|Back to Home||Feature Article - June 14, 2012|
Limestone Creamery – 45 years in the makingby Jeff Green
Photo: Olivia & Kathy Groenewegen.
Farmers are, by necessity, a patient lot. There are so many factors - the health and temperament of the animals, the amount of rain, the price of grain and electricity, changes in markets, etc. that are out of their control. Anyone who can survive the long hours and uncertain pay of farming has got to develop a pretty good ability to wait for things to happen.
However, I could sense a hint of frustration from Kathy Groenewegen as she explained late last month how the small milk processing plant and dairy store her family has been dreaming about for so long are almost ready. A few niggling details remain, including one piece of equipment that seems to be taking forever to arrive.
“My husband Francis says they must be sending it from China, on a slow boat, but all I know is it isn’t here yet, although we did order it over a year ago.”
The Groenewegens, Kathy and Francis and their children Patrick and Olivia, are very close to opening a dairy that goes well beyond the 100 mile food cycle concept.
They will be selling pasteurized milk, cream, butter and yoghurt within sight of the pasture land where their 32 Jersey and Holstein milk cows and the rest of the herd spend much of their time.
In 1967, Kathy’s parent’s Gerry and Lilliane Groome bought the farm, which is located in Storrington District of South Frontenac not far north of Elginburg on Sydenham Road. Gerry and Lilliane grew up in downtown Montreal and although Gerry had a good job with Bell, he wanted to farm. So after he took a number of agricultural courses at McDonald College, the entire family headed off to South Frontenac, to a piece of Class A farmland within a short distance of the city of Kingston.
In 1989 Kathy and her then new husband Francis Groenewegen, who came from a dairy farming family from Harrowsmith, took over the farm.
The path that led the Groenewegens to opening Limestone Creamery really started to gather steam in 1998, when they made the decision to transition the farm to a certified organic operation. That took four years but since then the milk has been pooled with milk from about 100 other organic milk farms in the province and sold under the Organic Meadow label.
Their efforts at organic farming have enabled them to feed their cattle without having to bring anything in from off the property. They produce all they need to fertilise the pasture and hay fields on site, and while the cattle are 90% grass fed, all the grain they require is grown on the farm as well.
The next step began to take shape a couple of years ago. With assistance from the Ontario Ministry of Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Frontenac CFDC, National Farmers Union Local 316 and other partners, Limestone Creamery became one of a small number of pilot projects under the OMAFRA "Project Origin" label.
Of the five pilots, Limestone Creamery is one of only two that will be selling locally produced milk on site. The other three are cheese making operations.
Last October construction began on the building that holds not only the shop, but also a shiny new state of the art small scale milk processing plant, complete with a pasteurisation and homogenisation unit, cleaning and testing capabilities, a stainless steel electric butter churn, loading dock, storage tanks and more. A water recycling system has been built in to minimise both water needs and runoff from the operation.
Crews have been working for months getting all the equipment in place, while the animals in the field across the fence have carried on their daily pattern, unconcerned with the jumble of activity that has taken place.
“We wouldn’t have been able to try this if we weren’t located so close to Kingston,” said Kathie, "but there are lots of people who commute to work every day on this road, so we think we will have a good demand for our products.”
The Groenewegens' son Patrick has taken courses in pasteurisation and cream grading and he will manage the plant, while daughter Olivia, a recent agriculture graduate from Guelph, will manage the store. Francis and Kathy will continue to run the farm and oversee the entire operation, as they have for 23 years.
In addition to their own milk, which will be sold for $2.99 a litre, the creamery will have a number of locally sourced, organic products available, including Slickers Ice Cream from Prince Edward County, honey and maple syrup, their own beef and pork, and more.
Milk will also be available for delivery locally and across Kingston, and in Sydenham at Trousdale’s Foodland and Desert Lake Gardens, Local Family Farms in Verona and Kudrinkos in Westport, and at locations in the City of Kingston.
"There are so many benefits to selling directly: to preserve the family farm, to preserve farmland, to rebuild the local food system and contribute to food security,” said Kathie Groenewegen. “We are just itching to open the doors and welcome people in to our creamery.”
Sometime soon, hopefully by the end of this month, Limestone Creamery will be able to open its doors and it’s a safe bet that Frontenac County and Kingston residents alike will beat a path to it
It is destined to be another major piece in the ongoing establishment of local food initiatives that are becoming a major force in the region.