When Martin Le Moine and his family stopped using pesticides and other chemicals on their farm 20 years ago, they became the first grower of organic cranberries in Canada.
It was a big change with profound consequences, including five difficult years for the family business.
“Our yield dropped a lot and the first five years were not very profitable,” recalls Mr. Le Moine, whose farms are located in central Quebec. “At the time, there really was no market for organic cranberries, but we made our decision to go organic based on our familial values, and we were determined to stick to it.”
Their persistence paid off. Today, the Le Moines and their partners own and run Fruit d’Or Inc., a multimillion-dollar company that processes cranberries and blueberries for sale in Canada and around the world. Fruit d’Or has more than 200 employees and boasts several product lines: organic fruits including cranberries, blueberries and dried cherries; organic and conventional fruit juices; and fruit powders and oils for the nutraceuticals market. A year ago, they introduced a new line of organic fruit products under the Patience Fruit & Co. brand into the Canadian retail market.
“When we formed Fruit d’Or in 2000, we associated with other farmers, and together we formed an agronomist group focused on sustainable practices,” says Mr. Le Moine. “This group continues to exist today to support cranberry farmers in Canada and produces at least 80 per cent of organic cranberries in the world.”
Fruit d’Or’s commitment to sustainable practices is evident in virtually all aspects of operation. As the organic fruits industry continues to grow and move towards the mainstream market, Mr. Le Moine can’t help but feel proud of what his family and company have accomplished.
“We have worked hard to support organic production in Quebec to make Canada become the world leader in organic cranberries,” he says. “It’s a part of our history that I’m really proud of.”
As a child, Natalie Forstbauer often accompanied her mother on trips to sell produce from the family farm. “The trunk and seats of the car would be filled with beans, cucumbers or carrots, and we’d be going from store to store,” she recalls. “We’d often get turned away because the produce was organic or didn’t look perfect. And when it was picked up, it often wouldn’t get labelled as organic.”
With time came acceptance and wide appreciation of organic produce. Now, the Forstbauer Farm offerings are sought after at local farmers market and stores, and Ms. Forstbauer says she also sees many young farmers choosing to enter the organic sector. “My parents went into organic farming because they believed in the values,” she explains. “They paved the road for our and the next generation to be able to have the opportunities we have today.”
Mary and Hans Forstbauer started their farm in British Columbia in 1977. They instilled their values of caring for the land and respecting the environment in their 12 children, five of whom have become farmers and the rest lend a hand when they can, supported by a tribe of over 30 grandchildren.
“We are really fortunate to have the family farm, a place where everyone is welcome to spend time or help out in the field,” says Ms. Forstbauer. “Farming organically has challenges, but our family has a lot of passion for producing healthy food. We believe it’s important to have and provide alternatives, especially at a time when GMOs and harmful chemicals like glyphosate are more and more prevalent.”
Ms. Forstbauer adds that her mother passed away last year and will be remembered not only as the family’s matriarch, but also as a strong pillar of the organic community.
Mike & Mike’s
Mike Fronte remembers a time when retailers who wanted to carry organic foods had to deal with multiple distributors to access a wide range of products. Determined to support an industry and philosophy he believed was the way of the future, Mr. Fronte launched a wholesale company focused entirely on bringing organic produce from farms to grocery shelves.
“I’ve always loved this industry and what it stands for,” says Mr. Fronte, president and CEO of Mike & Mike’s, which he co-founded 12 years ago with childhood friend Mike Dattoli. “I realized years ago that chemical fertilizers and pesticides were not a long-term solution to farming, and for those who want the choice, we need to make certified organic foods available to them.”
Unlike many other wholesalers that tack on maybe half a dozen organic items to their lineup of conventionally grown produce, Mike & Mike’s distributes only organics. The company carries about 300 fresh items a week and recently introduced a snack line with dried nuts and fruits sold under the Mike & Mike’s brand. This new line is now available at numerous Ontario retailers, including a number of stores at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
“We facilitate and consolidate a broad range of organic products for retailers to purchase – no one else in the industry does what we do,” says Mr. Fronte, whose journey as an organics entrepreneur began in 1998 when he founded Simply Organics, a distribution company he sold four years later. “If a product exists in organic – whether it’s fresh fruit or vegetables – it’s very likely we have it.”
The Big Carrot
Ask about the best places to shop for organic foods in Toronto and a well-beloved name inevitably comes into the conversation. The Big Carrot Natural Food Market – often referred to simply as The Big Carrot – is an institution among those who love organics, as well as those who value great service and product selection.
Next year, The Big Carrot is opening its second store in a new condominium set in Toronto’s fashionable Beaches neighbourhood, just east of downtown.
“We’ve been very successful in one store for a long time,” says Sarah Dobec, who looks after marketing and public relations for The Big Carrot, a 33-year-old enterprise that holds the distinction of being Ontario’s first retailer certified under the Canadian Organic Standard. “But it was time to expand, and we’re looking forward to welcoming customers to our second location.”
From the start, The Big Carrot made a commitment to focus on its core priorities: organic non-GMO products, and local whenever possible. Meat is sourced largely from small Ontario farms, while seafood purchase decisions are based on sustainable practices. The Big Carrot sells only shelled eggs from cage-free hens and bans from its shelves any products with artificial sweeteners, conventional beet sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
Ms. Dobec says The Big Carrot’s priorities and values have continued to evolve, and the company is constantly rolling out new programs.
“For example, we recently created a grant called Nature’s Finest Fund to help expand the availability of local, organic food,” she says. “The demand for organics is greater than what’s currently available, so we’re helping our farmers and producers grow their businesses.”
For more related to this story visit globeandmail.com