Educating eaters

Organic farmers and locavores put faith into practice with butcher business

May 21, 2014 | God at work in Us | Number 11
Story and Photo by Donna Schulz | Saskatchewan Correspondent
Don and Louella Friesen of Carmen Corner Meats happily package an order for a customer.

Mennonite-style farmer sausage sizzles on the grill at many prairie gatherings, and a growing number of those gatherings serve sausage from Carmen Corner Meats.

Don and Louella Friesen began the butcher business in 2000 on their organic farm north of Waldheim. That was “when the bottom dropped out of the hog market,” says Don. Because they couldn’t get a fair market price for their hogs, they began taking them to a nearby butcher, having them made into sausage, and marketing the meat themselves.

In 2004, the Friesens purchased a neighbour’s meat-cutting equipment and Don hired Devin Schultz, a meat-cutter, to teach him how to use it. Schultz eventually came to work for Carmen Corner Meats and has helped the Friesens develop their product line. Along with sausage, they sell a full range of pork cuts and a number of cured and processed meats. All their products are gluten- and dairy-free; some are nitrite-free as well.

Although the Friesens no longer raise hogs themselves, they have a supplier who houses them humanely on straw bedding in a large enclosure where they can roam freely. They are raised without hormones or antibiotics. Don would prefer that the animals be raised outdoors, but Saskatchewan winters make it impractical.

In addition to farm-gate sales, the Friesens market their meat through Innovative Prairie Farm Families, a cooperative formed about 12 years ago with help from Heifer International, to enable members to sell produce at a fair price. While Don and Louella do the legwork for the cooperative, other farmers contribute beef, bison, eggs, honey, homemade pasta and fresh garden produce in season. Customers place orders via e-mail. Nutana Park Mennonite Church in Saskatoon serves as a monthly pick-up location.

Don estimates that about 50 percent of Carmen Corner Meats’ sales, including those through the cooperative, are direct to consumer. Ideally, the Friesens would like all their sales to be farm-gate sales. They get a better price that way and so does the consumer. Because customers value the convenience of purchasing their products in stores, however, Carmen Corner Meats also sells through several organic and alternative food stores in Saskatoon and a half-dozen grocery stores in smaller communities.

Faith plays an important role in the Friesens’ business philosophy. “We don’t separate our faith from our business,” says Louella. Rather, it is “an integral part of who we are.”

The couple, members of Zoar Mennonite Church in Waldheim, “are committed to eating good food and providing good food for [our customers],” says Louella. She views eating well as a matter of stewardship. “We are given life and are responsible to nurture ourselves. We are committed to eating food that will nourish our bodies and help us stay healthy.” This means eating organically when possible and choosing food that has been raised locally and responsibly.

While some share this view, not everyone is willing to pay more for a product they can buy elsewhere for less. “Especially locally,” says Don, “it’s hard to convince people that [our product is] worth more.” People don’t always recognize that buying food impacts producers and their employees. “I often question why people chintz on food, because that’s what nourishes us. We spend tonnes of money on everything else, but we chintz on food,” he says. “I don’t get that.”

For this reason, the Friesens work at “helping people see that buying locally is advantageous,” Louella says, “because it keeps money flowing within the community.”

Their business name refers to the Carmen school that once stood on the family’s land. Their logo includes a picture of the schoolhouse, with the words “The Educated Choice” beneath it. The slogan is not just a play on the schoolhouse image, as both Don and Louella feel strongly that educating people about the importance of purchasing locally grown, ethically raised food is one of their greatest challenges.

Where there are challenges, there are also rewards. Don says he enjoys connecting with customers who “appreciate the effort” behind the product and who, “once they’ve tasted it, realize that there is a difference.”

With the trend towards eating locally on the rise, Carmen Corner Meats’ sausage may be a welcome guest at even more prairie barbecues for many years to come.

--Posted May 21, 2014

Don and Louella Friesen of Carmen Corner Meats happily package an order for a customer.

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