Organic Week presents an opportunity to highlight the achievements of the people contributing to the success of the organic community, including farmers, growers, processors, distributors, retailers and customers. Their combined efforts have allowed this important sector to grow and flourish – and continue to play an important role in advancing the well-being of individuals, communities and society even during the coronavirus pandemic.
For Yorkshire Valley Farms, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, COVID-19 has served to illustrate that “our business model is sustainable and resilient,” says James Sculthorpe, CEO of Yorkshire Valley Farms, who is also a board member of the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA). “Our success is the result of a team effort, and by being actively engaged in the organic community, we are hopefully helping to make the organic food system stronger and better.”
Krysten Cooper, Yorkshire Valley Farms’ director of corporate strategy and sustainability, sees “organic” as a robust system that looks at multiple facets of how a product ultimately reaches the consumer. “For many people, it is what is not in the food that attracts them to organic. In the case of poultry, organic certification ensures the animals are raised without the use of antibiotics and with feed that is non-GMO, contains no animal byproducts and is not treated with synthetic pesticides, herbicides or chemicals,” she says. “It also ensures that the animals are raised in lower-density flocks and have seasonal access to organically managed outdoor pasture areas.”
A growing focus on healthy living inspired Tony Ambler, who was a conventional chicken farmer at the time, to co-found Yorkshire Valley Farms with Tom Ahrens. “There are three essential aspects for building a successful enterprise,” says Mr. Ambler. “The first is to get involved in the right trend. The second is to look for the best products and processes, and the third concerns knowledge transfer – the ability to take the message to the audience you’re trying to reach.”
Yorkshire Valley Farms is strong in all three areas, believes Mr. Ambler. “It offers farmers a secure way to sell their products and recognizes that they need to make a fair return, so there is mutual appreciation for the value each brings to the table.”
Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association, says industry statistics confirm that “organic is no longer a niche market or a trend that will pass by,” she notes. “Twenty per cent of Canadians are purchasing more organic compared to last year, and 44 per cent of consumers understand what the organic promise is.”
While Yorkshire Valley Farms has stayed true to the original values instilled by its founders – it has also seen significant changes, and Ms. Cooper sees a strong connection between an increase in consumer interest, an expansion in product offerings and a growing number of partners.
“We’ve grown from two farms to a dedicated group of 35 farmers across our network for chicken, turkey and eggs, and we’ve been able to be leaders in animal welfare through the implementation of innovative programs and investment in our team and facilities,” she says.
Mr. Sculthorpe is happy to report that a dedication to offering fair returns and support means that the operations of farming partners are thriving – and attracting the interest of next-generation farmers.
“We see many farms where multiple generations are involved,” he says. “Some of the organic standards can be quite challenging – in exchange for the organic premium, you take more risks and have access to less tools, but a young farmer recently told me that he is having fun – I got goosebumps hearing that. So, the farmers are having fun, my team is having fun and the retailers tell us they enjoy putting something new on the shelf.”
Yorkshire Valley Farms expanded its sales reach to every province in Canada, notes Ms. Cooper. “We’re proud to work with retail partners across the country who believe in organic and want to see it grow. Consumers tell us they can taste the organic difference, and that inspires us to create more products. We’ve developed our product offering to now include fresh, frozen and convenience items so we can serve a broad community.”
By increasing the number of partners like grocers, restaurants and food delivery as well as working with community organizations like Second Harvest and Community Food Centres Canada, Yorkshire Valley Farms aims to ensure healthy food reaches more Canadians, including vulnerable populations, she adds. “Sustainability, for us, is more than just the environmental impact. It is about building a business with values that are upheld over the long term and where actions have a positive impact on communities.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.