A certain irony exists in the fact that quinoa — a relatively new crop to modern farmers and today’s consumers — is both a cousin to one of Canada’s most notorious weeds (lamb’s quarters), and a food plant that’s been around in a primitive form for hundreds of years in South America.
But Quinta Quinoa, the branded product that will appear on Canadian supermarket shelves and in farmers’ fields this spring, is anything but a nuisance or a relic. Rather, it’s a research-based, highly nutritional crop that’s been shown over five years of lab and field trials to be a viable cropping option, at least in Ontario.
And company owner Jamie Draves of Georgetown, ON, believes it’s poised to make a big splash, thanks to the product receiving some significant federal health claims. Indeed, Quinta Quinoa has been approved as high in protein, fibre and zinc, an excellent source of iron and magnesium, and a good source of calcium.
The nutritional analyses were conducted in partnership with the University of Guelph, A&L Canada Labs, and Guelph Food Technology Centre.
Quinta Quinoa has also received the kind of national profile that makes entrepreneurs salivate.
Last year, the affable and unassuming Draves appeared on Dragon’s Den, and walked away with a $200,000 investment from West Coast restaurant magnate Vikram Vij. That sum helped advance the company’s Georgetown production facility and prepare for commercial production.
Now that he has a retail deal and a production facility in place, Draves is looking to scale up and expand his network.
For example, he spent the weekend and the first part of this week participating in the 2016 Restaurant Canada Show in Toronto, targeting chefs and restaurant owners interested in sourcing local quinoa.
But to meet demand, he expects he’ll need more growers. So, he’s looking to grow not only the crop’s profile but its acreage too, in Ontario and across Canada.
The Quinta Quinoa coming available now was harvested in the fall, on about 50 acres of farmland in Ontario. Draves wants to connect with more Ontario growers, as well as prairie farmers who are looking for a niche crop to grow on 10-100 acres.
He’s cast his line into western Canada, and says he’s enthused about the initial interest he’s received.
“We’ve talked to some extremely motivated growers in western Canada,” he says. “It’s happened faster than we expected.”
Management-wise, farmers who work with him to grow Quinta Quinoa seed won’t have to start from scratch. Draves teamed up with Value Chain Management International on a two-and-a-half year project to hone in on production parameters, such as soil type, seeding method, seeding rate, precipitation, crop management practices and harvesting method.
Basically, they found quinoa can grow in a variety of soils; Draves has seen it succeed in sandy loam or clay. He says the key is a high amount of organic matter, and average- to good drainage. As for precipitation, it requires a minimum of 250mm of rain.
One of the challenges is weed management. Quinoa is a broadleaf plant without any approved weed control products. But, says Draves, in a well-prepared field where the crop can establish itself early, weeds are less of an issue.
Business-wise, Draves’ goal now is to grow the business into a medium-size operation. He currently has five full-time employees.
In the field, he’s developed a modest-size farmer network to get the crop on the ground. Now, he’s looking for more.
“Our approach is shared risk,” he says. “We’re very involved in helping farmers grow the crop, and we’re providing our seed to do that. We love to talk to people, and we hope famers will give us a call.”