February 01, 2021
By: Rachel Nafziger, Merike Hess & Bernadette Antoniou

Pfenning’s has had growing pains since the very beginning… and we’re not complaining! As Wolfgang says, it’s “a good problem to have”. We are proud to have been able to increase our capacity to serve our growing customer base and community in so many different ways over the past 40 years.

Humble Beginnings

When the Pfenning farm first came to be in New Hamburg in 1981, Wilhelm, Barnhild and their four children were the entire farming team. With one plot of 150 acres they set out on their organic farming mission. For the first growing season of 1982 it was just the 6 of them. They grew a small amount of vegetables that they sold at the Kitchener farmers market, and to a couple of small wholesalers that picked up at the farm. The majority of the land was in grains.

Fun Fact: The first main crops grown on the farm were grains, not vegetables!

Staff & Harvesting

As the acreage grew to be able to grow a wider variety and greater quantity of produce, we needed more helping hands!

From 1981-1993, the labour was entirely done by the Pfenning family. The first employees, Angel and Alex, were hired in 1993. In 2005, Pfenning’s began working with the Temporary Foreign Worker Progam – specifically, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Progam. Over the years we have hired many more full time, part time, and seasonal staff locally as well.
We’ve come a long way from the early days when we used to only have family and community members working on the farm. Now, to be able to keep up with harvesting, processing, packing and shipping, we have expanded to over 100 employees during the busy summer months!

Angel and Wolfgang

The Organic Market Growth

As mentioned in our previous blog post on acreage, the market for organic produce has continued to increase since we started in 1981. Many Canadians are more interested in buying organic than ever before. (More sources listed below.)

Packing & Distribution

As interest in organics grew, we needed to do things differently in order to keep up with increased demand. We decided to work closely with various organic grower partners to expand the selection of organic produce we have to offer. By offering packing and distribution services for these growers, it allowed them to focus on growing while we took care the selling and logistics for them. We buy in bulk and pack under the Pfenning brand with our specifications, or we distribute under the grower’s own label, according to their preference.  Many of these partnerships have lasted for decades, and we are always open to new ones.  

Once the word got out that our organic vegetables were delicious, and we had a growing demand for organic produce of all kinds year round, the next step was to start importing! We started off with David Suarez (later Bosco Bahr) in 1989, and we imported with Goodness Greeness in Chicago in 1991. We currently sell product from around the world, and we import these things here from the USA. We order produce from other parts of Canada as well, including growers in MB, QC, PE, and BC.

Pfenning’s kale grown in Georgia.

We also have partner farms in Georgia and California, which is why you’ll see our name on US produce during our off-peak seasons especially! Often these items include carrots, spinach, and kale. We have worked with these farms to ensure they meet the same standards that we have for our produce grown locally. This way, the customer is guaranteed the same great quality they’ve come to recognize with the Pfenning’s logo.

These partnerships have blossomed over time into close friendships and allowed us to expand and fulfill our organic mission – getting the healthiest food possible onto your plates!

Photo from the Georgia Farm, 2016

Warehouse & Storage

With the growing scale of the farm, the family decided to invest in building a new warehouse in 2006. As capacity and production grew, the warehouse needed to expand as well. Over the years we have built several additions to the original barn. We had to come up with innovative ways to expand the space and control temperatures for different crops, all while maintaining enough space to process and pack more and more produce.

The old barn.
Our warehouse in 2021

Fun Fact: We use a heat reclaim system on the farm to efficiently manage the temperatures in the warehouse and throughout the rest of the buildings. This means that some of the heat generated from our refrigeration system is captured to heat up water which in turn warms the loading dock, production area, office, bunkhouse water etc. Efficient & environmentally friendly!

The main cooler in the new warehouse.

Carrot pit

Pfenning’s organic carrots have been a staple throughout our history and thus the evolution of the carrot processing line and the carrot pit are a perfect example of our growth in capacity. Wolfgang reminisced on the days that he and his mother, Barnhild, used to process about 2-3 bins of carrots a day.

The container used for carrots before the carrot pit was constructed!
Barnhild Pfenning working on the carrot line.
Carrots being packed onto a palette in the old warehouse.
Carrots being packed onto a palette in the old warehouse.
Ekk & Barnhild helping out on the carrot line.

The carrot pit and line look a lot different today! With the updates of machinery, staff, and storage, today the daily carrot processing average has increased to up to 6 wagonloads — that’s about 80 bins of carrots, or 90 000 lbs per day!

Look at all those carrots in the new carrot pit!
A huge bin of carrots getting washed in the new carrot pit.
High production modern carrot line.

Looking Forward

We are so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in 40 years, and look forward to continuing to find ways to increase our capacity. Pfenning’s has been proudly family run since the beginning, and will continue to be in the future. Currently it is running under the ownership of the 2nd generation, with the 3rd generation working alongside them and learning the ropes. We feel grateful to be able to continue to do what we love, and are looking forward to seeing how the next generation will shape things to come.

Further Reading:

https://www.statista.com/topics/4235/organic-food-market-in-canada/

https://ota.com/news/press-releases/21328

https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/10/05/2103758/0/en/New-data-from-Canada-Organic-Trade-Association-showing-dramatic-growth-in-organic-food-sector-as-Canadians-spend-6-9-billion-annual-on-organic-groceries.html

https://www.canadiangrocer.com/top-stories/organics-good-news-story-95139

https://www.edc.ca/en/blog/canada-organic-sector-growth.html