Focusing on Local
The Schilstra's are placing more emphasis on on-farm processing and local/regional retailing
By Jim Knisley
It’s picture postcard perfect. So much so that, a few years ago, local politicians overruled their officials and allowed a second house to be constructed at the far end of the broad, green expanse of lawn.
The politicians were effusive in their praise of the homes, the setting, the maintenance and the overall farm.
One local councillor declared it a showpiece. Another said it was just the type of farm the county was encouraging. It had a retail outlet, a processing facility and turkey barns out back.
They were talking about Lakeview Farms, located just outside Dunnville in Haldimand County in southern Ontario.
In recent years, Haldimand County, like many other municipalities, clambered aboard the local food bandwagon, encouraging farms to value add and consumers and restaurants to buy local.
It is something that John and Pat DeKlerk, owners of Lakeview Farms, had been doing and promoting long before there was a bandwagon, a local food movement or a 100-mile diet. Lakeview Farms, located south of Hamilton near the north shore of Lake Erie is in the process of focusing even more on producing homegrown, home processed and regionally marketed turkey and turkey products.
With a generational shift underway it has moved from being one of Ontario’s largest turkey producers to placing more emphasis on on-farm processing and local/regional retailing.
The farm used to have more than a million pounds of quota. That has been reduced to about 15,000 birds, or enough to supply the processing line, serve its own retail store and satisfy other customers.
The new owners, John and Pat’s daughter Liz and son-in-law Andrew Schilstra, are building on a solid base of long-term customers – some of whom now live hundreds of kilometres away but will pick up a turkey or turkey product whenever they are visiting friends or family in the Dunnville area – and word of mouth.
Capitalizing on Schilstra’s processing expertise, it also continues to expand its product line. It isn’t just frozen turkeys. They have introduced a unique product – peameal turkey bacon – that has become very successful and sell turkey pies, turkey rolls and other turkey and poultry products.
When John DeKlerk started his turkey operation in 1967 he knew it was something he wanted to do. He had grown up on a dairy farm, tried truck driving for a couple of years and then worked on a turkey farm. He enjoyed it and bought his own farm just before supply management was introduced.
Initially he contracted with Ralston Purina to grow turkeys for the company. He soon learned that much of the turkey business revolved around Christmas and Thanksgiving. Believing that more could be done, he evaluated going into processing as well. He started by producing a New York dressed turkey for area butcher shops. “In 1974 I started wholesaling New York dressed turkeys, that’s where the money is made.”
Then with three partners he opened a processing plant in Mississauga and began turning out everything from turkey burgers to turkey salami to turkey roasts.
In the Oct. 7, 1983, edition of the Calvinist Contact, DeKlerk said: “Four years ago we started with zilch. Now it’s 70 to 80 thousand pounds of boneless meat per week.”
“Our product is not cheap, but it is high quality,” he said in the article.
In the 1970s he had opened the retail outlet on the farm. The reason for branching out was straightforward – profit. He said the minimally processed New York-style birds brought 40 per cent more than live turkeys and other further processed products added to the bottom line.
DeKlerk got 100,000 lb. of quota in 1967 when supply management began. Then in 1972, things really changed when the marketing board got pricing power. For farmers that was huge.
“If you did a good job you made a profit.”
DeKlerk said supply management did come with production controls, but said, “I’d rather be told what I can produce than work for nothing.” Working for nothing was all too frequent in the days before supply management.
“If it wasn’t for supply management there’d be very few poultry farms around these days,” he said.
DeKlerk also gave back to the supply management system and served on the Ontario marketing board for 20 years from 1974 to 1994.
Working within the system, in 1978, DeKlerk started distributing turkey products from processing companies and “it went well.”
In 1988, “we started doing our own processing in Burlington.” In 1992, they sold the Burlington plant and moved the processing to Dunnville
In 1997, Schilstra started with the company focusing on the processing side and adding value.
Today, Lakeview produces 15,000 birds and retails whole turkeys and a wide variety of products out of the on-farm store and to customers in the surrounding area, including Niagara.
“The birds are raised here and sold here,” said Schilstra. This fits right in with the shift in consumer attitudes to a preference for healthy, locally produced food.
The processing plant is producing ready to cook turkey products with different flavourings, turkey pies, peameal turkey bacon (which Schilstra says is “fantastic,”) turkey rolls and more.
“There are lots of ideas on the processing side,” he said.
A major strength in doing your own processing and retailing comes from knowing your customers. The company doesn’t have salespeople and so customer feedback comes direct to the owners. “We know our market,” he said.
Much of that market has been built by word of mouth. One satisfied customer tells someone and they try the turkey and pass the word along. It has been a successful formula. But Lakeview is now expanding the marketing a bit to see what will work for them.
It also all revolves around family. DeKlerk said: “For me, it’s nice to see my daughter and her husband take over.”
Schilstra added that it’s a “family business.” He Liz and their three children are all involved.
He said, “John had a lot of the work done before I came aboard.”
“But the business does not run on its own and we hope to keep going forward.”
|Survey Says: Consumers Want Local|
Canadians are looking to put more locally grown food on the table, a trend that is catching on throughout the year, according to the Bank of Montreal.
A survey, commissioned by Leger Marketing, shows the majority of Canadians (94 per cent) believe it’s important to support local farmers and buy local on a regular basis.
“Canadians understand the significant contribution our farm families, and the agricultural industry as a whole, make to Canada’s national economy,” said David Rinneard,
national manager, agriculture, BMO Bank of Montreal. “By buying locally, it supports an industry that currently employs one in eight jobs directly and accounts for approximately eight per cent of Canada’s total GDP.”
The survey also revealed that Canadians try to purchase the following homegrown products always or frequently:
The survey was completed online from June 27 to 30, 2011, using Leger Marketing’s online panel, LegerWeb. A sample of 1,576 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, were surveyed.
The BMO survey echoes an earlier report from the Guelph Food Panel that found consumers have a positive view of farming in Canada and consider that buying local foods supports local farmers and is an important thing to do.
Eighty-eight percent of respondents indicated they agreed with the statement “it is important to support our local farmers.”
Meanwhile, in a U.S. study by the Food Marketing Institute in 2009, consumers cited freshness (82 per cent), support for the local economy (75 per cent), and knowing the source of the product (58 per cent) as reasons for buying local food.
“Several studies have identified consumer perceptions of local food, including that local produce is fresher looking and tasting, of higher quality, and a better value for the price,” the report said.