Growing up in small town Alberta, I love getting out of the city to meet our producers. And the short trip from Calgary to High River is a perfect escape. A quiet section of highway stretches past farms and fields and the sunlight bounces off the mountains jutting spectacularly out to the west. I’m in my happy place. And it only gets better when I arrive at Highwood Crossing Foods. They’ve brought the farm to the office, with patches of wheat growing outside the brick-faced building and corrugated metal desks, an antique hutch and oversized butcher block table inside. The whole place smells like Grandma’s kitchen, thanks to the granola baked fresh each week.
I grab a stool at the bar height table beside a basket full of muffin and pancake mixes as Highwood Crossing cofounder Tony Marshall tells me about the company’s farming roots. He is the fourth generation on the family farm, his children the fifth generation.
"It's very much a family operation," says Tony. He and Penny, his wife and Highwood Crossing cofounder, began sustainable organic farming methods in the late 1980s that were similar to farm practices from his great-grandfather nearly 100 years earlier: no chemicals, crop rotations to help control weeds and pests, a small carbon footprint. Although they began simply selling those raw organic crops, Tony had a bit of a history as an entrepreneur and in 1996 bought an oil press to produce flax oil and canola oil.
The oil was pressed right on the farm the crops were grown using a cold press technique that keeps the oil temperature under 40 degrees, preserving vitamins and minerals found in the whole seeds. “It was quite unique at the time,” says Tony. “Obviously there was flax oil and canola oil on the market, but there was no vertical integration.” The Marshalls’ freshly pressed organic oils were a hit at the farmers’ market and soon they were looking for retail outlets and developing more products. Penny created recipes for their now-famous granola and power grain cereal and they began packaging whole flax seeds. They even started selling the meal created as a by-product from the oil press to farmers, whose cows love it so much they chase the truck down the road on delivery day, says Tony.
Today Highwood Crossing Foods produces granola and muesli, cereal, flour and baking mixes, flax seeds and oils. Tony credits the company’s success to its farm direct and fresh approach. “We start up the press every week,” he says. The oil is in the seed on Monday then pressed, bottled and in the store by Thursday. “It’s as fresh as you can get.”