McCain Beaver Creek Farms House

Potato Farming For McCain Is A Family Affair

I took a short trip to MacGregor, Manitoba last month with McCain Foods to meet with potato grower, Stan Weibe from Beaver Creek Farms. Stan was kind enough to take some time to answer our questions and also showed us around the farm so we could see how the potato farming process works. I definitely wasn’t prepared for the amount of knowledge I was about to take in but I’ve done my best to summarize the trip for you because this farm has a great story.

The first thing that jumped out at me from listening to Stan speak was the importance of family and the role it played on the farm. Stan has been working full time at Beaver Creek, previously owned by his father, since the summer of 1975 when he joined the family business after high school. His father got their first potato contract in 1968 and they have been McCain growers since 1978, so when I talk about family, I’m not just talking about blood relatives. Stan mentioned that he didn’t take to farming at first but feels blessed that he stuck with it because there’s a special feeling knowing that he gets to feed families around the world.

Stan’s passion for potatoes was topped only by the way he spoke of his family. He starts his day early but still finds time to go home for coffee with his wife in the morning and again for lunch and dinner. He told us of her musical talents, passion for life, their ongoing battle of crib, and their deep love of both of their children.

McCain Beaver Creek Farms Ltd

The family story didn’t end there, however, as it became clear that Stan regards all his farm’s employees as extended members of his family. He mentioned that they have never had to post a job because most people stay once they’ve started working at Beaver Creek, with most employees having been there 10-15 years. On top of that, Stan runs the farm with his brother, Don, who has 4 kids, one of which works on the farm.

As you can see, the potatoes are secondary to the real story, which is that it takes a strong family environment to make a business as large as a farm successful. That said, we did talk a lot about potatoes and it was fascinating learning how McCain potatoes go from farm to fork. Seeing as I could write another 3,000 words discussing what I learned, I’m going to give you some quick hits of my favourite parts of the tour. Ready?

McCain Potato Farm Canadian Dad

Technology on the Farm

By far, the most interesting part of the farm tour, for me, was listening to Stan describe the importance of technology in the running of the farm. They bought into technology early on, buying their first computer in 1989. Today, every single tractor, combine and sprayer is guided by satellite and GPS coordinates, which means hands off the steering wheel for the drivers, leaving them to focus on making sure the job is done right.

When I remarked how cool this was, Stan mentioned how it was way beyond the cool factor because of the economic value technology brings to the farm. The fertilizer and seed are now planted so efficiently that it’s no longer required to double-up to ensure they achieve strong amounts of growth. He can also log into the mainframe from his smartphone to check and adjust the temperature, humidity and other factors in all of the potato storages.

I still say it was extremely cool and sitting inside one of the tractors was like being on the deck of the USS Enterprise with all the screens and gadgets.

Potato & Seed Storages

The technology side of farming was cool, but seeing the inside of the potato storages was absolutely mesmerizing. We had heard of the wall-to-wall potato storage facilities on our immersion trip in Toronto but to actually see it was incredible. I must have stared at the massive pile of harvested potatoes for too long because I have almost no notes from our time inside the storage but rather about 1,000 photos of the potato wall.

McCain Potato Wall

I should note that the safety and sanitation measures taken on site were impeccable. As Stan put it, each potato is a living organism that will be going into someone’s mouth, and very little changes from the time it leaves the farm to the moment it hits a plate. They require greater care than other crops and they take that responsibility very seriously. As a consumer, this was very reassuring.

The seed storage was a much smaller pile because they were already about halfway done their planting for the season. That said, we had a chance to check out the seed cutting machine, which generally cuts each russet potato 6 ways to produce 8-10 plants per seed piece. Stan also brought up the fact that while potatoes have great potential for income, they are also the poorest reproducers as it takes approximately 16 bags of potatoes to produce 340 bags. When you factor in challenges such as poor weather and potential soil issues, you have to make sure you are all on the same page.

Other Odds & Ends

* Something else I found interesting was our discussion about the way crops are planted. As a non-farmer I didn’t realize that you can’t just plant potatoes in the same field year in and year out because a solid rotation of crops is extremely important for the oral health of the farm and the soil. In fact, Beaver Creek has a 4 year rotation between potato crops, as one field will see wheat, corn, canola and potatoes in consecutive years.
* Consumer acceptance generally drives the potato market. Even though a potato such as the Innovator may taste the same while being a more cost effective option to harvest, North Americans are having a hard time with the yellow colour and often pass on it for the well known Russet Burbank variety. In Europe, however, the Innovator is thriving.
* There was a running joke throughout the weekend that I had purchased new work boots for the trip but due to the weather I had been unable to dirty them up. I’m happy to report that they did not come home clean.

McCain Farm Muddy Boots

By the time the day was over my mind was bursting with knowledge and I hope I was able to impart some of that wisdom with you. The true story of this trip, for me, was how the strong family bond on this farm helped to make it the success that it has been for over 50 years. We were already a McCain household but after this trip my confidence in McCain Foods grew even larger.

Thank you to Stan Weibe and the crew at Beaver Creek Farms Ltd for their hospitality, the tour and all the incredible information.

Disclosure: I was compensated for my participation in the Farm to Fork program, however the passion of the farmers and everyone involved in the McCain family is incredibly infectious.

McCain Head Office

There’s a Passion Out There For Everyone

I’m often reminded that if something exists, there is someone who will hold a strong passion for it. For me it’s always been music. Even before I started singing I was drawn to all forms of music. For others, their passion may be Astrology, the Environment or as I’ve recently found out, Potatoes!

That’s right, a couple weeks ago I attended an event at McCain Headquarters in Toronto to kick off a year-long partnership where I will be learning the ins and outs of how McCain potato products go from #FarmToFork! I admit that I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the McCain boardroom but I can tell you that what I left with was a new appreciation for not only their products but also for potatoes themselves and the farmers who grow them.

I’m not sure where to start in describing my experience with McCain but I wish that everyone could hear McCain Foods Agriculture Manager, Eric Ritchie, speak about his passion for potatoes. He knew more about potatoes than I know about my own family and it was infectious to hear him speak about the goodness of the potato. In fact, the whole McCain story really resonated with me as it is deeply rooted in Canadian family values, having been a family owned, Canadian company for 60 years now.

As a little peek behind the blogging curtain, I took so many notes at the event that I’ve been staring at my notebook for the last hour trying to decide how I’m going to share all this information with you, and because I think all of it is important and eye-opening, I’ve decided not to cut anything. Here is the full list of my takeaways from my time with the McCain Foods team.

Working together, family to family

– The family values run deep at McCain Foods and nowhere is this more evident than the fact that 10 of their growers have been with the company for over 55 years. It’s loyalty and family all rolled into one.

– McCain Foods is the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen French fries and potato specialties. I could have guessed that they were Canada’s largest producer but was surprised to hear they were a world leader. Go Canada! When Eric described the size of the warehouse where the potatoes were stored, I immediately pictured the farmers diving into them like Scrooge McDuck in his money vault. Give me a break, I have young children who love cartoons!

Farmers and their potatoes; simple ingredients, simply prepared

– The simplicity of the food process is as easy as wash, peel, cut, cook and freeze. Delicious food you can trust and feel comfortable serving to your family. On top of that, McCain takes their potatoes so seriously they even created the Potato Technology Centre in Florenceville, New Brunswick to provide ongoing research and ensure McCain continues to deliver the best quality products.

– One of my favourite parts of the presentation was when the question of food waste came up. I have seen documentaries that discussed what farmers are forced to do with food that does not look perfect, so I was pleasantly surprised when Eric described how McCain works in that regard. He pulled out a bag of what would be considered “less desirable” potatoes and cut them open to demonstrate how while McCain discards any rotten or damaged portions of the potato, they make a concerted effort to use as much as possible of every potato harvested.

The Power Vegetable!

– That brings us to the most important part of the potato. Its nutritional value is off the charts! The great thing about the potato is that it gives you excellent coverage in multiple categories including vitamin B6, potassium, fiber and vitamin C. Obviously this only really works if you are not adding a ton of grease, sour cream or butter and the good news from McCain is that all of their frozen grocery potato products are trans fat-free and many are low in saturated fat and sodium! Potatoes may not look exciting to you but recognizing the goodness of the potato can benefit all of us.

After the boardroom session we were treated to a buffet of different McCain potato products and after learning all I had just learned about potatoes, I may have eaten double what I normally would… Before I get out of here, I’m going to share a few of my family’s favourite McCain products but want to hear in the comments which ones you guys buy the most! Here’s our list!

McCain Spicy Lattice Cut Fries

McCain Lattice Spicy

These are daddy’s #1 choice of McCain fries and I will occasionally even eat them as a main course. The kids are still coming around in the spicy foods department but I’m happy to eat what they leave behind on their plates.

McCain Superfries Crinkle Cut Fries

McCain Superfries

This is a staple that has been in my family since I was a little boy and my kids love them as much as I did. Oh, and did I mention that they are Trans Fat-Free, Cholesterol- Free, Low in Saturated Fat? Yeah, we are big fans of the Crinkle Cuts in our house!

McCain Breakfast Potato Pancakes

McCain Potato Pancakes

Nothing against Homefries as we love them too, but there’s something about the Potato Pancakes that have us gravitating towards them whenever we are at the grocery store. We also add some of our own seasoning to them after they bake to give them some extra kick!

McCain Smiles

McCain Smiles

Confession. I actually called these Smilies for the longest time before my kids corrected me. The Smiles were actually how we introduced the kids to French fries because the kids loved the fact that there were smiley faces on their plates. In fact, we still serve them today because who couldn’t use more smiling in their lives?

As mentioned earlier, this is the beginning of a year long partnership between my family and McCain Canada and I can’t wait to share our adventures with you. Later this year I’ll be visiting multiple farms to observe the harvesting process and to see how everything is put together from start to finish. In the meantime please feel free to leave a comment here or on the Canadian Dad Facebook page to let me know your family’s favourite McCain products and also what you are most passionate about!


This post is sponsored by McCain, as part of our #FarmtoFork partnership. The opinions on this blog, as always, are my own.