Midale’s “Three Farmers”, producers of camelina oil for culinary purposes, were awarded the Golden Sheaf Award for 2012 by the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce.
Dan and Louise Vandenhurk, one of the “three farmers” of the company, was on hand to accept the award from Chamber president Jeff Chessall as part of the Chamber’s annual Farmer Appreciation Banquet. The other two farmers who grow the oilseed, Ron Emde and Colin Rosengren, were not present at the event, held at McKenna Hall.
The company, with the farms based at Midale and the business office in Saskatoon, recently gained national exposure as they successfully made a pitch on the CBC-TV show, Dragon’s Den. They had “dragon” Arlene Dickinson agree to invest $150,000 in their venture in return for 20 per cent of the company’s ownership.
In accepting the award, Vandenhurk said the publicity from the TV appearance has been good for them as his two daughters, Natasha and Elysia, are very busy as a result. The two women made the pitch on the show, and run the business office.
“It’s been a rollercoaster for the last month,” added his wife Louise.
Vandenhurk said the pitch was made back in May but not broadcast until October, and noted the families want the company to remain Saskatchewan-based, but are hopeful it will grow nationally, and into the U.S. market as well.
“It’s grown here in Saskatchewan, and is cold-pressed here; it’s totally a Saskatchewan product, and we want to make it national,” said Vandenhurk.
He added that Natasha and Elysia have been knocking on a lot of doors since the TV show, and said, “They could write a book. It’s been an amazing adventure for the two of them.”
In an interview, Vandenhurk explained that the venture came about when Colin Rosengren came across the oilseed at a trade show about six years ago. He and the other two friends were looking to diversify as at the time grain prices were not good, and there wasn’t much profit in canola crushing.
Rosengren tried growing a little of it, and crushed it, noticing the oil produced was different from other oils, such as canola.
Nutritionally, they found that this oil was rich in Omega-3, typically found in fish, and in Vitamin E.
Vandenhurk said there have been others in the U.S. who have grown camelina, but for other purposes. He noted the U.S. Air Force asked for a sample of their oil for use in their planes, which they provided, but they have not heard anymore from the Air Force. The farmers, meanwhile, decided to go a different way to make the oil strictly for culinary purposes.
The three producers together grow about 1,500 acres of the oilseed as part of their rotation of crops with other grains and oilseeds.
“It’s a broadleaf, like a flax or canola. It fits right into the rotation; seeding is similar to canola in that you have to watch your rotation a little bit. It’s not hard to grow,” said Vandenhurk, adding he was able to plant it in November last year as a fall crop, and this summer it was the first crop he harvested.
The Golden Sheaf Award is presented as part of the Farmer Appreciation Night, which was established by the Chamber of Commerce “to foster rural-urban understanding and consideration”, with the award going to producers who contribute to and participate in the agricultural industry and community life.
Earlier in the evening, greetings were brought by Mayor Debra Button of the City of Weyburn, Reeve Carmen Sterling of the RM of Weyburn, and Chessall on behalf of the Chamber.
Reeve Sterling said she was proud of the producers from the RM who showed resiliency to come through the flooding of 2011 to have a good year in farming this year.
She was also proud to see young people who are now working alongside their parents on the family farm.
Chessall noted it’s crucial now more than ever that producers are creative in their innovation as the province continues to “feed the world”, but now against more competition than ever before.