Business Spotlight: YYC Growers
Everyone is familiar with the sprawling land used by farmers in rural areas, but urban farming is also an important part of Calgary's agriculture scene — and a vital part of the growing farm-to-table movement. And within that movement, YYC Growers stands as a prominent figure in providing locally sourced food to Calgarians.
"YYC Growers began as a collective of urban farmers in 2013. We were looking for ways to save on costs as well as support each other in the tough business of farming in the urban context," explains Rod Olson, YYG Growers' general manager. "We really got going in 2014 with Dennis Scanland taking on the president role. We found our niche in offering a combined CSA (community supported agriculture) for Calgarians. This expanded so quickly that we saw the essential need to have rural farms join the collective. In 2016 we became an official cooperative and have not looked back."
He speaks to the collective being known as regenerative, noting, "I like to use the word regenerative as opposed to sustainable because of the time we are living. To sustain in this environment means that a degraded environment is our goal. No, we have to first regenerate many of our living systems and then sustain those. That is why the farms that make up YYC Growers are dedicated to soil health and the resulting nutrient density that a thriving soil ecology produces. This is so important because farming in this way has been proven to capture excess carbon, thereby reducing the effects of climate change. The structure of the soil is such that water stays in place or is percolated down, restoring the aquifer or water table as opposed to running off and stealing the soil as it goes. Also, collaboration is key because we are at the leading edge of these types of farming practices. By working together, we magnify the work that each of us does for a better future for everyone."
As with most important initiatives, things started off small, but the momentum grew quickly.
"Back in the early days we had a makeshift cooler in the garage of one of our microgreen growers. We were all-hands-on deck to make things happen. Now we have a warehouse manager and a warehouse space," reminisces Olson. "This is essential because farmers are so busy during the growing season."
"Farmers are the point of YYC Growers," he continues, "That is why they are all owners in the cooperative. We want to keep building a bridge between eaters and the farmers that produce that food. The farmers are dedicated, honest people who do amazing work. It is a wild endeavour to be so dependent on mother nature and the living systems that are part of growing food; so, we love our farmers and we help people get to know them by name."
YYC Growers enables locals to eat fresh produce year-round and they make it very convenient to do so thanks to the Harvest Box program. With the Harvest Box, subscribers pick up a box of produce weekly, even in the winter, and get guaranteed fresh, local, ethically grown food. Subscribers can opt in or out at any time and put their pickups on hold while on vacation. How do they get greens in the middle of winter? From aquaponic farmers and microgreen producers who are on the cutting edge of food technology.
When it comes to the food provided by YYC Growers for Calgary residents, fresh carrots are among the most popular items, but a lot of locals also love the seasonal kohlrabi and brussel spouts. Other seasonal favourites include watermelon, honeydew, pea shoots and cherry tomatoes.
"We are excited about plans to create a more vibrant energy in our warehouse on Fridays for a weekly pop-up market that will run year-round," says Olson. "We are about to trial some home delivery options and need some locals to give this a shot. And finally, we are looking to do more partnerships with other local food enterprises to help build the movement. One of those is meal prep company Rooted."
"The local food movement is a huge feather in the YYC Growers' cap," he concludes. "We offer products that don't travel thousands of kilometers and thereby lose nutrition in transport. People want what is local and we are so happy to provide that to Calgarians."