“We’re try­ing to go back to how our grand­par­ents farmed”

The Drumheller Mail - - AROUND TOWN - Kyle Smylie

The vast ma­jor­ity of food prod­ucts bought by con­sumers go from the farm gate to the store shelves, but a grow­ing con­sumer in­ter­est in Al­berta has been to buy di­rectly from the farm. One lo­cal food pro­ducer has found suc­cess by fo­cus­ing their busi­ness of farm di­rect mar­ket­ing to­wards ur­ban con­sumers.

Cor­nell and Cre­mona Prim­rose of Prim­rose Farms started di­rect mar­ket­ing their Row­ley farm four years ago and haven’t looked back. Grow­ing up, Cre­mona re­mem­bers the time she ate eggs from a gro­cery store af­ter be­ing raised on eggs from her fam­ily farm.

“I thought, ‘I need to get some chick­ens,’” she says, which she did. The hens started pro­duc­ing more than her fam­ily could eat and she de­cided to try sell­ing them on­line on Ki­jiji and so­cial me­dia. “Within 10 min­utes of be­ing on Face­book – boom, they were gone.”

They be­gan sell­ing other farm prod­ucts to ur­ban con­sumers, driv­ing into the city to meet up in gro­cery store park­ing lots, sell­ing beef, milk, lamb, chick­ens, and eggs to ur­ban-dwellers hun­gry for fresh off-the-farm prod­ucts.

Over the past four years Prim­rose Farms has built up their busi­ness largely based on the re­la­tion­ships they’ve de­vel­oped with con­sumers, who choose to forgo the ease of sim­ply shop­ping in a gro­cery store be­cause they have come to want fresh food prod­ucts and have de­vel­oped a di­rect re­la­tion­ship with farm­ers like the Prim­rose’s.

“Nintey-nine per cent of con­sumers aren’t in­ter­ested in pay­ing a higher price for a premium prod­uct from the farm, but there is a cus­tomer base. We’re not cer­ti­fied or­ganic, they’re not pur­chas­ing a la­bel – what is hap­pen­ing is that they are more com­fort­able buy­ing the prod­ucts be­cause it cre­ates a trust re­la­tion­ship with the con­sumer. Essen­tially what you’ve done is you’ve sold the farm, your busi­ness to them,” says Cor­nell.

He says most con­sumers are com­pletely dis­con­nected from the com­pli­cated, highly-ef­fi­cient, in­dus­tri­al­ized con­sumer food in­dus­try which most of us get our food through – where food from the farm goes through sup­ply man­age­ment where prod­ucts such as milk are mixed to­gether, repack­aged, and resold to con­sumers who have no idea where the food they are eat­ing comes from.

“There are many in the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try skep­ti­cal of open­ing their doors. They’re pes­simistic that any per­son is on an agenda as ex­treme as PETA or Green­peace but the re­al­ity is that it’s not the case…. The con­sumers are re­moved from agri­cul­ture but on the same to­ken, the ma­jor­ity of the farm­ers are com­pletely re­moved from their cus­tomers,” Cor­nell says.

Their farm, and oth­ers like it, who have an open-door pol­icy which al­lows con­sumers to come see ex­actly where their food is com­ing from are a grow­ing in­ter­est to con­sumers who are tired of some food in­dus­try prac­tices. One of those is the vast ma­jor­ity of dairy in North Amer­ica is pro­duced by Hol­stein cows, the black and white spot­ted cows typ­i­cally por­trayed to con­sumers as graz­ing in open, green fields. Prim­rose Farms raised Fleck­vieh prod­ucts, cows which are both dairy and beef cows and known for their mus­cu­lar­ity and ro­bust­ness, com­pared to Hol­stein cows which by their na­ture are thin­ner, frailer an­i­mals but which are favoured by the dairy in­dus­try for their higher vol­ume of milk pro­duc­tion.

Be­ing dual pur­posed for both meat and dairy, Fleck­vieh cows also meet two con­sumer needs rather than one which di­ver­si­fies their pro­duc­tion, some­thing which Cor­nell be­lieves small ag pro­duc­ers need to fo­cus on in to­day’s mar­ket. The re­cent sign­ing of a new trade agree­ment with the US was a hit to the Cana­dian dairy in­dus­try which al­ready has pro­duc­ers fac­ing low mar­gins and high room for fail­ure.

“You have to struc­ture your busi­ness so it sur­vives, so you weather the sys­tem. There’s a lot about farm­ing which feels out of con­trol – govern­ment pol­icy, weather. I’ve said this for the last few years to my fam­ily, friends, and oth­ers in the in­dus­try, that my per­sonal be­lief is, whether you’re a small farm or a large cor­po­rate farm or any­thing in be­tween, it’s my strong be­lief the long term fu­ture for agri­cul­ture is ‘ value-added’ of sorts,” he says. “The idea of just pro­duc­ing a pound of beef or a bushel of grain is not sus­tain­able.”

When they set out to build their farm 18 years ago, they wanted to cre­ate a place where an­i­mal com­fort was im­por­tant. They say ‘they don’t de­fine the suc­cess of our farm based on prod­uct out­put,” but on bal­anc­ing prof­its with qual­ity of life. The farm has a ro­botic milk­ing sys­tem where cows vol­un­tar­ily get milked mul­ti­ple times a day, and who live in a barn where they get to so­cial­ize to­gether rather than be­ing con­fined to in­di­vid­ual stalls. They say they reg­u­larly hear from vis­i­tors their an­i­mals look health­ier and hap­pier than in other places.

Cre­mona re­mem­bers back on her fam­ily farm grow­ing up and the di­ver­sity of live­stock there. Chick­ens, lamb, cat­tle, and pigs liv­ing to­gether with the farm­ers in­stead of be­ing sep­a­rated into in­dus­tri­al­ized ware­houses of in­di­vid­ual stalls and mech­a­nized feed­ing lots.

“Cre­mona al­ways says we’re try­ing to go back to how our grand­par­ents farmed, when food was real.”

“But you can’t re­ally do that now, it’s garbage. In some ways we are go­ing ass-back­wards,” she says.

mailphoto by Kyle Smylie

While they re­cently stopped in Septem­ber, the Prim­rose fam­ily has been di­rectly mar­ket­ing their farm to con­sumers for years.

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