Immersive Farm Tour Experience Demonstrates the Journey of Lentils from Farm to Plate to Volume Foodservice Operators

This summer, welcomed 22 foodservice operators and manufacturers to the heart of lentil growing country: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. 90% of Canada’s lentils are grown in Saskatchewan and Canada is the world’s largest exporter of lentils.

A true immersive experience that could not be replicated over the past two years until the return of in-person events, the program was a testament to learning experiences that are unmatched without the ability to see, feel, and surround yourself with an industry that is often not fully understood, or at the least one that most do not have the opportunity to expose themselves to.

The tour kicked off with a welcome reception where operators quickly became fast friends – experiences such as this can be described as similar to camp as kids where it is fascinating how quick you connect with new peers and create lasting friendships.

Day one kicked off with a stop at a research plot farm where Limagrain Field Seeds lentil breeders toured the group through several generations of new lentil seed varieties. New lentil varieties are created through natural breeding techniques to select for more productive versions – this could represent better resistance to disease or weeds, taller or stronger plants, and higher yield. Before these new lentil varieties make their way into farmers’ hands, they start as small plots which are scaled up every year until there is enough seed volume to release broadly to lentil growers.

Next, the group toured down to Dinsmore, Saskatchewan to meet with lentil farmer Brad Blackwell at his 7,000 acre mixed grain farm where he grows lentils in addition to other crops like chickpeas, spring wheat, flax, and canola. The group learned more about how lentils are grown and how they positively contribute to sustainable food systems including how lentils are carbon negative and elements like nitrogen fixation, crop rotation, no-till farming, and other ways that producing lentils positively contributes to healthy and improved soil. The group also had the opportunity to tour through and experience some of the farm equipment that Brad uses to seed and harvest his crops including his seeder, tractor, and combine. It was a real treat to see how large and technologically advanced these machines are.

There, the group enjoyed a farm lunch catered by award-winning Ayden Kitchen & Bar & Grassroots Restaurant Group led by Chef Benet Hunt featuring a variety of lentils salads showcasing fresh and local summer produce, freshly made lentil hummus, locally cured meats, pickled items, and some delicious fried chicken to round things out. We also cannot forget the cold and refreshing Lentil Beer from Saskatchewan’s Rebellion Brewing that the group was able to wet their whistle with on the hot day.

Moving along on the tour with full and happy bellies, the group visited DG Global’s Saskatoon area grain processing plant where they process and clean a variety of special crops including lentils. Their facility has state of the art processes to clean and remove any dust, debris, and other seeds before packaging and sending lentils and other crops to customers all over the world.

After the tour stops wrapped up for the day, the group enjoyed a beautiful and inspired in-restaurant meal from Chef Benet Hunt and his team at Ayden Kitchen & Bar, presenting a more refined meal featuring lentils in some special dishes alongside some of their menu favourites and seasonal dishes.

Day two kicked off with a presentation from global ingredient company Ingredion, which recently opened up a new pulse processing plant just outside of Saskatoon where they both process protein from peas and mill flour from lentils.

Next, the group visited the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre, a bustling hub that fosters the development and scale-up of new food products. They work with food companies and do their own development of anything from extruded snack foods and plant-based meat analogues to pickles, cheese, jams, fermented foods, and more.

Finally, the group came together in the kitchen for a culinary demonstration from Corporate Chef James Bickmore-Hutt, where he highlighted several interesting and trend-forward menu applications featuring lentils. Then the entire group worked together hands-on in the kitchen to let their inspiration from the tour channel into their own inspired menu ideas. This is where the magic really came to life: so much information was taken in over the course of two days with ideas swirling, so to see a group of expert operators and culinarians come together with their menus in mind was very exciting to watch. Some standout dishes included an Egyptian Koshari Bowl, blended concepts like meatballs, kofte, and burgers, as well as a fun crunchy Indian snack called Chivda.

To be able to experience an industry physically very far from most in the world was invaluable. Every year, more and more of the population in North America is further and further away from the farm. An experience like this makes one appreciate all the hard work that goes into creating food that people consume, that the humble lentil can have such a large impact on menus and food systems, and that North Americans can do so much more to consume more of one of Canada’s key grain crops.

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