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DeRuyck's Top of the Hill Farm (Treherne)

- by Kalynn Spain

It’s truly incredible how fast a small farm can grow, yet remain a small farm after all. The organic grains grown by the DeRuycks are enjoyed by eaters across Canada and even in parts of the States, yet the family maintains strong local connections with restaurants, stores and individuals throughout Manitoba by delivering their grains themselves on a monthly basis to three regions of the province. Most of their grains come from only two sections of land - one half section which they own, one half section which they rent - plus Dan’s parent’s section of land. They clean and process all of the grain themselves on-farm to create rolled oats, flours and ready-to-use seeds that they then package in 1-4, 15 and 25 kilogram bags for all sizes of customers. The DeRuycks also continue to inspire and support other organic producers in the province and connect with the small farming community for ideas and collaboration on their present and future plans. Dan and Fran DeRuyck of DeRuyck’s Top of the Hill Farm are now the leading farmers of the family business, although the roots of their direct-marketing success stem from the ground work of Gerry and Marie DeRuyck, Dan’s parents. In 2000, Gerry and Marie began approaching bakeries with wheat and flax they had grown on a 20-acre plot of organically-certified land and ground themselves at home. It wasn’t long before the owners of the bakeries were wanting more - Fran recalls the swift increase in demand: “They asked him ‘Can you do oats... what about spelt? Sunflowers?’ and he just kept saying ‘Sure! We can do that!’” she laughs. In 2006, Dan and Fran joined in the production with their first certified crop of spelt.

Dan and Fran met in Brandon while Dan was working as a mechanic next to the 7-Eleven that Fran was assistant managing. He was 21 and she was 23. “She started giving me outdated sandwiches,” Dan recalls. “She and the other girls who worked there were always making eyes at the construction workers... I didn’t know where I fit in when I came in with my coveralls.” Fran laughs as she remembers, too. “He would come in for coffee time, and then for dinner, and then for another coffee later.” They smile in unison. The couple was married two years later and in 1988 Gerry asked Dan if he wanted to come back and start farming with him. “I never thought I would marry a farmer,” Fran said, adding she grew up in Baldur as the seventh of eight kids and so finding a full-time job was appealing at the time. For the next several years, Dan and Fran managed a feeder pig barn and cow-calf operation on a rented property his grandparents had once owned, eventually buying a different half section of land to start grain farming. Dan joined the Pork Council in 1997 and stayed on until they closed the doors of their hog barn in 2004. In 1998, his dad and Dan began to re-evaluate conventional farming. “We were both struggling with disease problems, and the costs of inputs were only increasing - dad was the one to start looking for an alternative.”

 Fran rolls oats 

After a successful harvest of organic spelt in 2006, following their two years of transition, Dan and Fran planted sunflowers in the spring of 2007 on the 40 acres they had organically-certified. The spelt came up as a volunteer crop, sprouting around the sunflowers as a weed - “and that’s when I learned not to follow spelt with sunflowers,” Dan laughs. The couple notes that organic farming, like most alternative types, has a very steep learning curve, although finding alternatives like green manures and inter-cropping seed mixes are working well so far. “As an organic farm we don’t necessarily have a system because there just isn’t one, not for the market and especially not for production. It takes about ten years to get your land back into shape after you’ve been conventional farming.” In 2009, the couple took over the processing of the grain, which includes making flour (rye, buckwheat, wheat, spelt), crushing oats (both rolled and steel-cut) and de-hulling the seeds (all of which are done on-farm except the spelt and oats). The family also sells sunflowers for both oil-pressing and as a de-hulled seed, the former of which usually grown by Gerry and Marie and latter of which is done only by Fran and Dan. Both couples agree there is a lack of organically-certified processors in Manitoba, something which Dan is hoping to change in the future by investing in an organic plant that will offer cleaning and de-hulling for producers like themselves. To learn a bit more about the DeRuycks or to buy their grains, view their Harvest Moon