Vegetable growers hope to put more local produce in stores

Prairie Fresh Food Corp. Sixteen producers are behind an effort to promote the Home Grown Saskatchewan brand

OUTLOOK, Sask. — Sixteen Sask-atchewan vegetable producers have formed Prairie Fresh Food Corp. to get their products into retail stores.

The corporation was registered earlier this year after the growers met last fall with the Grocery People, the wholesale arm of Federated Co-operatives Ltd

Produce marketed through the corporation will carry the Home Grown Saskatchewan brand, with the tag line Taste the Difference.

Connie Achtymichuk, the Sask-atchewan agriculture ministry’s vegetable specialist, said growers produce high quality food but have trouble marketing it beyond farmers markets.

“We said we’ll grow five vegetables if you’ll buy them,” she said about the proposal that resulted in the deal.

Producers can’t invest in the facilities and seed if they don’t have a market, she added.

Sam Hofer of the Dinsmore Hutterite Colony, one of the shareholders in Prairie Fresh, said the colony is focusing on carrots and seeded seven to eight acres this year.

He said the colony seeded each row at 60 seeds per foot and expected 80 percent germination.

“The size of the carrot is determined by seed density,” he said.

The carrots are growing under irrigation, which Hofer said makes them easier to harvest.

They will be sold in two- and three-pound bags.

The colony built a processing and cold storage facility to accommodate the new venture and bought a packaging machine from Denmark.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently conducted a workshop at the colony on how to grade carrots.

Harvest will begin Aug. 1.

Hofer said the deals made between the wholesaler and each individual producer in the corporation are confidential, but the colony should realize 65 to 80 cents per pound, packaged and delivered.

Colony residents will deliver to the Grocery People’s warehouse in Saskatoon.

Spring Creek Market, another shareholder and long-time farmers market vendor from the Outlook, Sask., area, has 90 acres of vegetables under irrigation but will sell only sweet corn from 14 acres through Prairie Fresh.

Dan Erlandson of Spring Creek said the corn will go from the field into refrigerated trucks and to the Grocery People’s warehouse.

He said his family will continue its 30-year tradition of attending farmers markets in Saskatoon and Regina, but Prairie Fresh gives them a chance to grow more and sell to more people.

“We just want it done in-season,” Erlandson said of the decision to sell right off the field and focus on corn.

“That seems best for us right now. And it’s easy to grow, maintain and weed.”

Growers in the Kindersley, Lumsden, Yorkton and Nipawin-Tisdale areas are concentrating on other vegetables, such as yellow and green beans.

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