When you think of Saskatchewan agriculture, some of the first things that come to mind might be vast fields of wheat and canola, or cattle grazing on rolling pastures. As Canada’s breadbasket with the climate and topography to support this agriculture system, these images make sense for Saskatchewan agriculture.
Black Fox Farm and Distillery
John Coté and Barb Stefanyshyn-Coté of Black Fox Farm and Distillery started off with this same image of agriculture. The couple both had grain farm backgrounds and studied agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan, so grain farming was a natural fit for their farm in Leask, Saskatchewan. In 2001, the couple was recognized as Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers and in 2003, Barb was awarded the Nuffield Scholarship to travel and further explore her interest in agriculture. Upon being exposed to what other innovators in agriculture were doing across the globe, John and Barb knew there was more to their calling.
After a two-year stint in South America and another two settling back into Saskatchewan agriculture, Barb and John started looking at the future of their farm and realized there may be a different path for their family. Value-added agriculture caught their eye and in 2010 John and Barb sold their farm in Leask and bought 80 acres of land near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This small piece of land was quickly sown to cut flowers, their first non-conventional crop endeavour. Their new farm continued to grow with the addition of an orchard including haskap berries. In 2015, Black Fox Farm and Distillery was born.
Waste is composted to improve soil
Today, Black Fox Farm and Distillery is known for their award-winning gin and whisky, but also for their sustainability efforts and advocacy for Saskatchewan-based agri-food products. The distillery is one of two Type-1 distilleries in Saskatchewan—meaning that everything in the spirits is made of raw ingredients, at Black Fox they even grow their own. John is also proud that nearly every bit of waste and byproduct from the operation has its place. The Cotés compost all the waste produced by the distillery and bring in wood chips to ensure a proper compost material, which is then used to fertilize the flowers and fruit trees and helps with nutrient-deficient soils.
“It’s not organic—it’s just good farming practices,” states Coté, noting that “every farm will have unique solutions that fit their system.” Some distillers send the protein-rich distillers’ grains left over after production to livestock producers to use in feed rations; other distillers have agreements with grocers to take their ugly fruit to make alcohol. Black Fox is also home to a pumpkin patch which, if it falls victim to an early frost, will result in a plethora of pumpkins that they use in a seasonal brandy.
Looking to the land
Their name was inspired by a black fox—a creature seldom seen but impossible to ignore—that took up residence one summer at the couple’s original grain farm. A symbol of cunning and craft, the black fox has, today, become synonymous with quality, character, and innovation.
Not unlike Barb and John who began this adventure not knowing anything about distilling, but now produce a gin that was ranked first globally at the 2017 World Gin Awards and a whisky that ranks in the top 20 in the world. They have built a unique local business based on the terroir of the land and their passion for it.
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