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Black Fox Farm and Distillery Sees Success and Sustainability by Going Against the Grain

By Karly Rumpel AAg, Public Trust Specialist, Tisdale

When you think 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.

John and Barb Coté of Black Fox Farm and Distillery started off with this same image of agriculture. The couple both had backgrounds on grain farms and studied agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan, so grain crops were the natural fit. In 2001, the couple was recognized as Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers and in 2003, Barb was awarded the Nuffield scholarship. 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 this may not be the path for their family. Value-added agriculture caught their eye and in 2010 John and Barb sold their farm in Leask, Sask. and bought 80 acres of land near Saskatoon. This small piece of land went towards cut flowers, their first non-conventional crop endeavour. In 2015, Black Fox Farm and Distillery was born.

Black Fox Distillery produced Canadian Whisky sitting in grain
Black Fox Distillery produced Canadian Whisky sitting in grain

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 grown on-site. John explains that nearly every bit of waste on 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. “Every farm will have unique solutions that fit their system.”

Some distillers send the protein-rich distillers’ grains 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.

Barb and John started out not knowing anything about distilling, but now produce a gin that was ranked No. 1 globally at the 2017 World Gin awards and a whisky that ranks in the top 20 in the world. By processing and producing in Saskatchewan, food loss can be reduced and the waste used at a local level. There are many such opportunities for value-added business in the province.

The Government of Saskatchewan Growth Plan aims to increase agriculture value-added revenue to $10 billion, and it is with early adopters and innovators like the Cotés that this target will be achieved.

If you are interested in learning more about Black Fox Farm and Distillery, visit their website. For more information about opportunities for value-added agriculture in Saskatchewan, call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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