Flour mill frustrations: local businesswoman wants more support to start industry

A local entrepreneur says she has the plan and the customers to mill fresh flour in the province, but there's a missing ingredient — help from the provincial government.

Kate Herzberg, co-owner of Burntwoods Bakery and the Newfoundland Flour Company, moved back to Newfoundland five years ago with her partner Gary Bennington, with the hopes of opening an artisan bakery in Lower Island Cove, about 45 kilometres north of Carbonear.

A formally-trained French baker, Herzberg wanted the freshest ingredients she could get her hands on — including fresh flour — but she quickly learned that would be hard to do on the island.

So her business plan soon expanded to include a flour mill. She would grow the grain for herself and for others interested in locally-produced flour.

"We would have an end-to-end, closed loop in the economic cycle that would involve the growers, the millers and retail sales, as well as wholesale and commercial sales," said Herzberg.

No commitment from province

The idea has the support of many local businesses, including hotels, breweries and even financial backing through Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency (ACOA). But Herzberg feels she's not getting the same interest from the provincial government.

Despite promises of support, she is frustrated that she might have to wait another growing season to make her dream a reality.

Melissa Tobin/CBC

In 2016, the Liberal government introduced The Way Forward. It set goals to grow and diversify the provincial economy.

Herzberg said a mill would provide jobs, and as demand for the product expands, so would the potential for the financial growth of the business for herself and farmers. 

If the mill equipment is not ordered by the end of November, the gear won't arrive in time to process the grain.

Herzberg applied for funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership Program, CAP-NL, a federal and provincial program which supports agricultural businesses. The program began in 2018 with the commitment to provide $37 million over five years to Newfoundland and Labrador projects alone.

But Herzberg was told that funding for this year is capped. It may be available next year, but there are no guarantees.

In a government statement from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation and Fisheries and Land Resources, they say while they encourage the work of Herzberg and Bennington, the business plan for a bakery and flour mill didn't meet the requirements for CAP-NL funding.

submitted/Kate Herzberg

"Only a very small fraction of the $300,000 total funding the proponent requested for an artisan bakery under the CAP program qualified for financial support. This was the grain mill portion," the statement read. 

Herzberg also applied for funds through the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation but said the terms she was offered were worse than she could get from her bank. She also said her pleas to government didn't seem to go far.

Healthier, cheaper flour

For Herzberg, the benefits for local fresh flour are immeasurable. It would help with the province's issues for food sustainability and it would be even cheaper than the alternatives. She says to buy a 20 kilogram bag of high quality flour, she pays over 30 dollars a bag. But has priced her flour at about half that cost. 

It would also be healthier flour than you can buy on shelves in Newfoundland and Labrador at the moment.

Vanessa Kavanagh is a scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources.

She's been looking at the benefits of wheat for a few years, with great success with canola and barley.

Kavanagh says locally-grown grain would contain wheat germ, which is typically removed from the flour imported due to it's short shelf life, and therefore have more nutrients than what can currently be bought.

She sees a big potential for wheat in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Working together

Kavanagh helped Herzberg connect with farmer Melvin Rideout.

Rideout has been growing wheat for six years on his fields in Cormack, with the end product going to animal feed.

submitted/Kate Herzberg

He's invested significantly in wheat production, including building a coverall bunk storage and buying expensive equipment like grain drills and a combine.

Rideout was looking to expand his fields and was happy to work with Herzberg.

"Right now I have four tonnes of grain that is dried off and ready to be milled once we get a mill set up," he said. 

With the first yield of grain harvested, Herzberg and her partner are milling it now in small quantities with a select few customers testing the grain. Herzberg said she hopes to hear something positive soon. 

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