Large B.C. farm group buying land on Island

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Expositor is exploring changes in farming practices on Manitoulin in a series called Buying the Farm. Many Island farms are being sold

 

to buyers, who wish to either relocate here or farm them from a distance. The Expositor series examines a variety of these new agricultural practices. This is the fifth part of a series.

by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOULIN—This Island has been abuzz lately with talk of the British Columbia-based Blue Goose Cattle Company and its doings on Manitoulin. The Expositor recently caught up with Blue Goose chief operating officer David Fraser on a recent trip to Manitoulin to chat about the company’s practices and its long-term plans for farming on the largest freshwater island in the world.

“Blue Goose is a company committed to producing a clean protein,” Mr. Fraser explained. “We started in BC and now have over one million acres.” Manitoulin is Blue Goose’s first venture into Ontario, with 1,100 acres purchased so far and almost 200 head of cattle on the grass. Most of these are the popular black angus breed.

“We purchase these farms and put cattle on them,” Mr. Fraser continued. “They are natural—no hormones, steroids or fertilizers—and certified organic—nothing but what God put on this earth. It’s a vertically integrated system; our own cow-calf, finishing, abattoir and distribution systems.”

“We also practice the (Global Animal Partnership) six-step animal husbandry program,” Mr. Fraser added. These five steps are: no crates, no cages no crowding; enriched environment; enhanced outdoor access; pasture centered; bred for outdoors; and bred for an entire life on the same farm. It is exactly these reasons that have caused Blue Goose to attract such high profile customers as Whole Foods on the west coast.

“Manitoulin has a long history of cattle production and we want to revitalize that,” he explained. “We love the Island and want to invest in it and its people. We’re always looking for good property throughout the Island.”

Mr. Fraser said that once land is purchased, a study is undertaken to find out what needs to be done (repairs, environmental issues) before cattle are pastured.

“The people, the geography, good farmland and water—you can’t have good farmland without good water,” he said of reasons why Blue Goose chose Manitoulin for its foray into Ontario.

Mr. Fraser said Blue Goose is so passionate about what it does, it is currently in its second round of corporate funding from the Dundee Corporation, a majority stakeholder in the company, which has enabled it to expand not only its land purchases, but branch into the world of aquaculture as well.

The chief operating officer also announced its purchase of Meeker’s Aquaculture and Meekers’ Magic Mix in Evansville. Former proprietor Mike Meeker will stay on as manager. “We have the leading expert in aquaculture and he’s leading our fish production,” he said. “He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting—Mike is key—he’s an industry leader.”

With this added funding, Blue Goose hopes to take the aquaculture side of its business to a new level.

“When we came here looking for ranches, we had heard about Mike and wanted to meet him,” Mr. Fraser explained. “Philosophically, we’re both on the same sheet of music.”

“We are passionate about what we’re doing,” Mr. Fraser, a retired army general, explained. “We have great passion and respect for the animals and for the environment. This Island is superb and we believe in its people and investing in Manitoulin as a whole.”

He noted that Blue Goose’s Manitoulin venture probably would not have become a reality if it weren’t for the Manitoulin Island Community Abattoir in Provi

dence Bay. “It’s a major factor in why we moved here,” he said. “Having an abattoir is so much better for animal husbandry.”

Four employees have been hired so far, including Gore Bay farmer Jim Martin as Blue Goose’s Manitoulin cow boss.

“We’re going to continue to buy as much property as we can (throughout the Island) to maximize cattle production on Manitoulin,” Mr. Fraser said. “This is such a great place, and I don’t just mean for fishing and hunting and cottaging. This is about being good neighbours and we’re here for the long term.”