Selling ‘all things local’ goal of young Sask. farmers

Tim and Carla Shultz have so many irons in the fire, it’s hard to imagine when they rest.

Tim is the fourth generation on his family’s operation near Osage, Sask.

He and Carla have transformed it from a grain farm to a cattle operation and now to a supplier of microgreens and marketer of many other local products.

It is known as the Green Ranch.

“Our dream was to have a business where both Carla and I were working full time on the farm,” Shultz said during a recent break from the Regina Farmers’ Market while Carla staffed their booth.

But they would have had to boost their cattle numbers to about 1,000 from 200 for that to happen.

Then they heard about small plot intensive farming, from Wally Satzewich of Wally’s Urban Market Garden in Saskatoon.

“I couldn’t believe there was a guy making a living off half an acre in Saskatchewan,” said Shultz, who had trained as a herd health technician and thought he might become a veterinarian.

In 2007, he and Carla planted a small market garden. They took their produce to the Weyburn market and found a demand for greens, peas, beans and other produce.

The next year, they were approved to be part of the Regina Farmers’ Market, where they specialize in microgreens. These are vegetable seedlings picked for eating when they get their first true leaves.

At the same time, they were looking at the community-supported agriculture model, in which consumers invest in the farm for a season and receive produce weekly. They had a successful test run with eight members to see if it would work.

Last year, they expanded to 25 customers and this year to 50 without advertising. They offered their existing customers a $10 credit to refer a friend.

Shultz said they have 15 CSA customers in Weyburn and 35 in Regina.

The couple also supplies food to local restaurants.

This summer, they expanded again and now supply what Shultz describes as “four good regular restaurants” and three organic stores.

Although their produce is grown organically, they are not certified.

“We haven’t used chemicals for five or six years now,” Shultz said. “The process for our farm would be easy. The issue is with the other farms we represent.”

The Green Ranch last year started selling beef after a customer of their custom gazing operation approached them.

“That has just snowballed,” Shultz said.

They now market a variety of natural meats and meat products, including wild boar.

“Our vision is basically to sell all things local,” he said. “Saskatchewan grown, raised and processed.”

Recently, they have worked to build a system to supply restaurants and wholesale customers with a consistent supply.

Chefs say they would like to use local products but can’t always get what they need when they need it.

The expansion keeps the Shultzes running.

On Tuesdays, restaurants place their orders and Tim delivers on Fridays.

The CSA deliveries are made Tuesday evening to drop-off points, except for the special home deliveries that some customers request. Those are on Fridays.

Saturday is Regina market garden day.

And there is all the planting, weeding, watering and picking to do. One full-time employee lives on the farm through the summer and local part-time students and others are employed seasonally.

Restaurant deliveries are down to once a week and the CSA is seasonal.

But even that could change. Last year, they added a greenhouse, and a cooler for year-round root vegetable storage is next.

The couple is moving closer to the goal of both working full time at home, but Carla, a certified management accountant, still works full time through the winter and part-time in the summer.

“It has been challenging to juggle work responsibilities and farm responsibilities as our farming business grows,” said Carla.

“It’s exciting to watch our business grow and see that one day it will be possible for me to focus my attention and abilities on our business. In the meantime, good staff is key to keeping things balanced on the farm.”

They expect it will be another year or so before all their many ventures will allow that to change.

“If I can be at work knowing that things are getting done on the farm it’s much easier to juggle,” she said.

The initial small garden is more than an acre in size now and several other growers are involved in producing vegetables and fruit to market through the Green Ranch.

Potatoes, onions, radishes, herbs, squash, tomatoes and raspberries are just some of the Saskatchewangrown produce available.

“More and more people are just contacting us and asking if we’ll sell for them, but we can only sell so many,” Shultz said.

Having other growers in different parts of the province also spreads their business risk. In 2008, they suffered three hailstorms.

Like other market garden suppliers, the Shultzes are also dealing with the proposed new regulations that could limit what they sell. The regulations circulated in draft form earlier this year would, for example, prevent the sale of micro-greens.

“What’s the difference between micro-greens and baby field crops?” he said. “It would take out our whole greenhouse operation.”

That’s unacceptable to the Shultzes, who have found their farming niche.

“We’re passionate about young people getting into agriculture,” he said.

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