The 65-kilometre drive from Winnipeg to Carman, Manitoba, is an easy one in spring, with beautiful agricultural land adorning both sides of highway #3 as far as the eye can see. When you arrive in quaint Carman, you feel instantly welcome, surrounded by beautiful little parks, and manicured lawns.
On Wednesday, June 5, MCC President & CEO and Director of Policy and Communications, travelled to Carman for a day of tours and talking local industry. Hosted by Jodi Winkler, Executive Director, and Kelly Dyck, President, Carman & Community Chamber of Commerce, MCC staff were treated to lunch by local legend Syl’s Drive-Inn and a meeting with 20+ community and business leaders to talk about attracting business and strengthening the community.
We heard about the Pembina Valley region’s water shortage, and that local businesses are concerned that the water supply from the river where the town pulls its water is not sustainable. “Our potable water supply is weak, and we have been under a boil water advisory as recently as this spring,” says Winkler. “With the significant growth of the potato farming industry — which is a water-dense growing process — we need more water than ever before, and in drought years, this is becoming a huge concern.”
Dyck says many local farmers have spent large sums of money to create reservoirs, into which they collect rainwater, pump from the river, and pump back again if they don’t need it.
“This process works very well but only the large farm operations can afford to do this,” says Dyck. “We need a water management solution for the entire region, because although some regions of Manitoba are affected by flood, some regions are the opposite.”
We toured Homestead Co-op, the result of a merger between the Portage la Prairie and Carman Co-ops, which also serves MacGregor, Austin, Oakville, Treherne, and La Salle. The organization runs multiple gas bars, food stores, retail rental spaces, and a successful home building store located in Carman that is competitive with city big box stores.
“All our building materials, like lumber and drywall, are price-matched to the city’s big chains, so there’s no reason not to purchase from us,” says Jason Rheault, Operations Manager. “And I know that’s accurate because I scan all the pricing myself every week.”
Our industry tour also included also a stop at Walinga, manufacturers and servicers of engineered transportation equipment for the grain, feed, and seed industry offering world wide sales and support. Walinga manufactures pneumatic conveying systems, and machines all its own components, so they know they’re high-quality, precise, and built to last. Started in 1954 by Cornelius Walinga and John Medemblik, the company originated in Fergus, Ontario, as handcrafters of wooden truck bodies for local businesses. Today, Walinga has multiple locations in Canada and the U.S., including Carman, MB, which opened in 2009.
We then ventured out on to dirt roads for our final stop to visit Vanderveen’s Greenhouse, once a small, family-owned local market garden. Today, although still family-owned, this massive operation grows for retail giants like Costco, Wal-Mart, Superstore, and is comprised of 20 acres — or one million square feet — of greenhouses, the majority of which are used for bedding plants. There are summer and fall crops of hanging baskets, assorted planters and mums, poinsettias for Christmas, and lilies and hydrangeas for Easter. A range of greenhouses contains the winter crops and utilizes an innovative biomass method of heating which burns flax shives in four massive furnaces which are retrofitted coal-burning units. The furnaces are fed up to four semi loads of flax shives per day in cold winter months to keep the greenhouses warm — reducing reliance on natural gas, and instead, burning a waste product.
During the year, Vanderveen’s employs approximately 15 full-time and up to 50 part-time employees including many workers recruited through the Government of Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.
“We began hiring from Mexico through this program in 2006 because we simply couldn’t find the number of staff we needed locally,” says Kenton Vanderveen, a grandson of the company founders and a specialist in the growing aspect of the business. “This program has been great for us and for the community, because the employees have been excellent, and many of them come back to us year after year. One worker brought his son with him this year to work with us, and we see some families choose to immigrate to this region.”
Winkler and Dyck both feel that as Chamber leaders they are representing the business community and industry, but also the region.
“We want to work together as a community, with elected officials from our Town and broader municipality, and members of the community. We want to build the businesses we have, and invest in Carman, while helping to address challenges we’re seeing in the larger region.”
Thank you to all the business leaders who took valuable time out of their day to meet with MCC, and to Carman & Community Chamber of Commerce for a wonderful experience in the Pembina Valley!