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Sourcing Local Organic Grains:

Spelt farm tour

In August we had the opportunity to visit Konzelmann’s farm, who grow the organic spelt that we sprout. A few days of rain put their harvest on pause, so we jumped at the chance to take a tour. We learned all about spelt, organic farming, and of course the people who own and work on the farm.

We’ve always had a special love for spelt. It’s an ancient variety of wheat with a rich, nutty taste that makes delicious breads and baked goods. The Konzelmann’s reason for choosing spelt is similar ­– they started growing it because it was what they enjoy eating.

Spelt requires an extra dehulling and sorting step after harvesting (as opposed to wheat). So, there are only a handful of people growing and processing organic spelt.

Unsurprisingly, we have a new appreciation for all the time and care that goes into producing such a wonderful grain. We’re so excited to share all that we learned with you!

ABout Konzelmann Farms

Dan Konzelmann grew up farming with his family in Switzerland. In the mid 90s he immigrated to Canada with his wife Miriam and started farming conventionally before transitioning to organic in 1999. They farm 2000 acres in Wyoming, Ontario and grow primarily organic certified spelt, corn and beans.

In addition to growing their own, the Konzelmanns also process organic spelt that’s grown all over Ontario. Demand has grown over the years, and they now process about 4000 tonnes of organic spelt per year.

When asked why he chose to become organic, Dan’s immediate response was: “because it’s something I can feel good about.” The Konzelmann’s are passionate about the health of humans and the earth and it’s clear in every aspect of their farm.

Dan had to teach himself to farm organically, picking up best practices through years of innovation, experimenting and experience. Over time, he expanded his processes and equipment, and is now one of the largest organic spelt producers in the country. Even now, organic farming isn’t something that’s widely taught in Canadian agricultural schools.

Photos courtesy of Konzelmann Farms

Why Organic?

There are many reasons to farm organically, the most obvious is that it’s better for the environment, animals, and humans. 

It improves soil, water and air quality and reduces carbon emissions. Organic soils can store about 3.5 extra tonnes of carbon per hectare than conventional farming.

Crops free of chemicals are homes for wildlife like bees, birds and butterflies. It creates a healthy ecosystem that controls pests, increases biodiversity, and protects at-risk pollinators. Organic farming also reduces the risk of water pollution and contamination.

Improving soil health also creates more resilient crops that are less susceptible to climate change. While dry weather affected many Ontario corn crops this year, Dan’s corn was as good as ever. Organic crops store up to twice as much water than soil on conventional farms. It also has similar yields to conventional crops and can generally be sold at a higher price. 

According to Statistics Canada, only about 2% of Canadian farms are certified organic. Canada imports the majority of their organic products, so there is huge potential to grow. To put it in perspective, about 30-40% of farmland in Europe is organic.

With so many benefits, why aren’t there more organic farms in Canada? Organic farming tends to look at underlying causes rather than quick-fixes. This creates more sustainable long-term solutions, but can be challenging in the short-term.  

How do you grow organically?

Dan explained that organic farming really comes down to having the right knowledge, tools, and lots of patience. “You can’t think conventionally going into organic, you have to change your thinking,” Dan says. Organic farming is free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, so farmers need unique solutions. 

Instead of pesticides, cover crops, crop rotation, and properly timed seeding and tilling prevent weeds, pests, and disease. Spelt is great for preventing weeds because it is densely seeded. When Dan rotates spelt with sparser crops he finds there are few, if any, weeds left. For those that do pop up, Dan uses a Weed Zapper, a new technology that kills weeds with electricity.

You’ve probably heard of manure as organic fertilizer, but Dan also uses a liquid fertilizer that’s recycled from compost. The largest digester in Canada is actually located less than 2 hours from Dan’s farm. They take food waste from green bins, grocery stores, restaurants and manufacturing and recycles it into organic fertilizer and renewable energy. So far, they’ve diverted more than 380,000 tonnes of organic waste from landfills.

Farming organically also takes a lot of attention and intuition. “You have to talk to the fields, you have to listen to the fields, what do they tell you? They tell you a story. Even the weeds tell you a story,” Dan says. Dan explained that it takes time to see returns and starting out can be tough. “In organic, success is having less weeds than the year before.”

Dan developed a process and works closely with clients to ensure that no crop goes to waste. His system sorts grain by size and tests falling number (baking quality), using each batch for a different purpose. He even sells spelt hulls as bedding for chicken coops.

Some of the Konzelmann Team (Dan is second from the right)
Spraying Organic Fertilizer – photo courtesy of Konzelmann Farms

The future of organic

We asked Dan if he thought organic farming was efficient enough to feed the population: “I think so, if you could reduce the 40% that goes in the dumpster.” He’s referring to the amount of food that is lost or wasted each year, which in Canada was as high as 58% in recent years. 

It isn’t as simple as more Canadian farmers growing organic crops. There needs to be education, technology, government support, consumer demand and many other components to increase Canada’s organic production.

While we always try to source our grains and beans as locally as possible, this can be challenging with only 2% of Canadian farms certified organic (and organic doesn’t mean it will meet sprouting specifications). So, we are very excited to work with the Konzelmanns, who produce excellent spelt just over an hour from our facility. 

It’s clear from touring the farm and getting a peek at the large state-of-the-art expansion that the future of both spelt and organic farming is very bright. We’re proud to support organic farmers and making organic grains accessible for your pantry. 

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