With one click of a button, consumers can be viewing the very field where their salad oil was grown. And, they can meet the farmer who produced it, learning about his farming practices and his agricultural philosophy.
“Your Farmer — Colin,” reads the web page that comes up after entering a code found on a bottle of Saskatchewan-produced Three Farmers camelina oil. “Your Batch — In mid-September 2010, we pressed Lot 7 of our camelina oil. This oil would be our first to be bottled under our Three Farmers brand. It was cold pressed in Tisdale, Saskatchewan at a Kosher Certified facility and then transported to Saskatoon for bottling.”
This information is displayed beside a Google map that zeros in on the exact quarter of land in southeast Saskatchewan where the camelina crop for this particular bottle of oil was grown.
This innovative marketing strategy was implemented by three Midale, Sask. farmers, who are the first in Canada to market camelina as an edible culinary oil, and to use the ancient grain as a food source.
Despite the achievements by Three Farmers, like getting “novel food” status from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), they are humble about their accomplishments.
“We like to see a lot of what we grow be connected to the end-user, so this was a way to connect directly with our consumers,” said Colin Rosengren, the brainchild behind camelina oil and the Three Farmers brand.
“He comes up with all of the ideas and the rest of us just follow,” said Ron Emde, a longtime Midale-area farmer.
Low commodity prices in 2004-05 led Rosengren to search for ways to process his own crops locally, adding value and meeting increasing demand for local and traceable food. Camelina, traced back 3,000 years to Europe, has most recently been grown in the U.S. and Canada for biofuel, but had never been approved for consumption in this country.
In 2008, Rosengren decided to plant the crop, joining many other Canadian farmers in selling it for the biofuel market. In
2009, he decided it was time to try pressing camelina to produce an edible oil. He was joined by a third farmer, Dan Vandenhurk, as well as business investor Ken Greer of Saskatoon.
Rosengren chose his partners carefully, selecting Emde because his experience as a trucking company owner and farmer offered strengths in human resources, accounting and customer service. Vandenhurk had a background in construction, and farmed 10,000-acres, which Rosengren knew would be helpful when it came time to build a local oil-crushing plant. Greer, owner of Western Ag Innovations, would be the business, marketing and funding expert.
With 500 acres of camelina in the ground in 2009, the farmers were ready by 2010 to start crushing the oil and getting it to market.
“We went through different roller-coasters,” said Rosengren. “Lots of interest was expressed in selling the product to large markets such as in India, however, all of those business deals eventually fell through. We learned the hard way not to get excited until the money is in the bank.”
With all three being busy running their grain farms, they didn’t have the time to launch a new venture, so Vandenhurk’s daughter Natasha was hired in 2009 to launch Three Farmers.
“I remember my dad speaking about it, but I really didn’t pay attention because he always has a million things going on,” said the University of Saskatchewan economics graduate. “We really
didn’t know what market we wanted to go to when we started as this oil can be used as a health food or for culinary purposes, but it’s great for skin care too.”
They settled on bottling camelina oil and selling it as a cooking, baking and dressing oil. With camelina being a high source of omgea-3 and omega- 6 polyunsaturates, and with a smoke point of 475 F, the choice was an easy one to make.
The major hurdle was securing CFIA approval, which the group was told could take years and could cost up to a half-million dollars. Fortunately, the three farmers were able to secure approval in less than a year and at a fraction of the cost they were expecting.
“There’s been a lot of red tape,” said Emde. “Sometimes it just seems like it would be easier to haul the crop to town and sell it, but I think in the long run it will be worth it.”
Rosengren is convinced that the long-term benefits of adding value to their crops at home, and putting traceable products into the hands of health-conscious consumers, will more than pay off.
With over 1,000 bottles sold and retailers in Saskatoon, Regina and Estevan carrying the product, the immediate plan is to build a processing plant in the Midale area this spring, produce camelina hummus and pesto for retail shelves this summer and reach out to larger markets in the East.
Another Vandenhurk daughter, Elysia, is a Red Seal chef so she has been creating camelina oil-based products and recipes.
“I think the biggest strength we have is that it’s Saskatchewan made,” said Natasha, “and we’re letting consumers know how the food is grown by having real-life farmers telling their story.”
At a time when farmers are mass producing huge quantities of grain for export and being perceived by some as leaving large carbon footprints, Rosengren said the Three Farmers brand is a vehicle through which those perceptions can be changed.
“Showing what we’re doing as growers is the main point here,” said Rosengren. “We want to tell the story behind the product.”
For more information on Three Farmers camelina oil, visit www.threefarmers.ca. The product is available for purchase online; in Saskatoon at Bulk Cheese, Souleio Foods and Cava Cuisine; at the Italian Star Deli in Regina and at Nutter’s in Estevan.
With 500 acres of camelina in the ground in 2009, the farmers were ready by 2010 to start crushing the oil and getting it to market