Agriculture is Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan is agriculture. It’s everywhere you look. Pick a country road and head down it. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see something growing or grazing on the land surrounding you. After all, Saskatchewan is home to 44 percent of Canada’s total cultivated farmland.1
For more than a century, Saskatchewan has been supplying the world with agricultural commodities. Loaded on trucks, trains and ships, we see our outputs head out of the province, and then come back to us on our grocery store shelves. This begs the question: why are we shipping out food grown here to have it come back processed and ready to eat?
Say hello to value-added processing. It’s here, it’s growing, and there are still many opportunities yet to be explored.
Value-added processing in Saskatchewan has been around for decades. Robin Hood Flour milled in Moose Jaw for over 60 years. Yorkton’s Harvest Meats began in 1928 and is now a national brand. However, it’s been in the last few years that consumers have really begun to see, and gravitate towards, local products grown and packaged here on store shelves. Local growers have seen this trend and are embracing it.
Allen Zak is a fourth-generation farmer near Fir Mountain, Sask. The Zak family had been organically growing wheat, peas, lentils and flax and saw the opportunity to move into processing the food they were growing. Allen & Marilyn Zak and Daena McMurdo, started Zak Organics Food Co. in 2015 and began selling Crunchy Peas, their line of Organic Green Pea Snacks. Zak Organics was so successful out of the gate that expansion came just two years into business.
“We’re thrilled to have our very own production facility in Moose Jaw, Sask. Now all of our products can be produced, packaged and shipped from one location that’s less than 200km from our farm, where we grow the peas,” says Allen Zak, CEO and founder of Zak Organics. “Our mission is to create great-tasting, healthy snacks that everyone can enjoy, regardless of their dietary preferences or restrictions. With our new facility, we have increased production capacity as well as complete control over the quality and safety of our products.”
John and Barb Cote farm near Saskatoon. They grow grains, flowers and juniper. The Cotes take these ingredients and distill them into award-winning gin. That’s right—the world’s best cask gin is made in Saskatchewan. The Cotes won at the World Gin Awards in 2017, for their Barrel Aged Vapour Infused Gin. Not only does Black Fox Farm and Distillery make gin, they also distill vodkas and liqueurs.
Natasha and Elysia Vandenhurk saw their opportunity in camelina. Camelina is an oilseed perfect for growing on the prairies. Their company, Three Farmers, was born when they convinced their father and two neighbour farmers to start growing camelina at Midale, Sask. Natasha and Elycia began cold-pressing camelina into cooking oil. The Vandenhurks took their product all the way to CBC’s Dragons’ Den, and have expanded into roasted pea and chick pea snacks—all grown and processed in Saskatchewan—and sold on store shelves across the country. Elysia Vandenhurk sees nothing but opportunity in Saskatchewan agriculture. “There are endless opportunities in agriculture and many different trends occurring around all aspects of it. Specifically, for Three Farmers, our focus is around cultivating goodness through our farming practices, through our food ingredient selection and through our manufacturing,” says Vandenhurk. “The opportunities for ‘niche’ brands with unique products are greater than ever. Plant based proteins and clean, transparent labelling is where it’s at.”
There are so many examples of value-added processing in Saskatchewan that we could write for days about craft beer, mead wines, pasta, granola, baking mix, sausage, candy, juice, salsa…the list never ends. Grown in Saskatchewan, made in Saskatchewan: it’s value-added processing for the 21st century consumer.
While there are many companies already taking our Saskatchewan agricultural goods and turning them into products for retail and wholesale, there is still so much room to grow. We have all the ingredients, both literally and figuratively. Not only do we produce the inputs, we have the skill to create the outputs. We have a skilled, well-educated workforce to develop and produce the products. We’re centrally located and have excellent transportation links across the country and over the border to ship the products. There are two universities and a polytechnic with the research capabilities to take ideas and make them marketable. All that’s left now is for Saskatchewan’s entrepreneurs to pick up the proverbial ball and run with it.