When Ranchers And McDonald’s Spend A Week Together, Amazing Things Happen!!

Many of us have enjoyed a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder with Cheese, but have you ever glimpsed at the business behind the burger? Have you ever wondered how the beef gets from farms and ranches into those juicy, beefy sandwiches? (Are burgers really sandwiches??)

This April, I had a rancher’s dream opportunity. A chance for a behind-the-scenes peek at McDonald’s business. An insider’s view into not only their corporate executive minds, but also a chance to speak with their restaurant owners – those with boots on the ground, literally selling the beef from my very ranch.

In theory, cattle ranchers and the burger giant McDonald’s should go together like peanut butter and jelly – but in reality, there is rarely a direct connection between retails and those who raise the beef that they are selling. As food producers, we have made a concerted effort in the past few years to connect with the people who consume our food, but have somehow skipped over those who are selling it.

Full disclosure, I have been a huge fan of the McDonald’s organization for many years now. They have treated Canadian beef producers in a way that no other end user ever has before. Beyond their commitment to serving Canadian grown food to Canadian people, McDonald’s has done so much more. In a world of fear based marketing, McDonald’s has risen above and embraced the primary producers of food. Their “Not Without Canadian Farmers” campaign has filled farmers and ranchers from across Canada with pride. So, when I was invited to Orlando to attend the McDonald’s World Wide convention, I didn’t just jump at the opportunity – I leapt.

 


The convention itself was a once in a lifetime experience. There were 15,000 people from all over the world registered. To put that into perspective, the population of people attending the conference was more than 23 times larger than Ituna, the town we ranch near. The conference population would have been in the top handful of largest cities in our entire province. It was BIG.


My purpose for attending this massive event was twofold. I would have opportunities throughout the week to meet and talk with McDonald’s executives, their greatest minds who keep the global wheels of their entire organization rolling. From supply chain to communications, I was to have the unique chance to share with them my thoughts on how to bridge the gap between beef producers and consumers. I was also going to spend time in the Sustainable Beef booth speaking with restaurant owners and corporate McDonald’s people about what sustainability means to my own ranch.


From the first session (which happened to feature a surprise performance by Pitbull), I had an entirely new appreciation for their commitment as an organization to sustainability. There, on a stage in front of thousands and thousands of people, global CEO Steve Easterbrook spoke of their Scale for Good commitment. As the largest restaurant company in the world, they saw that they could create positive change in a way that no one else could. They could make changes within their own restaurants, as well as within their supply chains, which could have ripple effects across the globe. He spoke of this with pride, as well as determination. It would not be an easy task, but it was a noble one.


It made me think back to when McDonald’s first launched their Sustainable Beef Pilot here at home. It was a ground breaking approach, for an end user to come to us, as an industry, and say “Here is our goal. Let’s work together to figure out the best way to get there.” By all accounts the project was a huge success, and has now transitioned to being a part of the Canadian Round Table for Sustainable Beef. There is also now the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration Pilot with Cargill and partners like Verified Beef and BIXS, which brings the work that McDonald’s started even further along. All along, McDonald’s vision has not been about creating an elite brand of beef to market, it has been about helping beef producers learn from each other and to grow as an industry.

Being on the enourmous conference floor helped me see McDonald’s restaurant owners in an entirely new light. The scope of their business is not unlike that of a large farm. There were booths for drink dispensers, uniforms, print material, insurance, banking, cleaning supplies, and on and on and on. Chatting with many restaurant owners, it was a complete surprise to find that succession planning was just as big of an issue in their business as it is in my own.

Spending time one on one with those owners, also helped me see that they are as disconnected from food production as consumers are. It was absolutely fantastic to see just how excited each one was to hear directly from a beef producer, and to get a little glimpse into a cattle ranch. Cargill, who makes all of Canada’s patties for McDonald’s, had created an amazing 360 degree video showcasing beef production from ranch to feedlot to processing plant and through to patty plant. It was a huge eye opener for each person to see, and was incredibly fun for myself, to be able to guide them through the video with anecdotes from my own farm. Every single time that I introduced myself as Adrienne, a Cattle Rancher from Canada, I was met with the same huge smile and exclamation of “No way!! That’s amazing!!” It was heartwarming to see not only the excitement of people wanting to talk to ranchers, but also that McDonald’s saw this need, and wanted to make sure that as many people as possible had the opportunity to learn from us. Yes, learn FROM us, not talk down to us. It was so refreshing, just thinking about it now has me craving a Big Mac….

 

Corporate Executive VP, Francesca DeBiase believes in beef producers. She made me feel as though we are on the same team.

I was amazed with how much their corporate executives wanted to chat with us ranchers, and how much they valued our opinions. We sat down with many of their corporate staff to share our views on how we thought McDonald’s could continue to do business with beef producers. The idea that they not only wanted to bridge the gap between their beef producers and their customers, but wanted our opinions on how best to do that, gave me goose bumps. These people, including the Corporate Executive Vice President herself, Francesca DeBiase, as well as many other vice presidents, directors and managers of McDonald’s global business, deeply valued our boots on the ground experience.

 

Corporate VP, Sustainability Keith Kenny walked the trade show with me, highlighting Scale for Good sustainability projects.

From McDonald’s Canada’s CEO, Chief of Marketing VP and General Council VP, each were thrilled to meet and chat. I met a man  who works in their HO treasury branch. I asked him about how they hedge markets and peg currency to lower their risk. He was shocked and amazed to hear that farmers need to be experts in these areas as well, and that we, as producers, need to be constantly managing our exposure to markets. He had never thought of agriculture as that kind of business before. It was a great conversation.

It was a week that filled me with pride in the food I am producing, as well as excitement for the future of the beef industry. In my eyes, those golden arches are glowing pretty bright these days, in ways that this country girl would never have expected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are All Broncos


Yesterday, our small Saskatchewan world was rocked by the news of the kind of horrific accident that every parent fears on some level. 

A bus filled with an exuberant, not to mention talented, hockey team of 16 to 21 year old young men was in a terrible accident on route to what was meant to be an exciting and jubilant playoff hockey game. 

Just shy of their destination, on a crossroads not too far from my home farm, fate intervened and 15 lives were suddenly and tragically lost forever. The 14 surviving boys were each rocked with significant and critical injuries. 

As the news spread, the collective hearts of Saskatchewan broke as though they were one. 

For the past 24 hours, I, and everyone I know, have been unable to think of anything else. Whether or not we had a personal connection to those on that bus, it and it’s precious cargo have not strayed from our thoughts. 

Saskatchewan may be large geographically, but our population is not. We are one big small town at heart. A neighbor’s loss is our loss. When a neighbour greives, we greive. But this loss is more. This loss is deeper. This loss has rocked each of us to our core. 

You see, those boys were so much more than hockey players. They were heroes. 

As a proud hockey mom, I have spent countless hours watching my son’s passion and dedication to the sport grow. I’ve watched him spend hours on end perfecting his shot in the basement net, and drove miles and miles to cheer him on at games. I have watched him examine every move that his favourite junior hockey player makes, and then emulate those same moves on repeat, until he has them perfected. Those junior hockey player heroes, were some of those lost yesterday. 

As that bus pulled out of Humboldt for the final time yesterday, in Saskatchewan  there was not a minor hockey player that hasn’t dreamt of being on that bus. These young men and their dedicated coaches were living the lives that my son and his own teammates dream of every single night. They were hockey heroes. 

Those who’s lives were lost were in the prime of their lives. From the 20 year old team captain, Logan Schatz, to the 16 year old rookie, Adam Herold, who was called up to play in this important game, these young men were examples of great leadership in their community. To learn more about each of them, see more here

Anyone who has had the fortune of being a part of a hockey team, either as a player, parent or coach, knows that your team becomes your family. Your teammates are your siblings, their parents your defacto parents. This knowledge only makes the heartbreak that much deeper for those who survived. They and every family involved with the Humboldt Broncos all lost so, so much. Too much. 

As our tears fall, and our province and our entire country pull together in this time of great sadness, I keep a beautiful picture in my mind. I have a picture of those boys on the most perfect sheet of ice, skates laced, taking shots with legend Gordie Howe, under the watchful eye of their caring coaches. I can almost hear the tinkle of laughter floating across the ice…. 

May your shots be bar down forever. 

Please, please – take a moment and donate to the Go Fund Me page supporting the families of this tragedy.

Weaning Day!!


It’s weaning day! (Or at least one of them….)

Today we are taking one group of around 300 cow/calf pairs and sorting them off.

Once the calves are separated from the cows, we will “process” them – where we weigh each individual calf, vaccinate them, treat them for internal and external parasites (like worms or lice), and sort them into heifer or steer pens.

Weaning is the one time of year that we expect the cattle to be loud. They are unhappy about being separated, and cattle vocalizing is a sign of stress. We avoid stress on our cattle as much as possible, as stress causes illness.  That being said, we have learned a lot over the years about how to make this process easier for them. 


You will hear in the video that the calves are actually quite quiet. The cows are unhappy, and showing it, but the calves seem quite content. A big part of this is the fact that we wean as late in the year as possible. Most of the cows have long since stopped milking, the calves diets will not have a significant change with weaning. 

Looks like the guys are almost finished the hard work, the sorting. Now it’s my turn to get my hands dirty and help set these calves up for healthy, productive lives that will help nourish not only our family, but yours as well. 

Why You Need To Care About The Sask Party Leadership Race (And What To Do About It)

If you live in Saskatchewan, I am sure you have heard the news that our Premier, Brad Wall, has announced his impending retirement, and the search is on for the new leader of the Saskatchewan Party. 

I don’t know about you, and perhaps it’s a result of my age, but I have never taken an active part in party (any political party) politics before. I’ve always seen party leadership races as something for the super engaged politico’s to deal with. Something for “those in the know” to decide. 

This leadership race is very, very different. This leadership race is unlike any other in modern Saskatchewan history. You see, our vote in the Saskatchewan Party leadership race is not only deciding the future leader of the party. It is not only deciding the face of one single party. THIS leadership race, this party election, will determine Saskatchewan’s next Premier. So, for Saskatchewanians, whether you vote in this race or not, whether you feel “in the know” or have been watching with slight, side eye interest, the results of this election WILL be the leader of not only the Saskatchewan Party, but also of our entire province. When you realize this, you will also realize just how important it is to have your say, insert your influence, by taking the opportunity to vote. 

So how do you vote? 

The only requirement to voting is very simple – purchase a membership to the Saskatchewan Party. This is not a life long commitment, you are not signing away your first born child, or even committing a vote for their party in the next general election. To have your say in who our next Premier is, all you need is a simple $10 membership. But here is the kicker – YOU NEED TO PURCHASE YOUR MEMBERSHIP BEFORE DECEMBER 8th!!! 

How to buy a membership? It’s easy!! Click right HERE, and it will take you right to the page on the Saskatchewan Party’s website where you can purchase one. 

Another little known tidbit – your kids can vote too!! There are Youth Memberships available for people aged 14–18, and their memberships are only $5. 

Then what? 

Voting will happen later in January. A ballot will be sent to your mailing address for you to fill out and send back to the party. It is not the same as a general election. In this case, you get to vote for more than one candidate. This is a preferential ballot – where you not only get to choose your top choice, but also your second, third, and fourth, choice (and so on), if you so choose. 

I have been very vocal in my support of Alanna Koch. She is someone who has inspired me for many years. Not only is she a strong, fiscal conservative, but she also brings balance to the equation. She understands that the reason we need a strong, vibrant business and investment friendly province, is to provide the backing for equally vibrant and efficient social service sectors, which allow the people of Saskatchewan to have the comfortable standard of living that we deserve. 

Having worked with Alanna in the past, she is someone who seeks to understand. Long before this leadership race, she made a point of touring our ranch in order to learn more about parts of agriculture she wasn’t as close to. She wanted to know more, and that is something you don’t often see outside of a leadership or political race. 

Alanna is a solutions based leader. In her work as Deputy Minister of Agriculture, as well as Deputy Minister to the Premier, she is someone who finds solutions, and will forge a path forward once the right solution is found. In short, she is an inspiration and, I believe, the right person to be our next Premier. 

I encourage you to have a look at each of the candidates, see who speaks to you, and buy a membership. Again, if you do not have a memebership by December 8th, you will not have a say in our next Premier. This may just be your most important purchase in December….

Balancing Leadership in Agriculture Requires Many Solutions


Recently an Agriculture Commentator, Kevin Hursh, from right here in Saskatchewan, sparked a heated debate with a tweet commenting on what women need to do in agriculture. 

The quote he tweeted about was from Jen Christie, a respected woman in Ontario Agriculture. She was speaking at an event by Chatelaine Magazine, and was explaining the dynamics of board leadership in agriculture. 

This same tweet prompted a great discussion between myself and my husband. Aaron sits on many boards. He was asked to sit on every one of them them by experienced board members and executives. We listed off many of the (male) board members that we know. They were all asked to sit on boards. The local director for our Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association was first asked to run for that board. I have never been asked to sit on a board. The very long list of my confident, accomplished female friends have never been asked to sit on boards. This was a pretty simple light bulb moment for both of us. Board members need to be aware and look for great future board members of BOTH genders. It was a great discussion, one that Mr. Hursh did not seem to find in that quote. 

After receiving many questions and objections on Twitter, he then continued expanding on this opinion in a piece for a mainstream newspaper. Read it here

Over the course of the past week, I have written, then deleted, a snarky tweet response to Mr. Hursh at least a dozen times. I believed that a public spat over Twitter would do little good for myself, women in agriculture, or the industry as a whole. But upon reading his very public expansion, using terms such as victim mentality, I could no longer remain quiet. 

Since Kevin is (very obviously) not a woman in agriculture, I though that perhaps he could benefit from some context of what being a woman in today’s Ag industry actually looks like. Allow me to share some stories. 

A woman is told that the retail she is managing will quickly go to hell with a woman running the place – they would have been better with a toddler manager. The three other men in the office laugh and laugh, and comment that perhaps she best run the fertilizer blender in a skirt and heels. In the best interest of keeping the customers happy, of course. 

A man quietly walks (sneaks?) into a woman’s office while her back is turned to the door. He grabs her shoulders and proceeds to move his hands towards her chest. He is surprised at her anger, and makes comments about her need to “keep her customers happy” and to “not make trouble.”.

A woman is demoted for taking the standard maternity leave that the law affords her. With no warning and no discussion she is moved from a sales rep to a junior associate. 

A woman is at a commodity group meeting. She is told by three different men how odd it is that she is at the meeting instead of her husband. Would she not have been better off caring for the children so that he could be there? 

Do you think that these are isolated occurrences? Are these old school instances that no longer happen? Well, let me fill you in on a little secret. They were all me. Every single one. I am a woman in agriculture, and, at under forty, a fairly young one at that. That last example? It was last week. 

Now, perhaps you will think that by sharing these stories, I am falling into the “victim mentality” that Kevin referred to. I almost wish he had experienced a close up of his posterior posted on Ag Twitter to be examined and measured, as did a horrified young female summer student I spoke with last year. Perhaps he would understand that the hesitation to step up often has nothing to do with “victim mentality.”

The truth is that I have never spoken of these before. I have not complained or tattled, whined or whinged. I took each incidence for what it was, and made sure to make the best of each one. Sometimes you can laugh it off. Sometimes a fuss must be made. 

I know that I am not alone in these experiences. Just as I know that they have not ceased to occur. These instances, and my response to them, are experiences that I can share with younger women. Women who may not have my confidence, or my network to fall back on. 

Of Kevin’s opinion piece, I can point out some glaring mistakes. He did not get pulled into this discussion. He inserted himself into it, after reading a single tweet that he had no context behind. His generalization that “many women just aren’t interested in rural municipal politics or one of the many crop commissions” is pretty far off base, in my slightly more expert opinion. The women that I talk to are very interested. They are struggling to see the path onto many of these boards, for a multitude of reasons. 

I had the confidence to tell the grey hairs that I deserved to attend our regional meeting. I can only imagine their shock if I ran for a position. Fear of failure is not a reason to hold back, but it is a wall that needs to be climbed in order to move forward. Climbing such walls takes time, and an incredible amount of confidence. Kevin believes that these barriers are based on perception not reality, yet they still seem to leave a mark when we run ourselves into them. 

Mr. Hursh, I would like to believe that your intention was to inspire women to step up, rather than to tear down events and organizations that many women see value in, but let me assure you, that message was lost in your condescension. 

So here I am, as a confident, competent woman in agriculture, telling you, Kevin Hursh, that you do not get to tell me what it is that I need. There are many areas that I could learn from you and your valuable experience, but the struggles of being a woman is not one of them. 

Women and their personal experiences are as diverse as this amazing industry is. There is no one right answer in creating more balanced leadership. What does not help is bashing options. I, myself, have not attended many women focussed Ag events, but I would never belittle them as an option for those who seek their value. 

It is in the best interest of agriculture as a whole, for our boards and commissions to be diverse in both opinions and gender. It is a problem that they are currently not. Many issues require many solutions, but let’s all try to be part of the solution rather than the grey haired problem. 

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 31 Clinton Monchuk: My Food Story Is Also The Story Of Me

It is the final day of Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan, but I ask each of you to continue to share your food stories throughout the year. This is something that I am sure today’s guest post author, Clinton Monchuk, would agree with. You see, beyond farming, Clinton also heads another of my favourite organizations, Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan. This is an organization devoted to helping consumers navigate through the multitude of food options by bringing them one step closer to the farmers who produced the food, and bridging that gap.

Follow Clinton on Twitter @cgmonch or Farm and Food Care SK @FarmFoodCareSK and visit their website here.  

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My Food Story

When I consider the many blessings this beautiful country of Canada has provided for my family and me, I feel it would be short sighted to not remember our past and how my food story has been formed. Similar to many prairie beginnings, the story of me is also my food story.My food story started at the end of WW1 when a young prisoner of war, my grandfather, left Eastern Europe in his early 20s in search of a peaceful country where food would be abundant. Canada’s promise of “utopia” still included its challenges. Although there was a lot of land, much of it had to be cleared of trees and broke to be made suitable for farming. I try to picture myself and my family breaking land in scorching heat of our summers with the labour done by hand. It is hard for me to imagine producing food for my family and others under the same conditions that he would have done it. Yet, he raised a family on 160 acres, which is roughly what I can plant now in 5 hours.


Sometimes we romanticize food production of the past and it’s simplicities but fail to recognize the difficulties. When there were crop failures from drought or early frost, the ability to support a farm family disappeared. This resulted in malnourishment, higher infant mortality rates and family members being more susceptible to disease. This concept is so far removed from our generation that it seems like a physical impossibility, yet it happened. One only has to read the book, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck to make an emotional connection to the hardships that occurred with farm families during this time.


My father took over the farm when he was 17 years old, after my grandfather died suddenly of a heart attack. As a young man he could identify the need to move forward and expand as other smaller farms were already falling by the wayside. Through the years not only did he and my mother raise six children, but they also expanded their land base, built a large scale dairy operation, increased their beef herd and dabbled in selling fresh fruits and vegetables. I remember numerous times being late to sporting events and family suppers as a result of a cow calving, taking her well-being and the well-being of the calf over the importance of whatever we were to attend. I can also appreciate the progression of grain farming from cab-less tractors and combines, to the comforts of cabs. I still have phantom scratches as I combine malting barley thinking of how my father would have had that chaff blowing around his face.

Growing up in agriculture allowed me to appreciate the sweat of the spring and summer, while reaping the rewards of harvest. The vegetable growing season was a busy time tending to the garden after the cows were milked by picking weeds and potatoes bugs, hoeing, hilling and the back-aching task of harvesting it all. But we also enjoyed all this fresh produce as a family. Some of my greatest memories of meal time are eating thick, juicy home-grown BBQ steaks with fresh potatoes smothered in cream and dill sauce, fresh lettuce picked an hour before supper, then topped off with fresh strawberries and cream with a touch of sugar. Hard to not read that and lick your lips!  


Fast forward to today and my food story continues. My brother and I are now in the process of taking over the family farm and our children and spouses are involved in the process. Our kids ride with us in the tractors and combines so they too can feel the appreciation of growing food. Gone are the days of cab-less tractors or combines, but producing food for our family and thousands of others is still in our blood.  


For me, my food story is the feeling of planting a crop, working with family, watching a calf being born, picking a fresh strawberry or smelling the settling dust during harvest, and it’s that feeling where I want my children’s food story to start.

 

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 30 Jordan Hamilton:Busy Family Making Food A Priority 

Day 30 of Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan brings us a guest post from a very special friend of mine. Jordan Hamilton has been in my life since I was born. From school friends and teammates, to university roommates, we have always been close, no matter the distance that separates us. She gently urged me (ok, downright nagged me) to join social media, and later to start this very blog. I always love her perspective as a “city mom”, even though her roots are rural like my own. Enjoy her post on balancing a busy, commuting family and placing priority on good food and family meals. 
Follow Jordan on Twitter @jmhammy and check out her blog, Just Jordan, here.

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My story starts in Tisdale, a farming community in NE Saskatchewan. My great grandparents were farmers, as were my grandparents, and all 3 of my dad’s siblings. My dad owns and operates Fritshaw Meats, but still managed to farm a few years while I was growing up. My husband’s family has a similar history. His grandparents and parents farmed. Even as I think about our roots, I feel a swell of pride for what our families have accomplished and provided for this province.

Not surprisingly, because of my dad’s business, we ate a lot of meat growing up. And I wasn’t a big fan. In fact, I was known to push meat around my plate and a number of times even complained at the lake, “Steak AGAIN?” Not that you should ever complain about steak, but these ones in particular were always NY strips or tenderloin. I honestly had no idea at the time the price of all the food we ate and the fact that very few families would have eaten the plentiful choice cuts of meat that my family ate.

I grew up with 2 full time working parents. We didn’t eat out and we always ate at the table as a family. I know there were times when my dad would eat with my brother and I, because my mom and sister had quickly eaten before her gymnastics, but my parents created a real sense of family with us by treating meal time as family time that my husband Hugh and I hope replicate with our three yahoos.

My husband, Hugh, and I are also full time working parents. One additional factor that we have compared to our parents is our commute to work. We spend approximately an hour of our day in our vehicles. We also have a Saskatoon Blade living with us and have to factor his 19 year old appetite and cereal consumption into our meal planning.


Breakfast

I don’t eat breakfast. GASP. I know. It’s terrible. I just love my coffee. With a lot of creamer. And I typically don’t get hungry until mid-morning when I have a piece of fruit. Hugh is the same. Double GASP.

The kids LOVE cereal and we go through a lot of milk. And I’m pretty sure most days that’s all our billet eats until we get home :-). Hugh is the king of breakfast and so the kids often get pancakes or eggs during the week and if they request it, and waffles on the weekend.

Lunch

Hugh and I take a salad to work every day. These get made up on Sunday night. I take real pride in cooking homemade items for my family, but I have found that pre-made salads have really become my friend during the week to mix things up a bit. A person can only eat so many tossed salads.


Calder likes salads at school along with soup or noodles packed in his thermos. He will occasionally take a sandwich or ham dip and crackers. A new one for us this year is that he can’t take oranges to school. Apparently, a teacher has an allergy. I am finding this a bit frustrating. Oranges are so easy to take for him. They don’t get bruised like a banana or take too long to eat like an apple (so Calder tells me).

I always have muffins in our freezer to throw in our school bags and our weekly shopping trip always includes apples and bananas for Hugh and I to pack.

Supper:


Our freezer is packed with pre-made meals we put together on the weekends. Chicken bruschetta, a multitude of casseroles, lasagnes, cooked meatballs and ground beef, chicken pot pies, chili, marinated cuts of meat, beef stroganoff, shepherd’s pie, and fajita mix to name a few. What we cook each day depends on the amount of time we have. Eat and go days we rely on casseroles, one pot slow-cooker meals, or some well timed leftovers. Days when we have a bit of time to prep before our 5:30 meal time, we will often eat a protein with rice or pasta. We save those heavy prep meals, like roasts, ribs, and homemade pizza, for the weekend.


We also eat a salad most days at supper. Our billet and kids LOVE them, so they are an easy way to make the kids happy!

Things our food story definitely requires:

  1. Timer on our oven and delay start outlet we plug our slow cooker into.
  2. Costco’s large package of pre-washed romaine.
  3. Rice cooker
  4. 2 freezers (one stand-up and a medium sized chest)
  5. 2 fridges (one in the garage is great for beer, lunches, and garden veggies)

We also couldn’t live without online shopping. I have yet to use Superstore’s Click and Collect, but purchase all our dry goods from Walmart.ca. All items are identically prices as in store and they ship for free right to our door.  We have storage in the basement and I have a backup of everything. I hate running out and also hate going to the grocery store more than once a week.


Lastly, our garden is a big part of our lives. We devour fresh veggies in the summer and fall and enjoy salsa, spaghetti sauce, and pickles all winter long. These pictures are from last year. We now have a cement pad where the gravel is. Our kids love shooting pucks and riding bikes there in the summer and Hugh takes some serious pride in his rink in the winter.


I take full advantage of our limited space. When the bobcat came to dig out our rink, we had her put garden soil behind our fence in the back alley!

And that’s our food story.

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 29 Sarah Shymko: 

Day 29 of Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan brings us a whirlwind force of nature, Sara Shymko. Sara has done amazing things for agriculture in Saskatchewan, and most farmers don’t even know about it. She has brought Agriculture In The Classroom from a tiny, underfunded and quiet organization, to a prominent piece of education curriculum. She and her team not only connect farmers with the classroom, but also provide lessons for teachers, as well as being an influencer for curriculum creation. If you are looking for an organization to support, Agriculture In The Classroom is literally forming young minds – the minds that will grow up to be the grocery decision makers. Have a read of her food story – with her family farm only a handful of miles from the ranch, I can assure you – her mother’s perogies are top notch!! 

Follow Sara on Twitter @sjshymko and Ag in the Classroom @aitcsk and make sure to check out their website here

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Growing, preparing, sharing – food stories intertwine and become a part of our history. First dates over lunches, family suppers to celebrate special occasions, parties congregating in the kitchen, recipes handed down through generations – our connections to food are emotional and significant.

I grew up in a family that loved food. We still love food. Our family gatherings, and there are many, center around our meals. We plan, experiment, spend hours preparing then we eat (and drink) and analyze the meal and what we would do different next time. Perhaps we are “foodies” or maybe it is just that our family meals together are cherished and appreciated.

Growing up, my family farm was the “stereo-typical” farm. We grain farmed, milked two cows, raised pigs as well as chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. My mom had a huge garden and canned and preserved. I basically grew up on the “100 mile-diet”. I milked cows before school and would gladly clean the chicken coop instead of being stuck in the house making perogies. Not every person’s ideal childhood – but it was for me.

Today though, I live in the city and have a teeny tiny garden. I have a job I love – teaching kids about food and farming! But my heart is still on the farm. When the smell of Spring hits the air, I get this familiar little ache and plan for my next visit to the farm. My parents just have grain and cattle now – I guess when all the cheap labour left home so did the milk cows, pigs and chickens! Farming is more high tech now than it used to be, so I don’t do to much on the field in Spring – but the garden still needs planting and meals need to be made and there is always some sort of work to be done.

Hands-down though, harvest is the best time of the year. It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t from a farm, but there is an energy, urgency and a passion that is prevalent during harvest that is unlike anything else. It is the culmination of a year of planning, hard work, determination and…the will of Mother Nature. It’s the magic of growing food. It’s the same magic I feel when I harvest tomatoes from my garden and the same magic kids who harvest their produce from their Little Green Thumbs school gardens feel.

Food doesn’t just appear. Someone grows it. This month in particular, I am filled with gratitude… for the experiences I had growing up on a farm, for my parents (and all the other farmers) who work incredibly hard to grow safe, healthy food, for my career that allows me to inspire kids to connect with food and farming. Most importantly, I am grateful that I afford to buy healthy, safe food for my family. 

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 23 Candace Ippolito: Life Lesson From A Food Network Star

It is already day 23 of Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan. Where has October gone!? Today brings us a guest post from a very good friend of mine, Candace Ippolito. I have cheered Candace and her business partner, April Nichol, on since they first opened the SaskMade Marketplace years ago. She is most easily described as a fire cracker, don’t ever try to get in her way! I love this aha moment. Perhaps it will be an aha for you as well. Enjoy!! 

Follow Candace on Twitter @candaceippolito and be sure to check out the store’s website!! 

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A Life Lesson from a Food Network Star – Chef Lynn Crawford

Our Food Has a Story, and here is mine. I am a 4th generation beef producer who worked for many years in the Ag Sector. The bright city lights drew me in to pursue a dream of owning a business. Growing up on the best farm ingredients, it is no surprise I became a lover of fine wine and good food. So it only made sense to open a speciality grocery store where everything is made, grown and produced locally. Welcome to the SaskMade Marketplace http://www.saskmade.ca in Saskatoon. Very early we determined that this business was going to be a destination; where the draw was as much about the quality of the ingredient as it was the story and community behind it. So I set out to teach the “city-folk” about food and where it comes from. To my surprise I was the student and they were the teacher.

 I was very fortunate that the store, SaskMade Marketplace, was chosen to be filmed for the Great Canadian Cookbook to be aired on the Food Network. The host was Chef Lynn Crawford and I was a big fan of hers and her style of cooking. The premise of the show was to showcase local ingredients and food from Saskatchewan. I was super excited but nervous to meet my cooking crush. I was prepared and had all my Ag facts memorized; how many acres of chickpeas we grow, what percentage of the beef in Canada comes from SK, etc.

As we were filming, and I am hosting Chef Lynn around the store, I was sharing all my food and production knowledge. We stopped at one of my favourite products in the store, Gravelbourg Mustard. Determined to impress Chef Lynn I explained that, “ Saskatchewan is the biggest producer of mustard in the world.” A loud deep booming voice behind the camera yells CUT, and filming stops. The producer informs me that I am incorrect. He continued to share with me that “Germany has more favours of mustard than anywhere else in the world.” I was in shock and then quickly jumped to tell them all the reasons why he was incorrect until I had my AHA moment…. I add one word that totally changes the entire conversation. “Saskatchewan is the biggest producer of mustard SEED in the world.” Chef Lynn, a culinary icon and influencer of food, replies with “Oh, that makes sense now.”

 I learnt a very valuable lesson that day which dramatically changed how I communicate and share the local food story. It has also helped to shape the direction of my marketing of food products and the SaskMade Marketplace. This business was not just about ME and what I think is important, valuable or how I like to be communicated to. Perception is a reality and the language that we use, or don’t use, is very impactful in telling the story. Chef Lynn taught me to be mindful that day in how I share our food story. #OurFoodHasAStory

#OurFoodHasAStory Post 19 Brad Wildeman: Times Are Changing; And Mostly For The Good

Today, day 19 of Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan, brings us a guest post from a cattleman we can all learn from, Brad Wildeman. He has been heavily involved in shaping the agriculture and cattle industry in Saskatchewan. He has also been the head of a very successful, integrated feedlot and ethanol plant, PoundMaker Ag Ventures. Brad could be (and is by many) called a visionary in Ag. So it’s wonderful to see so much of his vision written in this post. Enjoy!! 

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I have been privileged to be involved in agriculture, and particularly in the cattle industry, almost all my life. Over the years, I have seen many changes and for the most part they have been positive even though change is sometimes hard to accept or embrace.
The adoption of new farming practises and harnessing the potential of new technological tools has improved yields, financial returns and increased the health of the land. Gone are the days of the prairie duststorms caused by over tillage. Capturing and conserving the moisture from fall and winter precipitation through minimum or no-till farming has allowed for good yields even on dry years that in the past would have resulted in crop failure. New cropping options, improved varieties, and the precise use of fertilizers and crop protection products have all been very positive improvements to farming practises.

Those improvements haven’t been limited just to grain based agriculture. New methods of grass management, utilizing new winter feeding regimes, and better cattle genetics has increased the productivity and financial returns of the cattle industry as well. Improvement in animal health products and the increased adoption of preventative vaccination programs has reduced morbidity and mortality within the herd. And although we haven’t harnessed all the opportunities available through adopting new technology yet, I see progress being made every day.

Perhaps the biggest change I see is the effort by the cattle industry to implement programs and procedures that allow us to promote our products as safer, more sustainable, and more accountable to our consumers. The demands of the consumer for transparency and accountability, and advocating the benefits that a healthy cattle industry can provide to everyone is a critical component of continuing to make a living in this industry. Our efforts in traceability, adoption of animal care standards, our participation in sustainability roundtables, the implementation of the Verified Beef programs, and the creation of Cattle Young Leaders and other mentorship initiatives that are training new advocates to communicate with consumers at their level of understanding and concern are all very positive steps. Organizations like Farm and Food Care are important avenues to creating and maintain this connection to consumers who don’t understand our business and make judgments on what they may see or hear on social media.

Social license and sustainability are the new drivers that will shape how we do business in the future. Just doing the right thing isn’t good enough unless we can prove accountability. Then taking this message to the masses is critical to changing the paradigm of modern day agriculture from the “factory farm and profit at all cost” vision to that of a socially and environmentally sensitive industry that is committed to feed an ever increasing population while preserving, and potentially enhancing, our impact on the planet.

These are tough goals but I believe we are on a winning strategy and I applaud the efforts of all those involved. It has brought out a passion for our industry that encourages optimism for the future. The key is to sustain this momentum as the stakes are high.