Flower Power

Products from Hutterite colonies may just be Alberta’s best kept secret – but that secret is about 
to get out.

Pleasant Valley Hutterite Colony has been actively involved in value added processing of canola by producing world-class cold pressed non-GMO canola oil and meal. It recently came up with a unique processing method and has hired a marketing company to take their products global.

“We’re currently in the situation where we’re signing agreements or partnering with some global companies that have been in the protein business for many years,” says Kyle Makila, president of global sales for Pleasant Valley Oil Mills, who recently returned from a protein summit in England and France where he says the response has been very positive.

Hutterite colonies have a reputation for selling products of very high quality. There are over 500 colonies in Canada and 140 of them reside in Alberta with almost a third of these colonies in central Alberta. These Christian communal colonies with European roots live on farms that average about 7,000 to 8,000 acres of a variety of crops and almost all of the colonies have dairy, cattle, hogs, chickens, as well as several other ventures like leather works (shoes, saddles) or real estate investments.

Embracing economics and technology while still honouring 400 years of tradition, Hutterite colonies from across Alberta will be sharing their products with not just their communities, but with the world. Kimberley Worthington, executive director for the Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP) – one of the province’s regional economic development alliances that encompasses 35 communities across central Alberta, is very excited about the prospect.

“CAEP recognizes that the community and economic impact Hutterite colonies have in central Alberta is considerable and would like to work more closely together to build a diverse and prosperous region,” she says.

The colony members recognize their strengths. They farm the land and were solely responsible for building the cold press facility to process the canola, including plumbing and electrical. Kyle and Pentti Makila, who are also co-owners of Heartland Ag Marketing Inc., got involved with the colony to help them access premium markets and expand the business.

“The colony has always had a desire for producing the best products in a safe, sustainable, and healthy way,” says Kyle. “Products that are good for the environment and good for the people.”

To make this prospect a reality, Pleasant Valley Oil Mills has partnered with the University of Alberta on scientific research and development to separate the canola proteins, fibres, and the balance of the oil that remains in the meal. The oil mill has intellectual property on an extraction technique for isolation and extraction of the proteins. The progress so far has been phenomenal.

“We are achieving the levels that we hoped, which will allow this protein to compete on a global level,” says Kyle. “In all the areas – the technical development, the market development and our business model – everything is looking really good right now.”

Canola is one of Alberta’s top crops with 5.5 million tonnes produced in 2015 and an annual average of 4.6 million tonnes for the 10-year period between 2005 and 2015. By developing unique processing capabilities, this has the potential to be a billion-dollar industry for the prairies. And not just for the colony itself, but the surrounding community of canola farmers.

“We’re going to be processing our non-GMO canola meal to produce protein for the food, cosmetics, and a variety of industries,” says Pentti, president of market research and development with Pleasant Valley Oil Mills. “The colony is interested in purchasing non-GMO and traditional canola directly from farmers. It presents the opportunity for every canola farmer in Alberta 
to start receiving higher income for their canola production.”

The potential for global business is massive. Worldwide, the agri-food industry is looking for alternatives to meat protein “for reasons of sustainability, global environmental stability, health, vegetarianism,” adds Kyle. “The global protein market is a $90-billion industry and it’s not slowing down.”