December 19, 2018
Coming Full Circle
Since first meeting at Dalhousie University's Agricultural College, there's been a certain circularity to Mark and Sally Bernard’s mutual history. Mark was creating a business plan for organic grain production when the two came together as a couple. Their growing interest in organic farming evolved from a philosophy to encompass their own business; they moved to the Freetown, P.E.I. farm Mark grew up on as a child, and began transitioning 550 acres to organic as a mixed-purpose multi-generational support system. Now they’re raising their children there.
East Coast Organic Feed Mill, part of their company Barnyard Organics, became the Maritimes's largest organic feed mill with their 2018 purchase of a more substantial facility, increasing capacity by 75 percent. With expanding demand for organic livestock feed and bulk organic grain, as well as their ability to roast soybeans and clean custom seed, they'll contract other farmers to grow additional grain.
Through Food Island Partnership's Food Propel program, they're evaluating next steps in the developing frontier of organic grain. “We weren't expecting to be accepted into the program since we produce animal feed, not human food,” says Sally. “We needed guidance, and through our Food Propel mentors we're examining marketing, retailing, human resources, with a clear idea how to grow our business. When humans, animals, and crops connect through an organic food system, everyone benefits from a stronger, more secure sector."
Much of their product goes to P.E.I. and Nova Scotia feed outlets, but they're looking to expand markets, including high-end pet stores. They've also created a "Rent A Chicken" business, providing market research into a previously untapped consumer -- the backyard/urban farmer/homesteader -- with the potential to grow their enterprise significantly. Recently, they secured a contract to feed 6,000 laying hens with the expectation it'll increase to 12,000 hens within the year. All of this reinforces their commitment to organic production "from seed to feed" and soil health. "Looking back at where we started, it's rewarding to see our ideas reach fruition," says Mark. "Our four children are getting interested in the farm, as well.”
By Magner Ink (www.magnerink.com). This is one in a series of articles on the P.E.I. Food Cluster.