Early garden patch grows into vegetable farm

On the Farm: Spring Creek Market has grown to 245 acres and is the biggest mixed vegetable producer in the province

OUTLOOK, Sask. — Dan Erlandson remembers when he became a farmer.

He was 16 and he started a small vegetable garden on his parent’s farm to earn a little money and feed his entrepreneurial dreams.

Now at 34, it makes sense that farming was always in his blood.

“I probably couldn’t articulate it back then why I liked doing it or what was good about it. But something was just telling me that I liked doing it and I kept at it,” he said.

“I think now I have a better understanding that I like the challenge. I like being able to have my family out here. I like where we live and the lifestyle it provides for us.”

Erlandson and wife Chelsea operate Spring Creek Garden about 40 kilometres north of Outlook, Sask.

From Dan’s determined beginnings of growing four acres of vegetables 18 years ago, the farm has mushroomed to 245 acres, the largest mixed vegetable producer in the province, and employs about 50 people during peak harvest season.

“Growing vegetables in Saskatchewan is different and challenging. We’re in a way paving our own road here and that’s exciting. It’s also very rewarding and you get to test yourself constantly and those around you constantly,” he said.

“We don’t farm just to farm. We don’t always make the safest decision. A lot of the time we make the riskiest decision. I want to manage our farm for us to succeed and do well and push the boundaries.”

Their business has two marketing arms.

On the wholesale side, Spring Creek Garden produces about eight key products for Federated Co-op, while the retail side grows about 60 varieties of mixed vegetables for eight farmers markets throughout the summer and fall.

Married since 2010, the couple have three children: Calla, 8, Raulan, 6 and Lainey, 3.

Chelsea is originally from Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask., and said she fell into farming by falling in love.

“I got sucked right in and ended up on a veggie farm. But that’s OK. He’s worth it,” she said with a laugh.

And she would have it no other way now.

“I love parenting on the farm. I find that it is just a lot easier. I have the option of having my space, but yet we have people nearby if we were ever in dire need. And the scenery and just being outdoors.”

However, finding the balance between a demanding farm business and family time is something that challenges them.

At this time of year, the temporary agricultural workers are long gone, back to their sunny Mexican climes and away from the frozen prairie.

For the Erlandsons, having the winters free of manual farm work and managing a large work staff allows the couple to shift into a lower gear and spend time with their children — from dance and hockey to school events, or curling up by the fire.

Summertime, however, is a different matter. Dan and Chelsea are kept hopping, multi-tasking all facets of their vegetable operation and multinational workforce.

“We are hoping that one day we will be able to actually take our kids camping for a weekend in the summer without missing too much and having guilt from being away from the markets or the farm,” said Chelsea.

“We’re also trying to transition a little bit more into year-round work rather than absolute intense insanity throughout April through the end of November and then kind of not much.”

Added Dan: “If we could create business year-round, it’d be a lot nicer for our family lifestyle.”

In fact, finding flexibility of lifestyle is something the couple are mindful of on a daily basis.

“It’s honestly the hardest question we face on the farm every single year. We have the conversation all the time through the season of what we’re doing, where we’re going and why we’re doing something,” he said.

“We try to plan years out with leaving ourselves with enough flexibility to change what we’re doing.”

He said he has a drive for creating success, but knows getting bigger doesn’t necessarily factor into their equation for prosperity.

“We want to have the best quality products that we can possibly produce. We want to be as good as we can environmentally and sustainably. We want to be as good as we can with our employees and then hopefully we create this foundation of a business that one day we can pass on to the next generation,” he said.

“So we’re trying to be a little bit of everything and hopefully we can succeed before we fail.”

Dan played hockey while attending high school at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., which has continued to impact his life.

The school’s motto “Luctor et Emergo — Struggle and Emerge,” remains engrained and becomes more meaningful as time passes.

“Sports and life, it’s all just one big thing as far as I’m concerned. You always have options of when it gets hard, you’re either going to try harder or you’re going to quit,” he said.

“I know which avenue I choose and which one I want my kids to choose.”

In fact, the family has created their own on-farm saying for those moments when an attitude adjustment is needed.

“When things get hard, try harder. That seems to be the reoccurring theme that our kids will chant back to us,” said Chelsea.

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