There’s no question that these are challenging times. But among the opportunities we have as we grapple with unprecedented disruption to our normal lives and routines is the chance to take a look at some of our most fundamental choices — how we eat, how we take care of ourselves and our communities, and which brands align with our values.
Here at Manitoba Harvest, we’ve long prided ourselves on our commitment to our deepest values: sustainability, transparency, and operating in a way that nurtures the well being of our customers, our growers, and the planet.
Today some of the most glaring problems with the global food supply chain and common industrial labor practices are coming to light in the course of the pandemic. We feel even more strongly about emphasizing and celebrating the values that have driven us since our founding more than 20 years ago.
Here are a few of the ways we’re committed to sustainably supporting the nutritional and economic well being of our communities, our customers, our growers, and our planet.
Hemp is a unique plant with particular needs. It’s not nearly as common as other popular crops such as canola and soy, and the skill set required to grow it is still fairly specialized. We employ a team of agronomists who are experts in growing hemp, and as they’ll tell you, it all starts with the quality of the seeds.
All hemp seed is non-GMO, which means nothing has been genetically modified in the seed that Manitoba Harvest’s farmer partners plant each spring. But there are complex breeding techniques that go into producing the perfect little hemp heart, and all our seeds are cultivated using four generations of “pedigreed status.”
We don’t cut any corners in supplying our farmers with hemp seeds that are as perfect as possible. Our agronomists work with our seed growers to ensure consistent quality and purity, including germination tests on all seeds.
Clarence Shwaluk, our Director of Farm Operations, grew up on a family farm on the Canadian prairie. He knows the importance of sustainable growing practices. “The farm I grew up on has been in the family for three generations, now almost four,” he says. “That’s typical of farms on the Canadian prairie — some have been in the family for 70 to 100 years since they were settled by the original founders and pioneers, and they’re still producing good, profitable, high-production crops. Farmers are the original sustainability experts. They’re not only thinking about this year’s crop but they’re looking years into the future.”
That’s why Manitoba Harvest starts helping our farmers well in advance of putting seed in the ground. “We start planning in the winter, looking at what was in that field the year before, and how that affects the hemp’s quality,” says Shwaluk. “Hemp is a fibrous plant, and it takes skill to know how to manage it, understanding its ideal planting dates, seeding rates, fertility levels, and how to manage weeds and plant competitors. We’re planning with our growers long term, with a goal of having a high-quality, high-yielding crop in the fall, up to ten months in the future.”
Supporting growers and their families
We work with nearly 100 farmers to grow the hemp for Manitoba Harvest products, including conventional, organic, and seed stock growers who provide our certified seed. Because there’s a learning curve involved in growing hemp, we offer hands-on coaching for our newer growers. That develops into long-term, nurturing relationships with our established farmers. We’ve been working with some of them for many years, including one grower who has been with us for 22 years, from the very beginning of Manitoba Harvest.
We also make sure our farmers are well-compensated and help them position themselves for a strong return on their investment in growing hemp. And we’re proud to know that our growers get a lot of satisfaction from partnering with us. “Farmers like trying something different and growing something they’re proud to share with their neighbors,” says Shwaluk. “Farmers come to us at farm shows and say, ‘I saw my hemp at Costco or the local grocery store!’ They’re proud of seeing the direct results of their work on the shelf in Manitoba Harvest products, unlike more anonymous products like wheat. There’s an extreme sense of pride there.”
At Manitoba Harvest, we take our commitment to environmental stewardship very seriously. We’re proud to have received our B-Corp certification in 2014, reflecting our pledge to consider the impact of our decisions on our workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.
Neither our conventional nor our organic growers use any chemicals or herbicides on their hemp. We promote proper crop rotations, which is key for sustainability. “If there are four or five crops growing on a farm, we make sure it’s a diverse mixture year after year, and the crops are rotating in the fields,” says Shwaluk. “If you get hemp off to a good start by providing for its needs with well-drained soil and good fertility management, you can grow it without any herbicides.”
We also encourage growers to return unused plant residue to the soil, which sequesters carbon and helps to build a healthy microbial soil environment. “There used to be no way to manage the big heavy stalk underneath the hemp plant, but we have equipment now that lets you shred the fibrous stalk so the soil microbes can break it down and sequester that carbon back in the soil and build nutrition for future years,” says Shwaluk.
All Manitoba Harvest company facilities are Carbon Neutral, a move inspired by the hemp plant itself. Hemp absorbs roughly 1.63 tons of CO2 per ton grown. And all greenhouse gases produced by Manitoba Harvest, including Canadian-based production, packing and management facilities, and our Minneapolis-based offices, are offset with high-quality wind power.
Consumers continue to weigh how they can best support their well being, their communities, the people who grow our food, and the soil they grow it in. We’re proud to offer wholesome products that nourish people and the planet. From seed to shelf, the level of care, attention to detail, and traceability we offer is unique.
As Shwaluk notes, “Farmers markets are incredibly popular now because people like being able to talk to the person that produced their food. At Manitoba Harvest, we bridge that gap and make that link for the consumer. The lot number on any package of hemp hearts can be traced to the farm that produced it, and we have a personal relationship with that grower. That’s the care and attention we put into our crop.”