Homestead Organics: Helping fill the gap in local food processing

The team from Homestead Organics, a certified organic grain processor about 50 km from Ottawa. Owner Tom Manley is in the back row, fifth from the right.

Eastern Ontario boasts a growing number of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets, local food artisans, and chefs who support sustainable local food. But there’s a gap where small- and mid-scale processors are concerned. Without nearby companies to grind grains, preserve fresh produce, and slaughter animals from area farms, scaling up the local food system will be a challenge.

Homestead Organics is one company helping to fill the gap. Located about 50 km from Ottawa in Berwick, Ontario, it’s a certified organic grain processor and feed mill with a longstanding commitment to organic food and farming.

The company started out in 1988 as a small store on the family farm. Today, Homestead Organics is a $7 million dollar a year business that handles 7,000 tonnes of grain annually. It’s also a Certified B Corporation, meaning that it has met certain standards for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Aerial view of Homestead Organics, Berwick, Ontario

Food processor and one-stop farm shop

Billing itself as a one-stop shop for organic farmers, Homestead Organics:

  • processes organic corn, barley, oats, soybeans, buckwheat, wheat and peas.  Grains go into livestock feed; whole grains and soybeans are destined for food manufacturers.  (Customers for the company’s soybeans include tofu makers such as Gatineau’s Soyarie and soy beverage producer So Nice.)
  • mills its own brand of organic livestock feeds for sale directly to customers or through a dealer network across Ontario, Québec, Atlantic Canada and upstate New York
  • markets individual organic grains
  • provides agricultural services and organic products such as: grain handling;  fertilizers and soil amendments; pest control; organic groceries; garden seeds and supplies,  and; professional support in livestock nutrition and farming science and technology.

Q&A with owner Tom Manley

I spoke with Homestead Organics owner Tom Manley about ways to ramp up local food processing, and invest at the grassroots level using Slow Money principles.

Q. What do you think it will take to beef up local food infrastructure?  Changes in government policy? Partnering among sustainable food businesses? More funding for small processors?

A. These are possible solutions. Above all, it requires able and willing entrepreneurs with sufficient imagination, drive, skill, and resources to get started. Various government programs are great assets: Growing Forward 2, the Local Food Act, the Local Food Fund, Foodland Ontario, and so on.

I’d also suggest a change in grassroots investment practices. Many people have investments and retirement savings, but these usually involve commercial channels in Bay Street and Wall Street.  We don’t invest in our own food chain in our own communities. People need to vote not only with their food dollar, but with their investment dollar to create the food system they want.

Q.  So you’re talking about Slow Money.

Yes. It’s a big topic, but basically Slow Money focuses on reconnecting people and their communities and using food as a pathway to fix the economy.  Slow Money aims to move the economy away from extraction and consumption towards principles of preservation and restoration. This approach fits with the fact that we’re a “triple bottom line” business that’s committed to social and environmental benefit as well as profit.

Q.  Homestead Organics is also one of about 850 Certified B Corporations in the world.  How does this status help the business?

We already knew we were a benefit corporation in principle and in practice, without being certified. But going this route allowed us to be listed on the Social Venture Exchange in Toronto, a platform that connects social businesses and accredited investors. Also, because certification is a rigorous process verified by a third party, it demonstrates to investors, customers and community that a company is doing what it says and contributing to the social and environmental good.

What do you think of Slow Money as a way to reconnect people and community?

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