Posts Tagged ‘Robert Hogg’

Mountain Path’s Robert Hogg: poet, farmer, miller, organics advocate

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Mountain Path mills organic flour on Robert Hogg’s farm south of Ottawa.
Photo by Mitch Lenart

 

He’s not an eco-poet, he says. Nowhere in his five books of published poetry does he rant about the contamination of natural resources or the perils of climate change.

Nevertheless, Robert Hogg — founder of Mountain Path, a specialty flour mill and food distributor south of Ottawa – has lived his life based on a deep respect for the land and a desire to protect it for future generations.

Dedicated to sustainable, organic food and farming

Since the early 1970s, Hogg has grown food organically on his 140-acre farm in North Dundas, and the small commercial flour mill he started on the property has been certified organic since 1987. The Mountain Path food distribution business he launched in the 1990s supplies exclusively organic and natural foods, and also supports regional organic farms and businesses, and fair trade.

Over the years, Hogg has been active in organizations such as Canadian Organic Growers, the Ecological Farmers of Ontario and the National Farmers Union, and has converted a number of farmers to organic practices.

Remarkably, he has managed to combine all of this with busy literary and teaching careers.  A participant in the 1960s Tish poetry movement with likes of George Bowering, Frank Davey, and former Canadian poet laureate Fred Wah, Hogg is working on his sixth book of poetry and editing an anthology of Canadian poetic theory.  From 1968 until he retired in 2005, he taught modern Canadian and American poetry and poetic theory at Carleton University.

Last November, Hogg, 71, sold Mountain Path to Signature Food Concepts but has stayed on as sales director.

Robert Hogg talked to Earthward recently about Mountain Path and his commitment to sustainable farming.

How did you get interested in organics?

It happened through my mother. When I was a child in Edmonton, she had some health issues that didn’t respond to treatment, and they became severe enough that she decided to go Vancouver to consult a naturopath. The doctor put her on a course of treatment that included a eating a diet of peeled grapes, strange as it may sound. She completely recovered. The experience turned her into a health advocate and supporter of natural foods. She founded the Canadian Health League, and some years later, when we’d moved to B.C., she opened a natural food store — the first in the Fraser Valley and probably one of the earliest in Canada.

Why did you become an organic farmer?

Once I had children of my own, I began to think about their health and how to protect it. Growing our own food organically seemed like a good way to do this. For several years, my wife and I rented land from the NCC where we planted an organic vegetable garden, kept chickens and raised goats for milk. Then, in 1973, in the midst of the back-to-the-land movement, we bought the farm we live on today. I’ve always believed in organic methods and organic certification. Farming organically and sustainably is about so much more than profit. It’s about the health of the soil and the water table, the health of people and animals.

How did you get into specialty milling?

One year I brought some Glenlea wheat I’d grown to Watson’s Mill in Manotick for grinding. The results were good so I started selling my flour to places like Herb & Spice and Rainbow Natural Foods.  When demand for the flour began to grow, I found a bigger mill – a 30-inch stone mill — to handle the volume and had it brought to the farm in 1983. We’re using it three decades later.

Stone-milling makes for better tasting, healthier flour than industrial milling. The slower process protects the grain from the high temperatures that promote rancidity and vitamin loss. Stone-grinding also maintains the original proportions of endosperm, bran and germ in the grains and preserves the nutrients that go with them.

How did the food distribution business develop?

After a while, people wanted to buy more than just flour from us so we began to source other products, like seasonings and spices from Frontier Natural Products Co-op and oils from Spectrum Organics. The business kept expanding from there.

What’s ahead for Mountain Path?

Being under the same business umbrella as Signature Foods and Natural Gourmet will benefit Mountain Path through more exposure and new customer relationships.  Just one example: there’s the potential to build on the large clientele Mountain Path already has among co-ops – rural buying clubs, basically.

What’s ahead for you personally?

As director of sales for Mountain Path, I’m still very involved in the company and excited about its future. But at 71, I’m happy with a somewhat smaller role than I had when I was the owner.  I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to farm, write poetry and spend time with my five grandchildren.