In ten words or less, what’s so special about your products?
Organic farming to create food security for the local community.
Intriguing. Tell us more.
Sonset Farm is a third-generation family-run farm that is certified organic. We’re all about supporting the regional food system. We produce a variety of food, from growing spelt and turning it into flour and flakes to keeping a dairy herd for organic milk. We also sell beef, pork and chicken from pasture-raised and grass-fed animals. And, on top of all that, we run a horse boarding facility. We’re very diversified.
Very few farmers focus on growing and selling spelt. Tell us a little more about that.
Spelt is an ancient grain that is low in gluten and it’s only been grown in this area of the country for about 30 years. The region we live in lends itself to growing spelt and helps us create a very special product.
When it’s milled and made into flour for people to bake or cook with, it ties back to the land that we live in, Frontenac County.
It really started as a happy accident, about 25 years ago. We had some spelt seed available and decided to plant 30 acres of it to see what would happen, see if we could sell it. It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made because it really started us down the trajectory of working with nature, working with the soil, going deeper into organic farming.
How did you first get into milling spelt into flour and flakes?
I had purchased a small home mill, to start milling my own flour for baking. My brother owns a grocery store in this area and I asked him if he’d be interested in trying to sell bags of flour and it was shocking how quickly word got out and how much of a demand there was.
This was just at a time when people were becoming more aware of gluten intolerance and started looking for alternative, low gluten, flours. It sold so quickly, we soon had to upgrade our equipment to a much larger mill, which is what we’re using now.
Today, we sell flour, flakes and kernels directly from our farm store and also from a growing number of stores in the Kingston area that share our vision.
Let’s talk about money. How much did all of this cost and how did you pay for everything?
It really is an ongoing investment. We started out by using our own savings and since then have been lucky enough to receive funding for some of our projects, like for example a grain bin that allows us to store our harvest for longer. The next step for us is to purchase a dehuller, so we can process the grain 100% on our farm. It’s taken us a lot of years to get the infrastructure in place, you have to be patient.
We were lucky that we could take the risk to experiment because we also have our dairy herd and other animals, we knew the farm had a future whatever would happen and we built on that.
Did you receive any help from Frontenac Business Services?
Yes, Frontenac Business Services supported us to secure funding for some of our machinery, the belt dehuller, grain cleaning equipment and storage bins, even helping with label design.
Because we’re certified organic, we have a lot of rules and regulations we need to comply with, getting help with that was invaluable.
Where are you now? Where is your business going?
We want to make sure that we supply good, nutrient-dense and organic food for our local community for years to come. We are lucky that our son and his wife have decided to be the next generation of farmers and will be taking us into the future.
On our farm, nothing gets wasted and everything counts on everything else. The ecosystem, the health of the soil, the nutrient density of the food that we produce all depend on each other. Ideally, we like to keep it all regional, with low food miles and supporting local food security.
Over the years, we’ve participated in many events that help bridge the gap between urban and rural, that promote the importance of small family-run farms and a healthy local food system. This is the driving force behind why we do what we do, now and in the future.
What’s so special about doing business in Frontenac?
We are lucky that there’s a huge amount of interest from the community in local food, that the community supports local food to the degree they do. Without that’s none of the things we do would be possible.
Finally, do you have any top tips to keep in mind when starting a food business?
Number one, be passionate about what you do. It will help you do things for the right reason and it will help you when things are difficult.
Number two, connect back to the land. The land is where all food starts and it’s a part of our health, emotional and physical. The more you connect to the land, the more genuine your connection to the food you produce.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.