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Saskatchewan sisters take culinary camelina oil and gourmet chickpea snacks to new markets

Three Farmers Chief Executive Officer Natasha Vandenhurk (left) and Chief Operating Officer Elysia Vandenhurk (right).

Two Saskatchewan sisters who fearlessly faced CBC’s Dragons’ Den are ready to take on the world. Elysia Vandenhurk and her sister, Natasha, pitched their food products on the CBC television show on two different occasions, both times winning investment offers that they subsequently would turn down.

Instead, the sisters chose to expand their Saskatoon company, Three Farmers, on their own. They began in business by distributing their culinary camelina oil to local shops and stores. The sisters now export it to customers in Singapore and Japan.

The sisters propelled their business forward with personal drive, a strong work ethic and a passion for what they do.

“Our job is not just a job. We don’t just come to work, put our hours in and leave,” says Elysia Vandenhurk, chief operating officer. “Growing up on a farm, that was always part of our DNA. You’re in it all the time.”

The sisters manage Three Farmers, named after the Vandenhurks’ father and two neighbours who harvest and press the seeds. When cooked, the golden camelina oil takes on a nutty flavour.

In 2011, Three Farmers began selling camelina oil in Canada, which proved to be a major market breakthrough for the product. After having camelina oil certified for human consumption by Health Canada, Three Farmers was the first company to bring the light, tasty oil to stores in Canada.

As a Red Seal Chef, Elysia Vandenhurk points out that cooking oil needs a high smoke point to get the perfect sear on steak without ruining the food. Camelina oil has that sought-after quality, a smoke point of 246 degrees Celsius (450 degrees Fahrenheit). Well above the recommended 204 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit) that is needed for proper high-heat frying. It also comes with the added health benefits of omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin E.

Elysia, who trained in Toronto under celebrity chef Susur Lee, works with the company’s dietician to create recipes featuring camelina oil, from Greek salad dressing to traditional Indian dal to roasted pepper mezze dip.

The self made entrepreneur sisters didn’t stop at camelina oil. In 2014, they launched a gourmet snack line that featured five flavours of dry roasted and seasoned chickpeas, green pea pops and crunchy lentils.

The Mexico and Australia markets are next on their list for their plant based protein snacks, which make up about 80% of their sales.

The sisters also wanted to bridge the gap between the farmer and the consumer. Growing up on a farm, they’ve always emphasized fresh products that go from farm to table with limited processing.

Three Farmers products come with a tracing code that allows consumers to follow their food’s journey. This includes how the chickpeas are seeded, seasoned, roasted, packaged and shipped across Canada and around the world. 

The sisters predict that trade agreements, such as the recent Asia Pacific region deal that Canada helped broker, could help “foodie” dreams come true around the world by opening market access for their tasty products.

“Anytime they can take away a barrier to entry, it plays into the manufacturer’s favour,” Elysia Vandenhurk says. “Canadian brands are very well respected.”

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