Nfld. & Labrador

First local canola oil hits N.L. store shelves

The farming family in Black Duck Siding that grew and pressed the oil say it's great for salad dressings and bread dips.

Oil grown in Black Duck Siding is good for salad dressings and dips, says farmer

Sweet Berry Farms' canola oil is now being sold at Coleman's stores throughout the province. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Four years after the first canola harvest in Newfoundland and Labrador, canola oil made from the crop is now for sale across the province, courtesy of a farm in Black Duck Siding. 

Sweet Berry Farm's oil was made in its west coast fields in 2018, pressed at a local food-grade facility and then bottled by hand.

"We're quite proud of that, for sure," said Tom Hickey, a farmer and co-owner of Sweet Berry Farms.

Hickey's oil doesn't look or taste exactly like its lemon-yellow canola cousins on store shelves. The majority of Canadian canola oil is processed using heat and chemicals to extract the maximum amount of oil from the seeds, but Sweet Berry Farms went a different route. 

His oil is cold-pressed, using a mechanical process to smoosh oil from the seeds. Any impurities or residue were then filtered out, leaving a deep yellow, robustly flavoured product behind for bottling.

"It was something like I've never tasted before, the first time I tasted a little drop of it," said Hickey.

"[Cold pressing] gives it a little bit of an earthier smell, a little bit of a roasted nut smell."

This crop of canola in Pasadena will be pressed into oil after the 2019 harvest. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

With its distinctive flavour, Hickey said the oil may come across as unexpected to local palates, but hopes people try his product. He said it's well-suited for salad dressings as well as cooking, although he doesn't recommend deep-frying with it. (Its premium price — $9.99 for half a litre at Coleman's — also discourages that.)

Food security win

The oil is seen as a big win for the researchers with the province's Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, which sowed its first canola seeds back in 2016 in a $1-million experiment to test the viability of the grain on the west coast. 

Prior to that, Newfoundland and Labrador was the only province in Canada that did not produce canola commercially.

"This is a long term trial, but already in the last four years we've seen tremendous success," said Sabrina Ellsworth, the manager of agricultural research with the department.

The province has partnered with several farms in Western Newfoundland since, with the seed and oil used to feed dairy cows and replace imports from the mainland, and from as far away as Malaysia — last year, the department said, one farm in Cormack grew enough canola to replace 340 bags of imported palm fat from that country.

That same farm is also growing 20 acres of its own canola this year, apart from the provincially subsidized program.

"Imported feed is one of the largest costs to our producers here," said Ellsworth.

Tom Hickey's daughter Kendyl Hickey helped with free tastings of the oil, which Hickey said has a stronger flavour than people may expect. (Submitted by Tom Hickey)

Hickey's five tonnes of canola in 2018 was a product of the province's partnership, and he said the 1,900 litres of oil he pressed from it helps the human side of food security.

"It's one less thing we have to worry about shipping across the gulf, so that makes us that much more sustainable here in Newfoundland," said Hickey.

"It's a step in the right direction."

Dips and dressings

For 2019, Sweet Berry Farms farmed out its canola production to Pasadena, as the crop needs to rotate fields from year to year, and Hickey continues to experiment in the best ways to grow and bottle it.

"Our goal is to get into salad dressings, and bread dips, and other avenues that we can use our canola oil for. And it will all be made right here, for the first time," he said.

The province has no plans in the foreseeable future to slow down its experimentation with canola, calling it a long-term trial that will need years of data to be able to provide best growing practices to the private sector.

Sabrina Ellsworth says the province will continue to grow and study canola for years to come in order to figure out best practices with the crop. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

"We want to try to optimize the crop itself, so we can maintain and achieve the highest yields possible," said Ellsworth.

"We're constantly fighting with mother nature a little bit, and trying to adjust."

The biggest challenges so far have come from the sky: wet springs make sowing seeds difficult, and wet autumns similarly complicate harvest time. 

"With climate changing, and the uncertainty of what's happening from year to year, it's really important we continue this research so we learn how to adapt," said Ellsworth.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Lindsay Bird

CBC News

Lindsay Bird is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in Corner Brook.


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