The Toronto Star: Young farmer hopes to woo edamame lovers with Ontario-grown alternative

Posted on September 29, 2014 - Category: News & Articles

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Jacob MacKellar arrives bearing a tangled armload of Ontario edamame still on the vine.
“This is fresh — right from the field,” says the fourth-generation farmer, handing over the bright green bundle followed by a mason jar of his mom Annette’s salsa.
The items aren’t connected (there’s no edamame in the salsa) except that they both come from his family’s Alvinston farm southwest of London and showcase what two generations of MacKellars do best when it comes to food.

The MacKellars have been farming since the 1800s, mostly grain and other commodity crops. About five years ago, Jacob, who is just 26 and the youngest of three sons, decided that he “wanted to grow something that consumers wanted.”

He seized on edamame.

Canadians learned to love the green soybean in the pod from Japanese restaurants. We’ve been eagerly buying the high-fibre legume frozen, in the pod and shelled, not realizing that nearly all of it is grown in China.
“We try not to get too political about it,” says MacKellar during a visit to the Startest kitchen. “But we want to help people realize that there is a high quality, Canadian-grown alternative.”

His first harvest was in 2010 and his edamame started appearing in Toronto stores in 2011. His family was skeptical at first, but MacKellar Farms edamame is now sold in 350 natural food stores across Canada.
This year, MacKellar is farming 300 acres of edamame and expects to harvest one million pounds. It will all be frozen. Thirty per cent of it will be packaged for sale in Canada under the MacKellar Farms label, and the rest will be sold in bulk to the United States.

“It’s been a huge learning experience, this whole thing,” enthuses MacKellar. “It’s just fun. I essentially walk the fields every day all summer.” He plants in May and June, and harvests in late August and September using a snapping green bean harvester. His edamame is frozen within six hours and packaged at a cold-storage facility in Ingersoll.