As we sit in a surprisingly modern coffee room upstairs in the big red barn, we are interrupted by two employees in crisp white uniforms. Then another two. Then more. The door keeps opening and closing as people file into the room, grabbing a seat at the long wooden table or choosing one of the comfortable-looking blue armchairs along the wall. It’s coffee time, explains matriarch Tinie Eilers, pouring some java into a petite mug decorated with cow spots. And is it fine if the dozen of us all take a break together?
“That’s the setup,”says Tinie. “We like to have coffee together with the yogurt producers and the dairy farm.” Aah, that explains the subtle smell of barnyard that entered the room with some of the workers.
You see, Bles-Wold is more than great tasting natural yogurt. It is a working farm with around 300 cows producing over 10,000 litres of milk daily. Tinie’s husband Hennie Bos brought his dairy farming knowledge when the family moved to central Alberta from northern Holland 20 years ago. And we can see he sails a smooth ship. The gigantic barn is clean. The cows have stockpiles of food. Vets come in for weekly inspections. There is even a head scratching machine for the big bovines. And best of all, the cows milk themselves.
I am not kidding.Sure, on one side of the spacious facility there is a three-times-daily milking routine that involves a worker or two hooking milking machines onto the cows.But on the other side, Hennie has two state-of-the-art machines (from Holland,of course) that clean, prime and milk the cows 24 hours a day. The cows wander over because they are attracted to a yummy feed mix that Hennie light-heartedly describes as cow candy. While a cow noshes on the “candy,” the machine gets to work milking it. Five or 10 minutes later when the milking is finished, that cow wanders off and a new one takes its place.
The milk then is sent straight to the pristine yogurt-making facility through an underground pipe on the farm. It is pasteurized, cultured, packaged and delivered to Sunterra’s shelves in just three days.
“We want to supply a high quality, fresh product,” Tinie tells us confidently, with her glasses pushed up on top of her short brown hair. Hennie adds that Bles-Wold’s vertical integration means full traceability on its cows and therefore its dairy products. “We know what we feed our cows,” he says. Which, by the way, is a total mixed ration approved by nutritionists and mostly grown right on the 450-acre farm near Lacombe, Alta.
Bles-Wold uses the quality of their fresh milk to make yogurt, sour cream, Greek yogurt and drinking yogurt with no preservatives, artificial flavours or colours. In fact, Tinie originally started making the yogurt as a natural and nutritious breakfast for her diabetic daughter.
It didn’t take long for the smooth yogurt to catch on with friends, neighbours and farmer’s market customers. Today Bles-Wold yogurt is sold at over 100 locations in Alberta including all Sunterra Markets – it’s also the secret ingredient in our delectable yogurt cups.
Hennie and Tinie have had great success on the farm, but Bles-Wold still feels like a family run, customer service-oriented business. Because it is. They work hard every day of the year, growing feed crops, raising and milking cows, producing yogurt and delivering last-minute orders. But they also know the value of getting the family together every day, chatting together over a nice cup of coffee.