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Designer farming.

NEW ENTERPRISE IN THE LAND OF THE BATTERED BUSHEL

IF OPPORTUNITY IS THE CHILD OF CRISIS, A WHOLE NEW GENERATION OF ENTREPRENEURS MAY BE EMERGING IN THE AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY.

ECONOMIC GLOOM HAS HUNG OVER FARMING LIKE A CLOUD FOR MORE THAN FIVE YEARS AS PRICES FELL, CROPS WITHERED IN DROUGHT AND A TRADE WAR DISRUPTED MARKETS. BUT THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILLS OF FARMERS HELPED MANY SURVIVE THE ADVERSITY AND STAY VIABLE. THEY'RE DOING SO BY PURSUING NEW BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES FORCED ON THEM BY THE FRAIL FARM ECONOMY.

GLENN AND LINDA PIZZEY OF ANGUSVILLE TURNED PART OF THEIR HOME INTO A BAKERY. SAM AND PAULETTE CRAMPTON BUILT A SMALL JAM AND JELLY FACTORY IN THEIR FARMYARD NEAR NOTRE DAME DE LOURDES. AND JERRY AND SHARON HILLMAN TURNED THE POPULAR UKRAINIAN MORSEL CALLED A PEROGIE INTO A NEW SOURCE OF INCOME FOR THEIR FARM NEAR GLADSTONE.

WITH NO FARM BACKGROUND, SHARON HILLMAN WAS UNABLE TO HELP OUT BY DRIVING A GRAIN TRUCK OR OPERATING MACHINERY. BUT THE ART OF PEROGIE MAKING, LEARNED FROM HER MOTHER WHILE GROWING UP IN SASKATCHEWAN, BECAME HER CONTRIBUTION TO THE ECONOMICS OF FAMILY FARMING.

"Jerry's cousin in Gladstone asked me one day to make some perogies to sell in her store. So I gave it a whirl and it just blossomed!"

Today the Hillmans produce about 100 dozen perogies a month for sale in stores throughout southern Manitoba under the Sharon's Perogie label. The shelf prices range from $3.29 to $3.49 for an 800-gram package.

Jerry, who handles the business side, says the move into perogies just made good sense. "When we were getting more for a package of perogies than for a bushel of wheat it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out."

The perogie business has meant some restructuring. The couple sold part of their land and got out of grain production to concentrate on an operation involving 800 cows and a few sheep. A major business decision is impending. "We're getting close to making a decision on whether we want to do this full-time or not," says Jerry.

SAM AND PAULETTE CRAMPTON AREN'T THINKING about making their Manitoba Maid jam and jelly business full-time -- at least not yet.

"It helps keep food on our table," says Sam. "But it still is a niche market. We're not out to compete with the big guys."

Some "niche" market. Last year the Cramptons sold 1,500 dozen jars of jams and jellies, up 50 per cent from the previous year. They produce 16 varieties for distribution through 25 independent stores in Manitoba.

And the financial rewards for selling that 1,500 dozen are there. Consider the shelf price of a 250-millilitre jar: from $2.89 to $3.99 each. The price is about one-third higher than comparable products from manufacturers such as Kraft and E.D. Smith, but Sam says buyers don't seem to mind.

The strawberries, raspberries and saskatoons are grown on the farm which also supports a small herd of 40 cows and some grains. Sam gives a lot of credit to the University of Manitoba food science department for helping him get started and ensuring he met all federal and provincial health standards.

Did the jam operation save the day?

"By all means," says Sam. "You can only live so long on government support programs."

LINDA PIZZEY, WHO WITH HER HUSBAND Glenn is a registered seed grower, says diversification is not only necessary in times of financial crisis, it's essential to the future survival of farmers.

"All of us are hurting," she says. "But farmers have to look further than just growing grain and sending it out the farm gate. We must get into marketing." She reasons that General Motors would never think of just turning out a never-ending supply of cars into an unknown market.

For their part, the Pizzeys are taking advantage of some studies done on flax which indicate the oilseed has beneficial health properties. They set up a small mill in a room of their farm home to produce whole wheat bread in which crushed flax replaces oil or shortening and honey replaces sugar.

The result, Linda says, is a healthier bread that has a unique taste and a long shelf life. A 25- to 30-loaf operation about two years ago has grown into Country Ovens, which produces about 800 loaves a month. They sell the Flax 'n Honey bread through 15 independent stores for $1.75 a loaf. The Flax 'n Raisin loaves cost $2 each.

The bread business has become so successful that Linda now is considering talking to her banker about the possibility of producing pre-mixed ingredients.

And the entrepreneurism has rubbed off on the children. The Pizzey's two daughters, aged 14 and 16, are producing muffins for sale in stores that carry the Pizzey bread. They're doing quite well, too, selling about 18 dozen every couple of weeks.
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Title Annotation:farmers diversify to include other business interests
Author:Edwards, Rod
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:815
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