Business built on organics

VONDA, Sask. — A hint of pride is evident in Marc Loiselle’s voice when he explains that his farm sprayer has not been used with synthetic chemicals since 1987.

“When you start dragging your harrows through your crop (to control weeds) … you get people slowing down on the highway and gawking, thinking, ‘he must have lost his marbles,’ ” he said.

“But it’s been really good for us.”

The sign at the entrance to Loiselle’s farmyard near Vonda, Sask., reads, “Holistic Stewardship for Abundant Life.”

“If we really want to do this in a sustainable way and look at it from a spiritual perspective, I don’t know that we’re meant to be growing grain strictly as a bulk commodity,” he said.

“It doesn’t really matter what you end up doing with your land, but if you’re not treating it well enough, then what’s going to happen in the future and what’s going to happen to the people that are eating the food in the future?”

Loiselle knows that mainstream growers don’t share his views, but his conviction is deep and he is comfortable with his choice to follow the road less travelled.

“I might be in the minority, but I think this is a better way of farming,” he said.

“We are more concerned about doing things the way we think they should be done than we are about making extra dollars.”

Marc and his wife, Anita, are the fifth generation to be involved in farming here.

Today, they farm 1,400 acres along with his parents, who still help during busy seasons.

About 700 acres of grain are grown each year. The remainder is planted to plow-down clover, which is harvested as hay or used to pasture the family’s small herd of cattle.

The Loiselles raise Dexter cattle, poultry and a couple of adopted goats.

Leather collars worn by the goats are evidence of their status as farm pets first and livestock second.

The couple raised four children and welcomed their fourth grandchild.

Marc’s great-great-grandfather, F.X. Loiselle, settled in the district in the early 1900s.

He and other French Canadian settlers were the founders of what became known locally as La Trinité — a trio of small prairie towns that still carry the markings of the province’s proud Fransaskois tradition.

Vonda, St. Denis and Prud’homme are built on cornerstones of family, community, the Roman Catholic church and French culture and language.

The family’s roots in Canada can be traced back almost 400 years, when Loiselle’s forefathers arrived in North America from France in 1642.

The family is currently marking their 30th year of certified organic production.

The family began the transition to organic production in the early 1980s, with encouragement and inspiration from organic pioneers like the Kaspers at Colonsay, Sask., and Elmer Laird at Davidson, Sask.

The decision to go organic was prompted by an increasing demand for high quality organic milling wheat, primarily from buyers in the United Kingdom.

Loiselle also had concerns about the potential health risks associated with repeated exposure to agricultural chemicals.

He harvested his first crop of organic wheat in 1985: 90 acres of Columbus hard red spring wheat. Two years later, the entire farm was certified organic.

Today, the Loiselle farm is synonymous with Red Fife wheat, a heritage landrace wheat variety whose genetics spawned productive milling wheat varieties like Marquis.

Red Fife is not a registered variety in Canada because it predates the variety registration system, which started in 1923.

Loiselle sells his production directly to specialty buyers, including artisan bakers.

He said Canadian farmers could learn a lot from their counterparts in Europe, where food is more likely to be grown and consumed locally.

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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