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The Hickey brothers from Black Duck Siding are forging a new path on the provincial agriculture scene and appreciate all the help they've received to get there.
Tom and Kyle Hickey, the co-owners of Sweet Berry Farms, are the first farmers in Newfoundland and Labrador to produce cold-pressed virgin canola oil.
In the years since becoming a farmer, Tom Hickey quickly learned others in the industry are usually forthcoming and friendly — especially to someone new.
They've welcomed a lot of that help throughout their endeavours.
The Hickeys first learned about cold-pressed virgin oil in late 2016, when the provincial government was doing testing here on the island.
Tom said they reached out to the government and ended up talking to Vanessa Kavanagh, provincial grain research specialist with the Forestry and Agrifoods Agency, who has been helping them for the past three years.
“Without her expertise and knowledge, we wouldn’t be where we are now (with an established product), for sure,” Hickey said.
“We’re the first ones in Newfoundland to grow, produce and bottle this cold-pressed product from start to finish."
Farming is something the Hickey brothers inherited as their father Tom Hickey Sr. was a dairy farmer in Black Duck Siding back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“We’re using the farmstead that was dormant for many years,” he said.
Hickey said the farmland wasn't ready to grow canola last year and they wanted their fields properly prepared before planting.
So Wayne Smith, a farmer in the Pasadena area, agreed to grow 20 acres of canola for them. Then, Food for Life, a food grower in Black Duck Siding, provided equipment and space for the pressing, screening and bottling of their oil.
“We’re the first ones in Newfoundland to grow, produce and bottle this cold-pressed product from start to finish,” Hickey said.
The advantage of cold pressing oil is there are no chemicals used in the oil extraction and natural ingredients are left in the product. While it takes a little bit longer to produce and they lose about 20 per cent of the oil, Hickey said it ends up being the purest oil available.
Hickey said the oil is good for pan frying, as well as for use in salad dressings and bread dips when combined with other ingredients. He doesn’t recommend it for deep frying.
Sweet Berry Farms canola oil started appearing on the shelves of Coleman’s grocery stores across the province in May 2019. Now, they’re in four restaurants in St. John’s, including Raymonds Restaurant, Mallard Cottage, Waterwest Kitchen and Meats and Terre Restaurant.
He said they plan to grow canola on their own farmland this year, but are not sure yet exactly where it will be bottled.
Hickey said what makes their farm a true family operation is that his daughter Kendryl Hickey spends time working there in the summer and when she can find time in the winter.