Rudy Knitel and Corne Mans need to make a living, but neither has expectations of becoming millionaires as they follow a philosophy of bringing quality, locally grown food products to consumers, while being fair to the farmers who produce it.
Knitel, 73, has been building the Galimax Trading business out of Nobleford in southern Alberta for the past 10 years. About four years ago he brought in Corne Mans, 21, as a young partner, to help with the business. Knitel, who farmed in the Alberta Peace River region at one time, was also in the food import business before launching Galimax. Mans, was born and raised on a southern Alberta farm, obtained his business management diploma from Lethbridge College before joining the business.
Galimax’s focus is to work with several local producers of fruit, vegetables, dairy products and eggs. Products are collected, processed and packaged as needed at their 4,800-square foot, Canadian Food Inspection Agency-approved plant in Nobleford, and then distributed weekly to mostly “high-end” restaurants in communities ranging from Okotoks, Calgary, Bragg Creek, Banff and Lake Louise.
“For most of our suppliers they are either too small, or it becomes a lot of work for them to go out and develop this market on their own,” says Knitel. “It took a lot of door knocking and pavement pounding to connect with these restaurants, show them the quality product that we have, and also our ability to supply it as needed. In a lot of cases you may have to make five calls to a restaurant manager or chef before you land them as a client.”
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A wide range of locally grown fruit, vegetables, dairy products from a local organic dairy, and eggs are delivered by farmers to the Galimax plant weekly. They have cold storage available to keep everything fresh as it is being processed, orders assembled and then delivered in regular van runs to restaurants. Galimax doesn’t handle any meat products although through its network of producers and through its website it can connect customers to meat producers.
Among the growers they deal with are Fairwinds Farm, Mans Organics, Red Hat Co-operatives, Leffers Brothers Organics, Kootenay Alpine Cheese, Sudo Farms, Sunrise Berry Farm, Vital Green Farms, Greidanus Honey, Phoenix Farms, Mountain View Farming, Tamminga Farms, Halma’s Vegetable Farm, Canadian Fruitful Tree Company, Robertson Estate Wine Vinegar, and Webbers Mountainside Cherries.
Young egg entrepreneurs
One of their most ambitious projects has been to organize a network of young farmers to produce free-range eggs from small hen flocks. They work with 16 young farmers, ranging in age from 10 to 18 years of age, who raise small flocks of laying hens. The flocks average about 150 birds and can be no more than 300 birds, to avoid running into quota issues with the Alberta’s egg marketing board.
“All these young producers are supervised by their parents,” says Mans. “They have to have proper facilities and provide proper care. We make regular, unannounced visits to the farms to ensure everything is running smoothly and meeting the standard we expect.”
While the eggs — all brown shells as they have the most appeal among their customers — are produced by 16 different operations, they are all packaged and marketed under the Mans Egg label. Galimax has a CFIA-approved egg grading station inside their Nobleford plant. They process between 1,200 and 1,800 dozen eggs per week. Any surplus above restaurant orders is shipped to the Lethbridge Food Bank.
The eggs are marketed as a natural, free-range product, raised without medication or feed additives.
It is the Galimax policy to pay producers as much as they can for their products. With the young egg producers, for example, they are paid $2.25 per dozen for their eggs. After costs they net about 58 cents per dozen, which depending on size of operation can net one of these young farmers about $400 per month. Galimax makes about 50 cents on each dozen eggs.
“What we have is an excellent system that shows how hens can be raised in a healthy and humane environment and produce a good quality product,” says Mans. “We’re not interested in marketing 100,000 eggs per week, or anything like that. We just want to keep it small, keep it manageable and everyone can make a dollar in the process. The important thing is that you have to believe in what you do.”
Knitel says there is room for similar food networks to help farmers market their products.
“In Alberta there is probably room for three or four companies like Galimax that can work with local producers to bring good-quality, locally-grown products to market,” says Knitel. “We have developed a good market, and pay farmers as much as we can, but we also have to make a living. The key to this is to run a first-class show — have good products, produced and processed in proper facilities, and then provide excellent customer service.”