The story behind the product

It’s difficult to sum up a personal belief or a business philosophy in a single sentence.

But Three Farmers, a Saskatchewan company that produces culinary camelina oil and chickpea snacks, pulled off the trick on its website.

“As in life, every experience is enhanced when there is a story and truth behind it; why would this be any different with our food.”

Three Farmers is based in Saskatoon and the firm is possibly best known for being on Dragon’s Den.

Sisters Natasha and Elysia Vandenhurk appeared on Dragon’s Den in 2012 to pitch camelina oil sold under the Three Farmers brand. Their visit to the den was successful. Dragon Arlene Dickinson invested $150,000 for a 20 percent stake in the company.

Natasha and Elysia are the daughters of Dan Vandenhurk. He’s one of the original Saskatchewan farmers in Three Farmers, along with Colin Rosengren and Ron Emde.

Earlier this year, the Vandenhurks earned national recognition again when they won a gold medal at the SIAL Canada Innovation Contest in Montreal. They received the honour for their Pea Pops, a roasted chickpea snack.

Three Farmers roasts the chickpeas at its facility in Keeler, Sask., north of Moose Jaw.

The sisters earned gold because Pea Pops are a healthy and natural snack, but also because of their innovative marketing.

Pea Pops and other Three Farmers products come with a traceability code on the back of the package. Customers can go on the company’s website, enter a code and learn how the snack was produced. In other words, they can hear the story behind the product.

“The whole story of where it was grown, to how it was grown, to how it was made and processed,” said Elysia, the company’s chief operating officer and a Red Seal chef.

The trace code doesn’t provide information on the types of pesticides sprayed on the chickpeas or where exactly they were grown.

Instead, Three Farmers shares information on how Saskatchewan is a major producer of pulse crops, including chickpeas, and why pulse crops are good for the soil and sustainability.

The Vandenhurks have learned that most customers are more interested in the big picture, not the specifics of how a particular crop is grown.

“Customers want to know the story but they don’t necessarily want to sit for hours and read the nitty gritty details,” Elysia said. “They just want to know the story and trust it…. If people have specific questions, we’re more than willing to answer those.”

For Three Farmers, the story is about producing food in a sustainable way. Growers who supply chickpeas or camelina to the company are expected to follow practices that enhance soil health, like zero tillage, diverse crop rotations and intercropping, where two or three crops are grown on the same field at the same time.

Rosengren, who farms near Midale, Sask., has been experimenting with intercropping since 2004.

“We do still have herbicide application and that type of thing, but it’s greatly reduced,” he said in 2017. “As well, our disease problems are greatly reduced…. So we’ve been able to pretty much eliminate fungicide use.”

Three Farmers is so committed to intercropping that it’s now a requirement, at least for camelina growers.

“We are the first company in Canada to have put out an intercropping contract,” Elysia said. “We’re contracting growers to (produce) our camelina… and they have to intercrop it with a pulse.”

The Three Farmers story is about sustainability and regenerative practices that build soil health. However the public also needs to trust the tale.

That’s where traceability comes into play.

Buyers of Three Farmers chickpea snacks or camelina oil may never use the trace code on the back of a package or bottle, but they like that it’s there, Elysia said.

“If they do it once or if they see that we offer it and that we’re transparent about it, that’s all they need to see.”

Three Farmers isn’t the only food company with traceability labels on its packages. Others have experimented or implemented QR codes, where consumers can use a smartphone to scan the code and learn more about the product.

Elysia isn’t sure if all food products will soon have trace codes, but she said customers of Three Farmers like the traceability option.

“What we’re finding out is it’s a trust factor…. It’s that extra point of transparency.”

You can find the Three Farmers website here.

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