Demand grows for local food

June 2016

The Squash Queen, Slate River Dairy and veg-e-tate Market Garden are just three of the many local producers that offer a cornucopia of delights.

The Squash Queen
Dan and Shannon Vanlenthe both came from a farming background, and now own and operate the Squash Queen in South Gilles. Now until the end of June, the farm is open regular retail hours and is a full on greenhouse offering bedding out plants, tomato plants, perennials, and hanging baskets. See them at the Thunder Bay Country Market as well.

Along with the wide variety of vegetables and flowers, the Squash Queen also raises pigs out in their pasture. How about ordering a side, a whole pig for a
barbeque roast or some delicious hotdogs?

They also raise chickens and sell the fresh eggs at the farm gate. It’s a cheerful and fun place to visit! It’s located on highway #595, just left off of #608.

There is a growing demand for local food, and it is clear that the Squash Queen is addressing that need. However running a farm and all it entails is hard work, and as Shannon pointed out, “You have to love it because there is never a dull moment no matter what the season.” Her love and passion for it all
was apparent as we toured around her farm.

Shannon described the Thunder Bay Country Market as a “wonderfully social place and a great environment for our local producers.” In the happy bustle of the Market, it is clear that there is a real and growing desire for locally grown/raised/produced food.

A tip from Shannon for home gardeners is to always try to get a head start, and that is certainly what she was doing the day we chatted, in spite of the fact that it was snowing! The hard work is worth it, and as Shannon said, “If you’ve never grown anything of your own, try it this year. Gardening is so satisfying and is now one of the top pastimes in North America.”

Visit the Squash Queen at the Country Market, or contact them at

Slate River Dairy
The dairy is located on highway #608, the first driveway off of Hwy. 61, is the next local producer on the tour. Jim and Wilma Mol, the owners and operators of the Slate River Dairy, both come from backgrounds in agricultural education in the Netherlands and in Wisconsin. They wanted to provide Thunder Bay and area with quality dairy products. Jim Mol summed up their goal by stating, “We are going to put milk back into dairy products.”

They offer a bountiful list of products from whole milk to yogurt. They are always expanding and are now working on new products such as 2%, butter and buttermilk. At their Grand Opening in May, they introduced kefir.

Slate River Dairy products are available at their beautiful and immaculate store, at the Country Market, George’s Market, Vitality Natural Food Market and at the Cheese Encounter.

Wilma’s comment on the glass, returnable bottles they use was, “It tastes better in glass.” Taste and safety are huge issues with dairy products. Also recycling the bottles demonstrates care and concern for the earth. Please take the time to wash the bottles in warm, soapy water before returning them. This keeps germs and unwanted bacteria from entering the dairy’s clean facility where the bottles are sterilized.

Wilma is very aware that people want to know what is in their food and where it comes from. There is more interest and concern about food these days, and Wilma stated that, “Our products come with a story of where your food comes from.”

Providing a premium product and seeing the smiles on people’s faces makes running the farm and dairy a very satisfying way of life. “It is so natural, so perfect! We aim for the least amount of process and ingredients.”

There was agreement among all three of the producers that I spoke with that The Country Market is a great venue for new vendors. Wilma stated that, “If anything, I wish it was bigger!” Visit the Market regularly and support your local producers.

If you visit the farm and store, you will find a pristine environment. It is no surprise that Slate River Dairy was awarded the “Premier’s Award – Agri- Food Innovation Excellence” last year.

At their May Open House they showcased lots of specialists, Thunder Bay Feeds and Dr. Dan (vet). The whole process is “supporting lots of people – the ripples go out.”

Contact Wilma and Jim Mol at Slate River Dairy by visiting them at their store or at the Country Market or visit their website at

veg-e-tate Market Garden

This is the sixth year for veg-e-tate Market Garden which is owned and operated by Justin Friedel and Caitlin Peuramaki-Brown. They are both passionate about gardening using passive solar greenhouses. They slowly explored their options and eventually left their full time jobs in town and are now fully engaged with their market garden business, veg-e-tate.

Justin described the steep learning curve they experienced both physically and financially. The fact that producing is exhausting yet exhilarating was a recurring theme throughout all three of these interviews. It is amazing passion that keeps these local producers going, and Thunder Bay and area happily reap the benefits.
veg-e-tate offers pea shoots, wheat grass, spring micro greens, micro salad with pea shoots, sunflower and buckwheat shoots and radish microgreens. These products are offered all year long. In the summer, baby salad greens and other veggies are added to the offerings.

Justin absolutely agrees that there is a demand for locally grown/raised foods. Through local conversations especially with his customers, he says he has come to understand the demand and that it is not being fully met as of yet. “There is lots of room for diversification—lots of room for expansion.”

The farming life is satisfying...another recurring comment. After the first three years, veg-e-tate became viable for Justin and Caitlin. “It is always a challenge to balance the farming work with a personal life,” noted Justin. “But the hands on aspect of farming is gratifying and gives a feeling of pride in the kind of work being done.”

Justin loves the Country Market! He commented on how wonderful it was to see all the familiar faces and have amazing conversations with his customers which has helped him tap into some great ideas, suggestions and explanations. “ Opportunities come up through local conversations and you’re able to see your own direction.” And to have “all of these businesses working together under one roof produces a positive, proactive force.”

Justin and Caitlin can be contacted at or visit them at the Market.

Talking with these local producers was exhilarating! They all had passion, positive energy and a driving desire to provide good food for Thunder Bay.

Karen Christie is a retired high school teacher and a regular contributor to Bayview. She can be reached at

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