business that provides exceptional service.

No ulterior motive. No freebies needed.  Just a wish for on-going success so I have the privilege of being able to purchase what they are providing, along with the joy and satisfaction of seeing someone succeed. No sponsorship required.

Not as strong as I think I am

Originally published in the Manitoba Co-operator August 2, 2018


I thought I was doing fine. Not too worried or concerned. I kept telling myself, it would all work out, and if it didn’t we’d be okay.

We’ve always had a crop. We would this year too. It wouldn’t be a bumper crop. Not even an average one, but after being married to a farmer for 29 years, I knew the risks. Only two years ago, we’d struggled with the reverse — three months of excessive rain. Weather challenges are not a shock nor surprise. Disappointing, yes, but I know worrying doesn’t change it, or help me in any way.

So I tucked my worries away, concerned for the pressure my farmer was feeling, but confident I was dealing well with the lack of rain. I kept busy, focused on other things, took advantages of get-togethers with friends and carried on.

Then on June 29th it rained! Such relief! We woke to 13.4 mm in the rain gauge! The most substantial rainfall we’d had all spring. The crops looked so much better that day.

But I noticed something else. I felt happier, lighter. There was a spring in my step I hadn’t had for a while. I was smiling more. Despite believing I was dealing well with the drought-like conditions, it was still a weight I carried on my shoulders. I wasn’t immune to worry. Damn. Not as strong as I think I am.

I talked to a couple of other farming friends who could relate. It was a reminder to be aware, to look out not only for our farming partners in times of stress, but also to look after ourselves. To talk about what’s going on if we need to, even if we don’t want to be seen as that person complaining about the weather — again, despite those concerns being valid.

The business of producing food has many rewards, but it isn’t easy dealing with the weather-dependent aspect of farming. We can do absolutely everything to the best of our ability but ultimately Mother Nature holds the cards, determines the outcome — and our income. Every. Single. Year. I’m not sure it’s a risk you ever get used to, so finding ways to cope is important.

Building a support system helps. Personally I have friends — farming and non-farming — who truly understand and are always there for me. I met with a counselor last winter whose door is always open any time I need to talk. As well, there are many resources available at Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services.

More recently, the Do More Ag Foundation was founded by a group of people passionate about mental health in agriculture. They are not only creating awareness, educating and breaking the stigma, but are also creating a community for people to connect and find the resources they need — national, provincial and territorial — in times of stress and anxiety.

Through their website I discovered there’s even an app for that. Calm in the Storm is a free app, created by mental health professionals in Manitoba, launched in December 2014. The easy to use app and website are designed to reduce, manage, and learn about stress in your life using clinically proven information and strategies. Features include guided audio meditations, tools for assessing your stress with ways to customize and track your experience and even create a personalized safety plan.

A helpful tool for anyone and one I will be exploring as our crops continue to struggle with lack of rain. The recent heat wave has taken its toll on our farm and those around us. Other areas have been hit hard with storms and hail. With farming we rarely get the perfect year, but the extremes are especially challenging. The hold the weather has on our lives and livelihoods can, at times, be tiring.

A friend recently posted a picture of a canola field damaged by hail, stating, “Farmers are proud to share the good stories but suffer silently with the bad ones.” So true. It is much easier to share our successes than our hardships. But the culture is slowly shifting, for the better. There is more openness, increased awareness and many resources available for our mental well-being. No need to suffer silently in times of stress. Strength is being redefined. It no longer means carrying the load on your own.


Links:

Do More Ag – Resources:   www.domore.ag/resources/

Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services:    www.supportline.ca

Calm in the Storm:    www.calminthestormapp.com

 

 

Easy Cheesy Baked Cauliflower

Currently cauliflower is abundant, affordable and fresh from the field thanks to our amazing local vegetable producers! A friend gave me this recipe years ago and it has since become a family favourite.  A perfect dish for potlucks as it can be put together a day ahead and kept in the fridge until ready to bake.  

Easy Cheesy Baked Cauliflower

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup shredded cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Leave cauliflower whole or cut into large pieces. Set into large pot with an inch or two of water and steam for 20 minutes.  Drain & let cool slightly.

Place cauliflower in greased 9″ X 13″ baking dish.  Blend mayonnaise, sour cream or yogurt, shredded cheese, dill & cayenne pepper.  Spread evenly over cauliflower.  Bake 15—20  minutes until bubbly and brown.

 

Dear Graduate

“Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead.” — Nora Ephron


Dear Graduate,

Congratulations! You’ve earned your diploma or degree and you’re on your way! Everyone is asking, “What will you be doing now? Where are going? Do you have a job?” The questions are well-meaning but relentless. The pressure feels immense.

You smile, nod and try to answer. Perhaps you’re stepping forward with confidence and conviction, goals outlined and a plan of action in place. But what if you’re not? What if you’re wavering, uncertain, concerned you’ll never know what you ‘should’ be doing?

First of all, that’s okay.

Most of us have felt that way, even those who don’t dare admit it. And guess what? Many of us don’t end up where we’d thought we be. That’s okay too — and actually often better than we imagined.

Trust that everything will work out.

If I could go back and chat with myself as I set out after high school and university, I would share that reassurance and these words of advice:

  1.   You aren’t required to have all the answers now. A specific life goal isn’t   necessary — you simply need a path to follow. Sometimes that starts with   knowing what you don’t want.
  2.   As you head down your path, know it’s okay to veer off and change direction.   Be determined but flexible.
  3.   Every stage of education is a stepping stone, a building block, leading you   where you’re meant to be. It is all worthwhile.
  4.   Ignore the pressure and expectations you feel from peers, teachers, parents   and society. Do what you love. Know that may change over time.
  5.   Believe in your abilities — to learn, to grow, to find your way. Don’t  compare your journey to that of others’.  This is yours. Own it.
  6.   Value and nurture the friendships you make along the way. Surround yourself  with positive people — those who lift you up and encourage you — especially when you fall. Keep your circle strong.
  7.   Always do your best, give 100% — not only in the things you love, but in those tasks or jobs which are bridges to your goals.
  8.   Be respectful and kind — even when those courtesies are not extended to you.
  9.   Trust when someone sees potential in you that you don’t even know exists. Take the chance when pushed outside your comfort zone. You’ll find out you’re far more capable than you knew.
  10.   Be open to new opportunities. Ask, “If I don’t do this now, will I regret it?” Let your inner voice guide you — it will not let you down.
  11.   Don’t be afraid to ask — questions, for help, for clarification — even for a raise or a promotion.
  12.   Never stop learning — personally or professionally.
  13.   No matter where you are, get involved with your community. Give  back in   whatever way you can. It is as good for you as for those you’re helping.
  14.  Take a break and recharge your batteries when needed. Enjoy the journey. Take the detours. The greatest rewards are often from the unplanned events in our lives.
  15. ‘Success’ does not depend on the opinion of others. Let your values and convictions guide you to your own definition of success.

So dear graduate aside set any fears and anxieties. Enjoy the celebrations. Graciously accept all the congratulations. Answer questions the best way you can, knowing you don’t have to give the ‘final answer’.

Take a deep breath, start down your path and simply put one foot in front of the other. Go after those new opportunities.

And remember, even when it feels like it isn’t working out, eventually it will. In time, you will get to where you are meant to be.

Quest for Success

Quest for Success

Is success a powerful, high-paying job?
Is it based on rank or status in society?
Is success accumulating money, a fancy car, a big house?
Is it having trophies, awards and accolades?

Or does success come from within?
Is it having a happy spirit, a content soul?
Does success mean living your dream?
Is it looking within and liking the person you see?

Is success learning, growing and sharing?
Is it being unafraid of failure, trying again when you fall?
Is success always trying your best?
Is it being helpful, kind and considerate?

Does success mean happiness?
Is it the love of family and friends?
Is success being true to your own values and convictions?
Is it peace and contentment?

Ask yourself –
does my success depend on the opinion of others?
Or do I choose the path that’s best for me
and create my own success?

 

Sandi Knight
© 2009

The Visitor

In memory of my Uncle Bob, born on May 12, 1940.  He  passed away in 2007.                    Great Blue Herons frequented the family farm where he spent the last several years of his life. 

The Visitor 

Immersed in my thoughts, I weed, trim, turn soil.
My flower beds, a refuge 
from the sadness in my heart.
Yet another loss, not unexpected, but still…

An unfamiliar sound — I look up.
So very close, a Great Blue Heron,
large wings slowly beating,
 balancing precariously on slender tree branch.

I sit back, mesmerized,
as it watches me.
An unlikely visitor to my backyard.
I slowly stand, take soft steps, draw closer.

In a moment, it takes flight,
crosses above me, lights on lofty perch,
gazes back my way.
I am spellbound.   

Could it be him…
I quietly watch my extraordinary guest,
admire graceful wings extending,
as it lifts off for farewell flight.  

High above the barn and tall spruces,
towards the setting sun.
An incredible sight…
I am so blessed.

                                     

Sandi Knight
© 2007

Precision Plant Breeding – Clarifying ‘What’s in a name?’

Originally published April 26, 2018 in the The Manitoba Cooperator 


Canola Blossoms

Science has always led the way in agriculture, and continues to do so today. Yet advances in plant breeding are being met with skepticism, fear and vehement opposition by many consumers.

Perhaps we aren’t listening closely enough to their concerns. Because we understand the science, we assumed they would too. We’ve failed in telling our story, or at least to the right people. Farmers are great at connecting with other farmers but we need to go beyond our online echo chambers and ensure we’re reaching the end-users.

While we’ve lagged behind, fear-based marketing campaigns have swayed consumers while activists continue to stand in the way of efficient, leading-edge plant breeding methods.

We’re frustrated, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

At medical appointments when doctors use confusing terminology, we stop and ask them to explain in terms we can understand. The same can be said for any expert – they know the technical terms and acronyms specific to their fields, but if they’re trying to convey a message, layman’s terms are needed.

Yet in agriculture we continue to use terms such as GMO, GE, GM, transgenic, CRISPR, TALEN, genome/gene editing and biotech crops. No wonder there is apprehension and confusion. Even when people do not know what a GMO is, they believe it something that should be feared and avoided. See “What’s a GMO?” for Jimmy Kimmel’s take on the subject. He sent a camera crew to a farmers’ market near his studio to ask people what they thought GMO meant.

GMO is now a widely recognized, often misused and misunderstood term. It’s used extensively by media and marketers alike. We can’t abandon it, but we can shift to clearer, all-encompassing terminology which covers all the latest advances.

No matter the type of plant breeding used over the last 10,000 years, the goal has always been the same – genetic improvement. Make the plants better – disease and insect resistant, improved qualities and yields. With newer technologies now available, the process has become extremely precise and efficient. “Precision plant breeding” covers it all in clear, concise and understandable language.

The term is a welcoming, open door to further the conversation as to the benefits on our farms, to the environment, the consumer and those in developing countries.

Precision plant breeding is one of the tools available to help feed our ever-growing world and adapt to changes in the environment. It offers solutions to famine, malnutrition, drought, flooding and disease.

We can’t expect unequivocal acceptance without explanation. We need to effectively communicate to the masses the what, when, why, where and how.

Clearer language is a positive step forward in taking down fences of fear and building bridges of understanding.

Not everyone will be on the same page. But hopefully there will be enough consensus to lead the world to the ultimate goal – abundant, safe, affordable food for all.

Maple Quinoa Salad

With spring’s arrival the desire for quick and easy make-ahead meals increases. This whole-grain quinoa salad fits the bill, plus it incorporates one of my favourite flavours — maple! 

I use locally grown “Prairie Quinoa” along with Manitoba maple syrup produced in our area.  An excellent salad to add to your meal-prep repertoire!  

Maple Quinoa Salad

Main Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 6 -8 green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup kernel corn (frozen or canned)
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup pecans, walnuts or almonds, chopped

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup

Directions:

Place water, quinoa and 1 tbsp maple syrup in medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir, cover pot, reduce heat and simmer for 15—20 minutes until cooked through.  Remove the saucepan from heat, fluff quinoa with a fork and let sit 5 —10 minutes.  Cool completely and transfer to a serving bowl.

While quinoa is cooling prepare peppers, green onions, corn, black beans and nuts.  Whisk together apple cider vinegar, canola oil and maple syrup.

Add veggies, beans, nuts and vinaigrette to cooled quinoa. Toss well and refrigerate until ready to serve.