Do consumers really want to know?

Originally published in Western Producer, August 2020

There’s a prevailing notion in agriculture that we must get consumer and public “approval” for modern farming practices and that we need to build “social licence” among consumers.

We have responded and invested significant resources and money into winning hearts and minds.

Lately, I have been increasingly wondering if this a strategically sound effort and a worthwhile investment. I’m not sure, for a couple reasons.

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‘Sustainable’ is a trendy word in the food industry — but farmers aren’t getting enough credit for it

Originally published by CBC Saskatchewan, November 2019

While grocery shopping the other day, I counted the word “sustainable” on product packaging too many times to count.

This led me to consider how interesting it is that a word with so much marketing power is so vaguely defined and understood.

One of the more commonly used definitions of the word, created by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

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Everyone’s responsibility: Don’t let emotion influence how health information is acted upon in the digital age

Originally published by CBC Saskatchewan, October 2019

I recently came across a headline on my Facebook page saying that early research suggests a possible link between processed foods in pregnancy and autism. I hate these types of headlines.

I know I should be grateful to be alive at a time when we have easy access to so much valuable information. Instead, I feel overwhelmed, especially as a pregnant woman and a new mom.

Since becoming pregnant with my first child three years ago, I have questioned many of my daily product choices, especially food. I constantly wonder if these products will one day be linked to harmful effects in my children.

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Market opportunities for pulses as food ingredients

Originally published in PulsePoint magazine, August 2018

When the Canadian pulse industry announced a goal to have new uses for 25 per cent of Canadian pulses by 2025, Pulse Canada and Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, along with other provincial pulse associations across Canada got to work developing and refining strategic plans designed to help meet this ambitious goal, says Julianne Curran, Pulse Canada’s Vice President of Food and Health.

“There has been a lot of thought put into how we can achieve this target,” she says.

Much of the industry’s prior work in the area was focused on marketing pulses more generally to all target audiences. The next phase of work will consider end-use applications that each pulse crop is best suited to, and the markets where the Canadian industry has advantages and volume opportunities, Curran says.

“We understand that two million tonnes is an ambitious target that will require multiple sectors and regions, but also unique strategies designed for each pulse type to be more effective.”

The strategy will focus on specific market opportunities and applications for each pulse type and will also identify specific companies or groups of companies the industry is looking to engage with, says Jackie Tenuta, Pulse Canada’s Director of Market Development.

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Market opportunities for pulses in the food service industry

Originally published in PulsePoint magazine, August 2018

Building on the Canadian pulse industry’s goal to have new markets or uses for 25 per cent of Canadian pulses by 2025, Canadian pulse promoters are looking at ways to revise market development plans to hone in on achieving the desired end results.

One of the areas of that will see an expanded focus is the foodservice sector, where the industry has been working in for the past couple of years to promote the use of Canadian lentils amongst United States (U.S.) colleges and universities.

The knowledge the industry has gained so far will be crucial to informing the next phase of promotions, which will include a narrower focus, says Amber Johnson, SPG’s Manager of Market Promotion.

The emphasis in this area will be placed on the U.S. marketplace and will be targeting non-commercial foodservice companies such as Compass Group, Sodexo, and Aramark, which run food operations for large-scale organizations such as hospitals, corporations, and big businesses, in addition to a focus on colleges and universities.

Not only do these companies have significant influence over menu items, they also have important buying potential because they do centralized buying and supply management, while also running physical operations, Johnson says.

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Five delightful facts about the Regina Food Bank

When you think of a food bank, you probably think of an agency that gives food to people who immediately need it.

Which the Regina Food Bank does.

But it also does so much more.

“We have 9,000 people come through our doors each month, so we have to be able to find out how we can help them in terms of food security,” says Todd Sandin, Director of Operations.

This means not only striving to eliminate hunger but also to solve the longer-term problems associated with food insecurity.

One component of this is educating people on food – where it comes from, and how they can grow and prepare local foods for their families.

Another component is growing sustainability within the organization’s own operations, a necessary requirement when you receive upwards of 3 million pounds each of food and non-food donations each year.

Because of these focuses, the Regina Food Bank is home to some super cool and innovative initiatives, some that are not yet being done at any other food bank in the world (just one more thing you can be proud of in this amazing city!)

Here are five delightful facts about the Regina Food Bank.

  1. It has a machine that turns waste into fuel!

Officially it’s called a “gasification unit” (I think that name needs some marketing input) and Regina is the only food bank in the world to have one, Sandin says!

Here’s how the machine works: You put in up to 500 pounds of waste/non-perishable items (except plastic, unfortunately) and the machine slowly breaks it down and “cooks” it, turning it into fuel. The Food Bank then uses this fuel to heat its greenhouse and warehouse and has enough left over to share with other partner agencies as well (for example, the YWCA has used it to heat its pool!).

Altogether the machine has helped the Food Bank save $30,000 a year on waste that has been reinvested back into programs.

They’ve only had the machine for six month, Sandin says, but future plans include sharing their knowledge and experience with it to other agencies across Saskatchewan that may also benefit from such technology.

The gasification unit turns waste and non-perishable items into … this!

  1. It has a Farming Robot!

Or FarmBot, if you will.

This is basically a machine that uses the same technology as 3-D printers, laser cutters and CNC routers to power a little farm that operates without any human interaction (the only thing it cannot do on its own is harvesting).

Why does a Food Bank need a farming robot? This is part of the educational component, Sandin says.

“When we sat down with our team to discuss what would be the best use of our assets, we found that the education program actually produced an amazing yield of engagement with students, what they learned about where their food comes from and how important local food is as well,” he says.

“It’s really important to show kids these days where their food comes from, how they can do it at home, how they can be more of a family unit when it comes to producing their own food.”

And of course, what better way to engage kids than ROBOTS.

Which leads me to ….

  1. It teaches people about food production and how they can produce their own food

The robot is just part of a greater educational program.

The Food Bank also has a year-round greenhouse which is home to 30 “ecotowers,” (little standup gardens that can grow a bunch of stuff in a small space). Schools and other community organizations can tour the greenhouse and learn about food production.

Partner schools in the city have been able to use the ecotowers to grow their own produce in the classroom. One classroom used their yields to have a potluck. Another class grew lettuce to feed their own gerbil. How sweet is that?!

The Food Bank also has a commercial kitchen that is used to teach people how to cook with certain food products. For example, lentils, which the Food Bank receives large donations of.

Some local classrooms have used these ecotowers to grow their own produce in the classroom.

  1. They don’t just deal with food.

This is another way the Regina Food Bank is unique – every year it “repurposes” 290,000 pounds of non-food donations to 120 partner agencies, that then distribute it to people most in need.

The Regina Food Bank is able to do this for a number of reasons, Sandin says.

First, they have a massive building (35,000 square feet of warehouse, which was donated to them). Second, they have amazing network of business partners, transporters and volunteers, which allow them to get the donated products from their warehouse to the places in need.

“We have a great alignment of stars right now,” Sandin says. “Not all food banks have that luxury.”

Are you wondering what 290,000 pounds of donated products looks like? They have had everything from shampoo, to bikes, to wine glasses, to BBQs, to branded office uniforms (which they were able to unbrand and donate to Comso Industries!).

“I’ve literally seen it all,” Sandin laughs.


My photo-taking skills suck because this doesn’t even begin to do justice to the size of the “donated goods” warehouse. Or the variety of donated items.

  1. They welcome everyone to get involved!

While there are the traditional ways to get involved – make a financial or food donation – Sandin says all community engagement is welcome.

“Get involved, volunteer some time, come see what we’re doing now. There’s a lot of great unique initiatives we have going on in our building, our greenhouse, our mobile pantry, our commercial kitchen – a lot of ways for people to get involved.”

Learn more at







I’ve made a huge discovery about our grocery shopping habits (which can save you lots of money)

Since becoming a part-time stay-at-home mom, I have begun to enjoy some things I used to find extremely inconvenient.

Such as grocery shopping.

Previously I would get in and out of there as quickly as possible, throwing my usual items into the cart and silently cursing at people in my way.

But nowadays I lull my child to sleep in the shopping cart, then leisurely drink a coffee while lingering in aisles, comparing products and pricing.

Which brings me to the huge discovery I have made regarding grocery shopping that I’m going to share with you.

Not only is the international aisle at Superstore a super fun wonderland, it’s also where you can get many of the same products that are sold in other aisles, just for way cheaper!

I will save the speculation on why North American consumers are prone to pay more for products with a non-foreign label on them, or that are easy to find, and just get right down to this:

We are paying a SIGNIFICANT premium for products in the regular aisle compared to the international aisle, and not because of a difference in quality.

To demonstrate my point here are the specs on five items that I buy regularly. (In cases with multiple examples from the regular aisles, the premiums are calculated according to the highest priced product versus the one from the international aisle.)

Canned black beans
Premium: 157%

Regular aisle:

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.36.34 AM

International aisle:





All the products are canned and packed in Canada (and are likely grown here) and all these companies are Canadian (including ARZ). So you are supporting Canadian business and likely farmers no matter which of these brands you buy (but saving a lot of money when you buy the one that looks foreign). Hahaha #irony.

Premium: 63%

Regular aisle:

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.16.00 AM

International aisle:


Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.15.14 AM

Despite the fact that we grow flax right here in Saskatchewan, neither of these is labelled a product of Canada and likely come from the U.S. According to industry insiders, there may be slight variation in the oil content of different flax crops which could affect the quality of the product, but the difference would be too minor for the consumer to tell. I’ve tried both these products and cannot tell a difference.

International aisle for the win!

Premium: 578%

Regular aisle:

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.18.23 AMScreen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.18.38 AM

International aisle:

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.19.16 AM

This is one my absolute favourite because not only are you paying a HUGE premium for the regular aisle brands, I think the ARZ brand is the most delicious oregano I have ever tasted. It tastes like it just came from the garden (it actually comes from Lebanon). Since buying this brand I put oregano on pretty much everything!

Basmati rice
Premium: 36%

Regular aisle:

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.22.46 AM

International aisle:


OK to be fair on this one, I haven’t tried both brands. I just don’t need that much basmati rice. I doubt anyone needs 18kg of basmati rice – but maybe at a 36% premium you DO?

Canned green lentils
Premium: 157%

Regular aisle:

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.25.05 AM

International aisle:

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 9.25.17 AM

Same deal as with the beans, these lentils are both canned and packed in Canada, by Canadian companies (and are likely Canadian lentils) so you are buying local whichever one you buy — you’re just paying more for one!


Please note: these are just five random products I chose to illustrate my point. If you looked at dry beans and lentils, and probably many other products, I am sure the savings would be even greater.

AND I distinctly left one off because I want you to look at the comparison yourself and then experience the extreme high of International Aisle Savings. (Please note: this is reserved only for people who don’t get out much, like me haha.)

It’s quinoa!

Happy grocery shopping my friends and see you in the international aisle!





How Saskatchewan crops could help treat some of our biggest health problems

Flax food

Saskatchewan-grown crops are high quality and in demand all over the world.

But did you know they also might have the potential to help treat some of North America’s leading health problems such as heart disease, childhood obesity, infertility and more?

There is some incredibly interesting research going on right now within our province’s provincial agricultural sector. I’m lucky that I get to write about this type of research for my job but I don’t often do a good enough job of sharing this information with people who work outside the ag industry.

So here are some highlights of seven research projects funded by Saskatchewan agriculture organizations.

Can flaxseed replace your heart medication?

One researcher thinks so!

Dr. Grant Pierce of Manitoba’s St. Boniface Hospital has already completed a study that showed that eating flaxseed regularly can decrease your diastolic and systolic blood pressure more, or as effectively, as hypertensive medication can.

Isn’t that amazing!

Dr. Pierce is currently completing follow-up research that aims to determine if people can actually replace their heart medications with flaxseed and if yes, how much they would need to eat every day in order for it to be effective.

Learn more about Dr. Grant Pierce’s research.

Can flax play a role in treating/reversing multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis affects a disproportionately high number of people in our province, which is partially why one neuroscience researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Adil Nazarali, was interested in researching treatments for it.

Dr. Nazarli began a project to test whether a very controlled diet of flaxseed oil could help treat/reverse symptoms of multiple sclerosis. His hypothesis was that a diet with a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids could lead to better brain health. (Currently the average human diet in Western countries contains 10 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s.).

This research is ongoing and there is hopes it will ramp up in coming years.

Note: In very sad news, Dr. Nazarali passed away in April of last year. Read about his remarkable career here.

Can lentils treat infertility in women?

Infertility is a heartbreaking problem that is believed to affect up to 15% of Canadian couples. And in many cases, the cause is unknown.

But one researcher is exploring whether pulses could help treat this growing problem!

In 2011, University of Saskatchewan Nutrition Professor Dr. Gordon Zello started testing whether pulse consumption could help treat polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that affects women and can cause infertility. (It’s thought to affect about one in ten women.)

Dr. Zello tested this by measuring the effects of a pulse-based diet (including lentils, chickpeas and beans) on women affected by PCOS versus a regular healthy diet.

The research just wrapped up last year and the results showed that the pulse-based diet was more effective in improving the overall health of women with PCOS, which means that a diet containing regular amounts of lentils could help women fight infertility. Amazing!

Can peas help treat childhood obesity?

One researcher at the University of Florida, Dr. Wendy Dahl, was interested in exploring the role that pea hull fibre could play in treating childhood obesity, the rates of which have nearly tripled in the last three decades, according to the Canadian government.

Dr. Dahl’s study is examining how effective a tool pea hull fibre, which is a more effective laxative than other fibres on the market, can be in treating constipation and suppressing appetite in obese and overweight children.

This study will wrap up this spring and could lead to big breakthroughs in treating this growing problem.

Learn more about the research here.

Oats … in your coffee!

Want to feel a little better about what you’re putting in your coffee each morning? One University of Alberta researcher, Dr. Lingyun Chen, wants to help. She is currently working on developing a coffee creamer made with … wait for it … OATS.

The oat-based coffee additive will contain protein, beta-glucan and probiotics and will also be lactose-free.

Sound original? It is – this would be the first product of its kind on the market.

If everything goes according to plan you can expect to see this product on the market in coming years!

Can oats help increase quality of life for radiation patients?

Dr. Chen must really love oats because she is also exploring the role that they can play in helping to improve the quality of life for people undergoing radiation therapy. To do this, she is developing an oat-based drink specifically for cancer patients.

Why oats? Because they are high in beta-glucan and protein – both of which are recommended for cancer patients.

Why a liquid? Because a ready-to-drink formula is easier to consume for cancer patients who have difficulty swallowing foods.

This research is currently ongoing and is expected to wrap up next June.

Barley CAN help lower your cholesterol

Several studies have been done in the past testing the link between barley consumption and heart health.

These studies produced enough evidence to satisfy Health Canada that there is a positive relationship between the two, which is why it approved a health claim for barley in 2016.

Now in Canada, foods that contain at least one gram of beta-glucan from barley grain products per serving (which equals 35% of the recommended daily serving) can indicate on their labels that they are heart healthy.

Unfortunately that claim is not good for our favourite use of barley – the kind that comes on tap at your local pub.

Learn more about Health Canada’s claim


You can learn more about all the research being funded by local agriculture organizations by visiting their respective websites.