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How a Saskatchewan dairy farm is modernizing the farm-fresh food trend

Emma Ohirko for Progressive Dairy Published on 01 March 2020
Bas, Martha and their daughter Ellen have grown their 30-cow dairy into a community staple complete with a creamery and market.

“Early retirement,” Bas Froese-Kooijenga says with a laugh when asked what he hopes the Sunnyside Creamery he owns with his wife, Martha, will accomplish.

Martha is quick to shoot this idea down as she explains the need to diversify their 30-cow dairy located near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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Bas and Martha took over Martha’s family farm in 1997. They converted the operation from the beef and custom work Martha’s parents did into the milking operation they run today.

The couple opened Sunnyside Creamery in April 2019 after customers repeatedly came into their on-farm store, Farmyard Market, asking for milk from their cows. This led Martha to the idea for the creamery and a Swiss milk dispenser, which is one of two operating in Canada. The dispenser is coin-operated and allows customers to pour themselves fresh, pasteurized whole milk from the farm into their own containers for $2.50 per litre.

If customers do not bring their own container, the creamery sells glass bottles. Sunnyside Creamery also sells heavy cream with a fat content of 45%, along with chocolate milk, cheese curds, cottage cheese and ricotta, all of which is made on-site.

The Farmyard Market sells eggs, a variety of baking, pierogies and beef from their Holstein steers. Bas and Martha also raise between 20 to 40 hogs in pens and feed them milk and other creamery byproducts. The pork is then sold at their store.

So far, the success of Sunnyside Creamery has been largely due to word-of-mouth and their daughter Ellen’s help running the farm Facebook page. The creamery is along a busy highway that brings in a lot of local traffic in the summer.

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Bas and Martha hope their creamery will encourage others to experience firsthand where their food comes from.

The growth of Sunnyside Creamery since its opening has been steady, and Bas and Martha already have plans to expand the operation further. The couple say they hope to process all their milk on-site, which involves the installation of a larger pasteurizer. They have plans to increase the size of the creamery building and install a cheese vat in the spring as well as to grow their bakery space.

The success of the creamery has reverberated in other aspects of their business as well. Bas and Martha have seen the sales at the store triple since the opening of the creamery.

The progress of their creamery has also attracted interest from local businesses. Bas and Martha sell their creamery products to two online farmers’ markets as well as a local zero-waste food store. Hobby cheesemakers also tend to frequent the creamery, buying upwards of 20 litres of milk at a time.

The biggest challenge to this project has been the regulatory costs. Initially, Bas and Martha struggled to lower these costs but, as their operation increased in size and as they were able to achieve a good, consistent food safety record, this has become less of an issue.

Bas and Martha’s milk dispenser is a modern approach to the local and farm-fresh food trends. Their consistent customer feedback has proved this endeavour to be a great example of providing innovation out of necessity. Martha in particular speaks with great enthusiasm about the reaction people have had to the opening of Sunnyside Creamery.

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For Martha and Bas, the opening of their creamery has boosted the success of their Farmyard Market threefold

Part of the appeal of the creamery and the milk dispensary is its nostalgic feel. The creamery reminds people of older days when milk was frequently purchased from the farm and people had a greater connection to the farm and farmers who produced their milk. To Bas and Martha, this is simply another benefit from their diversification, as they hope it will increase awareness about where food comes from and the care that goes into raising their animals.

Bas and Martha see the local food movement as an opportunity to encourage people to get on the farm as much as possible and make the processing of food as local as possible. Their commitment to this ideal is demonstrated in their choice to work with a local abattoir to process their Holstein steers, whose beef they then sell in their store.

Bas and Martha’s “go with the flow” mentality has helped them grow and maintain their business into a local hot spot. In the summers, they hold a music festival with local artists, and the store and creamery are common stops for people heading off to nearby lakes in the warmer months.

Ultimately, the creamery has helped Martha stay on the farm for work and to ensure the longevity and viability of their business with limited challenges beyond their start-up. For them, being at the forefront of the farm-fresh food trend in their community is exciting. The modern, yet nostalgic, approach they have taken to this trend has certainly made their operation unique. The positive attitude and eagerness Bas and Martha exude when discussing their business outlook truly speaks for itself.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Bas, Martha and their daughter Ellen have grown their 30-cow dairy into a community staple complete with a creamery and market. 

PHOTO 2: Bas and Martha hope their creamery will encourage others to experience firsthand where their food comes from. 

PHOTO 3: For Martha and Bas, the opening of their creamery has boosted the success of their Farmyard Market threefold. Photos provided by Martha Froese-Kooijenga.

Emma Ohirko is a student at the University of Guelph.

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