In Ormstown Quebec, Steve and Loraine Lalonde are pioneers in the field of organic popcorn. Their popcorn White Lightning has three necessary ingredients that constitute great popcorn – fantastic taste, a high popability rate, and it melts in your mouth.
Steve knew they had a great product when they bought commercial popcorn and did their own taste test. “White Lightning’s creamy, nutty-texture sets it apart. And our Tullochgorum Blues is a unique, blue-kernelled corn that really catches people’s eyes. It’s blue when you put it in the pot, then it pops up white.”
The Lalonde’s motivation to take on the organic challenge was partially to reduce input costs, but they also wanted to move to a more natural way of doing things. “Our transition to organic started in 1997. I never enjoyed working with chemicals and when I looked at what we were spending on inputs–fertilizers and chemicals–compared to revenues, I realized we were spending as much as we were making.
“I think being organic has allowed us to gain a better understanding of how soil works,” says Steve. “And we are not so afraid of a failure now because we are receiving a premium dollar for what we grow. We have more of a buffer. It’s funny, even some of the conventional farmers are looking at us now and realizing that it works. The organic industry is growing 20 percent a year and in terms of agriculture, there’s huge potential out there.”
“Along with popcorn, we grow soya beans, winter rye, grain corn and barley. We also run a poultry operation with 28,000 birds, and we use the excess chicken manure mixed with straw as compost here on the farm. It’s part of the PAF, Planned Agro Fertilization, plan. We use one third of the manure we produce and we give the rest away to local farmers. They’ll use it as fertilizer on their fields.
“I learned my work ethic from my dad. He taught me how to go that extra mile. As a kid I worked along side of him and put in a lot of long hours. And when I grew up, he just expected me to stay on. He was the kind of guy who never took a holiday and just loved being on the farm. But I farm differently from the way he did. In his day, getting ahead meant expanding and buying more land. In our community, an acre can cost up to $5,000, so we’ve learned other ways to grow and to minimize expenses.
“As farmers, we are up against a lot. I don’t think city people really understand the business of what we do. They see the land holdings and lots of equipment, but they don’t realize that the land is a tool of our trade. Land doesn’t provide a direct income. Farmers are on the job 24/7, and if the weather turns against us, we are hit right in the pay cheque!”
Although the day-to-day operation is left to Steve, Loraine is a full partner and decision-maker in the business. She is an artist who specializes in murals and is the mastermind of the creative for the Tullochgorum branding.
When asked about the evolution of working together as a couple, Loraine has the definitive answer, and it is one that every farm family in North America can relate to. “You have to understand that when you marry a farmer, you marry the farm!”
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