Ontario farm meeting rising demand for locally grown edamame

Jacob holding a bag of frozen edamameDemand for edamame, a type of soybean popular in Asia as a snack and vegetable dish, is growing in North America.

Most edamame sold here, however, is imported – something that a local Ontario farm family is working hard to change.

MacKellar Farms, near the southwestern Ontario town of Alvinston, is Canada’s only commercial supplier of edamame using a locally grown crop. Edamame, although a soybean, is considered a vegetable crop and is harvested in the pod when its sugars are at their peak. And it’s high in iron, protein, fibre and all of the essential amino acids, making it a very healthy meal choice.

“A lot of people don’t recognize that the edamame they are eating here is really imported from China or Taiwan, but we have true, locally grown edamame,” explains Jacob MacKellar, who has been spearheading the development of the edamame business on his family’s fourth generation cash crop farm. “We grow soybean varieties specialized for edamame with the extra-large pod and bean and that have unique edamame taste.”

MacKellar Farms edamame is now sold as a frozen product under its own brand in Ontario health food stores, as well as in select stores coast to coast. Both shelled and full pod frozen edamame is available in 400 gram re-sealable pouches.

The farm has been increasing its acreage annually, and is looking to continue with that expansion in coming years.

“There is definitely a big demand for locally grown product and for us, it’s a matter of expanding fast enough to keep up to that demand, but also keeping price and quality on par with imports,” says MacKellar, adding they are mainly focused on the Canadian retail market, but also sell bulk edamame to Canadian and U.S repackers who are seeking a North American product.

Jacob in a field of his edamameMacKellar completed several years of trials on his farm to identify the varieties best suited for the Canadian climate and market. Customers want uniformity, he says, so finding varieties that were similar in appearance, yield and taste was key.

Cleaning, grading and freezing edamame to meet customer specifications is also important. In China, this is done manually but that’s not an option in Canada – to be successful in the market, the locally grown product has to be price competitive with imports.

New technology and a partnership with a local processing plant in Norfolk County has allowed MacKellar Farms to bring a uniform, high quality product to market without hand-sorting.

MacKellar says their crop is grown with as few crop protection materials as possible and they follow sustainable farming practices that are environmentally friendly, promote water conservation and enhance the vitality of the soil. Their dedication to these principles helped them win a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2011.

“Up until now, edamame was a crop that was not available on a large scale from local production in Ontario,” says MacKellar. “We’re a local Ontario family farm that is providing an option for people who want to buy locally grown food, and we hope to continue to expand and grow our business.”

Read more about MacKellar Farms edamame, including recipes and where to buy the product, at www.mackellarfarms.ca.

Note: This article was originally written as one in a series of profiles on Ontario farmers produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario.

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