Three young men in southwestern Saskatchewan are on an ambitious mission: To grow good, clean, healthy food, learn entrepreneurial skills and invigorate their community.
Brothers Cam and Will Blakley and their friend Jon Rutkowski began the Southwest Growing Cooperative in Consul this spring, selling their honey, pastured eggs and organic vegetables.
They’re supported by their parents and many in the community, like Consul’s pastor Dave Manley and his wife Vicki. The couple owns Manley Bread and Honey and encouraged the young men to set up their farmers’ market in front of the bakery.
The passion for good, clean food began when the Blakley family sought holistic care for Cam, who has autism and ADHD. Part of the practitioner’s recommendation was a diet free from gluten, sugar and processed foods.
Megan Blakley noticed the difference in her son — and in the rest of the family — immediately.
“The improvements it’s made in Cam (are) amazing. It isn’t the gluten that’s the problem. It’s the chemicals in the bread that affects people so much,” she said.
The ranching family began studying regenerative agriculture and are moving their cattle and pigs to a grass-finished system. Megan’s husband Fred takes compost courses and has started a massive heap at the farm.
“We’re slowly starting to make what we have better so it can produce more,” Megan said.
“How much better everything tastes and how much it’s affected all of us in our health and in how we feel … because we’ve actually seen the proof, is pretty awe-inspiring.”
The Blakley family isn’t alone in their quest to buck the conventional agriculture trend: Jon’s parents, Bo and Marlee Rutkowski are transitioning their grain farm to organic.
Their children buck trends, too. Where many their age may have spent the summer holidays on their smartphones, Jon and the Blakley brothers chose a different route.
Wondering what inspired these three young men to carry forward their parents’ good food mission and share it with the community? Here’s how they did it:
Cam Blakley, 15: The Egg Business
When Cam was only five years old, he started raising laying hens.
“I’ve lost lots of chickens over the years to minx and weasels, but I’ve always recovered. Each time I get chickens, I keep buying more and more so I can keep having more eggs,” he said.
Right now, he’s got 150 chickens, plus an additional 50 chicks. He collects eggs every day, washing and packaging them once a week for his customers.
Will Blakley, 12: The Honey Business
When Will was eight, he saved his 4-H steer money to buy honey bees. He’s in his third harvest year with nine hives.
Consul’s bakery is called Manley’s Bread and Honey because the owners’ son used to keep bees. He’s been a great mentor to young Will. The bakery buys from all three young men and chef Rusty Thienes at Harvest Eatery in Shaunavon is a loyal customer, too.
Will’s expanding by adding pastured pork to his business in the future.
Jon Rutkowski, 14: Market Gardener
“I started growing because it’s in the family,” Jon said. “About two years ago, I decided I might as well start selling my stuff.”
He did his marketing and promotion the old-fashioned way: by having conversations with people.
“You get a haircut and you say to the hairdresser, ‘Do you need some potatoes?’ ”
A lot of his customers live in Consul, so he arranges delivery times each week. Having the farmers’ market has taken the pressure off — now, his customers can come to him.
For Megan, witnessing what the three have accomplished is a proud mama moment.
“They’re looking to the future and to find growth for our community with job creation and supplying (people) with healthy, soul-enriching foods.”
The three are studying entrepreneurship in 4-H to continue their business education. The ‘why’ behind it all comes back to their shared passion: good food.
“Our big thing is to make sure people know where their food is coming from and know that it’s safe to eat,” Jon said.
Jenn Sharp is a freelance writer in Saskatoon.Her first book, Flat Out Delicious: Your Guide to Saskatchewan’s Food Artisans, will be published by Touchwood Editions in 2020. Follow her on Twitter @JennKSharp, Instagram @flatoutfoodsk, and Facebook.