Q & A on UN(THINK): Sustainability and Provenance

As AgriFORCE brings its UN(THINK) food brand to life, the company sought out partners who share the same passion for food, sustainability and nutrition and can bring their own expertise and care to the overall development process of Awakened Flour – from plant to production. After much research and many conversations, AgriFORCE is now partnering with two local businesses on the endeavor — a non-GMO sprouted grains supplier and a specialty milling partner to execute the production of Awakened Flour.

Based in Saskatchewan, Canada, one of the world’s largest grain producing regions, both partners are committed to sustainability, farmer relationships and transparency, ensuring consumers know where their food comes from. Maker’s Malt grows over 90% of the grain processed in its facility while also sourcing and sprouting the grains from local, Saskatchewan-based farmers. They then convert the raw grains to sprouted grains using UN(THINK)’s patented process at the company’s dedicated and state-of-the-art malting facility. Following the proprietary sprouting process, Marquis Milling then mills, blends and packages UN(THINK) Awakened Flour at their facility, known for its high quality and service standards.

Hernando Ruiz-Jimenez, General Manager UN(THINK) Foods, spoke with the founders of these companies to learn more about how they approach sustainability and provenance, and what that means for the product and its customers.

For those who may not be familiar, can you tell us about Marquis Milling and Makers Malt?

Hernando Ruiz-Jimenez, General Manager UN(THINK) Foods: It is our pleasure to introduce our partners; Russell Schroeder, the President of Marquis Millers and Matt Enns, the Founder of Maker’s Malt.

Marquis Milling and Grain are whole grain flour millers, specializing in unique and different products.The company believes in sustainability: from sustainable farming practices with regards to the environment, to good manufacturing processes and transparency for sustainable business relationships. In addition to its close connection to the farmers that produce the grain, Marquis Milling are also members of the Baking Association of Canada – giving them access to the people who use flour the most!

As for Maker’s Malt, they are Canadian craft maltsters with an origin in farming. Their unique vertical integration includes growing and value-adding which allows for full control of the process. As experts and multigenerational cereal grain farmers, Maker’s Malt are passionate and connected to the land.

How does your company approach sustainability? How do you define it and bring it to life in what you are doing?

Matt Enns, Founder of Maker’s Malt: On our farm, the word stewardship comes up a lot. My dad would always say, we need to leave the land in a better condition than what we found it. That comes out in our practices. Our farm was one of the first in Saskatchewan to have adopted no till farming in the 80s, which is basically a way of farming where you are disturbing the soil as little as you can to support soil health and organic matter. This way we have much less erosion, it rejuvenates the soil and stores moisture.

Another thing we have done more of recently is that all our riparian areas – areas around streams and trees- have been planted with perennial grasses. As these areas are less productive, we prefer not to add nutrients, nitrogen in areas where it isn’t needed. This protects the waterways and gives you a place for the good bugs and microbes that you want to have in the area.

We also utilize precision agriculture. Every field gets soil testing, so we know what nutrients it needs, we don’t just over apply, we apply the right amount. We have sectional control on all our equipment, so you never get any overlap in seeds, fertilizer, herbicides, anything like that, down to the 1 inch on the RTK GPS. As soon as you are starting to overlap on the outside edge of your seeder or your sprayer, that section will shut off and it won’t allow you to overapply.

We also seed between the rows, leaving the stubble from the previous year so it decomposes to organic matter.  The next year because we have that accuracy with our seeding equipment, we seed all the plants between those stubble rows, so they get really good seed to soil contact, they also get a little shelter belt around the seedlings, so you have a nice little microclimate.

Russell Schroeder, President of Marquis Millers: My definition of sustainability would be responsibility towards your resources, be that human or environmental, and using all your resources wisely and efficiently.

Food waste is a big part of what we try to address, making sure that we aren’t just throwing stuff away that could be repurposed. One way we do this is by repurposing spent grains as an ingredient for animal feed. Doing this allows us to use about 99% of the grains that would typically be wasted. Those grains still have nutritional benefits, so we look for ways to recycle them to minimize our overall operational waste. We’ve also worked hard to remove the usage of harsh chemicals in our cleaning process. We look for more sustainable options that have less of an environmental impact.

How do you select the grains?

Russ: We are more exact in our needs from our farmers since we don’t blend lots of grain, we aren’t refining to a high level, and therefore we let the grain speak for itself. For us it’s about collecting the right quality grain from the get-go instead of trying to manipulate it into something else.

I work with a close-knit group of farmers. We (can) put the name of the farm and the town nearby that the grain is grown at so that on our small retail packages you will actually see the name of the farmer that grows the grain. For our competitors who operate large and medium size mills, this would be absolutely impossible. For one, they are blending different lots together to balance out their specs for their grain. And then you are also talking about the sheer tonnage of grain coming in, it would be impossible to do. That’s something we’ve harnessed and focused on. The product can be grown, sprouted, and milled, all within a 15-mile radius. You can’t get a sustainable product with less food miles than that.

Matt: When we are doing sprouting or malting, we know exactly what field it came from. Especially when our farm does it, we know all the agronomic practices that happen to that grain. Certainly, we’ve amended some of our practices to improve whether it’s the product or the throughput. The vertical integration works in both directions.

Why are you excited about UN(THINK)?

Russ: My interest came from the fact that UN(THINK) wanted whole grain flour, not milled in a traditional way. With other mills, you take out the bran and add it back in after its done. But UN(THINK) is looking for a true, whole grain style flour, which is what our process is based around — keeping all the nutrition of the original kernel and keeping that retained in the end flour. So, finding another company that was actually interested in that was a rare thing, that was where my interest was piqued.

Matt: We have done a lot of background work on sprouting. It definitely used to be the wild west, and in some ways, I think it still is. You might get some people sprouting, but they’re not able to measure what has occurred. We’ve worked with universities, but it was exciting to have a company come in that wanted to pursue this method too. The health benefits of sprouting are also backed by science. The high protein levels, lower glycemic index, the ability to cut sugar because of the natural sweetness, there are great benefits.

Russ: As food dollars have to be stretched due to inflation, people look for more natural food, more nutritious options. If you eat a slice of whole grain bread vs. a slice of white, what’s going to fill you up, keep you fueled for a longer period of time? With a whole grain sprouted flour, your food dollars go further.