For these OYF winners, success is all about taking risks

If you had told James and Cammy Lockwood in 2011 that they would be managing 7,000 laying and meat chickens and supplying fresh vegetables for 45 restaurants across Vancouver Island, they wouldn’t have believed you.

Back then, the newly minted university grads owned a small character home in Duncan, BC, with three hens and a small backyard garden. But through careful risk taking, knowing their local markets and working with those with industry experience, they’ve been able to grow and continually adapt, even in the face of a global pandemic.

“Looking back I never would have predicted we would be where we are today,” says James. “As consumers we have always been aware of where our food comes from. So as soon as we started producing our own food and saw how much we were able to grow even in our own garden, we knew we had the potential to take our business philosophy to our community.”

Together with James’ dad, Barry, the couple purchased an old school and its five acres of property and set about clearing the land for Lockwood Farms. Barry previously owned and operated a wholesale ornamental nursery in James’ youth, so he brought years of experience in agriculture to the business, but none of it involved chickens.

Nevertheless, they jumped into the business with 399 laying hens and a few vegetables, all of which were sold at local farmers’ markets. They quickly learned their capacity for risk allowed them to take on new challenges at a fast pace.

BUILDING AND SCALING A BUSINESS

“We were always able to look beyond feeding ourselves, to see the bigger picture,” says Cammy. “Vancouver Island can be more sustainable and the same kind of thinking that allowed us to grow things for ourselves would allow us to be able to feed thousands of people.”

The Lockwoods say the year they moved into quota through the new entry system was very challenging for them because, while they already had many different structures on their operation, most of them were makeshift and were not suitable for their scaled-up business.

“We designed our barn ourselves, but with a lot of input from other egg producers,” says James. “We then built the barn and the egg-grading facility tailored to our needs, which also allowed it to eventually be federally licensed.”

They both say that knowing their market was also key to their quick expansion, and acknowledge that Vancouver Island’s reputation for embracing locally grown food worked in their favour.

“We have a customer base that’s willing to pay a premium for locally sourced food,” says Cammy. “Our customers help us make all of our decisions. In the last few years more of our business has gone to restaurants and they have very specific needs. We are also supplying vegetables to small local grocery stores, based on the demands of their shoppers.”

While farmers’ markets were initially part of their business model, they moved away from those as their restaurant business increased. The Lockwoods were also forced to make changes as they dealt with the loss of James’ dad in 2018. As they mourned their loss, they took the time to reassess what they wanted to do with their farm going forward.

The Lockwoods also had to adjust their business practices in 2019 when they grew their family from two children to three through adoption. When they learned they would be bringing a new child to their family and would be required to travel to South Africa for six weeks, they added irrigation and automation. Still, the time away required letting go of control.

“It was all about planning and preparing for us,” says James. “We relied on our faith, our employees, our volunteers and our community. It didn’t all go perfectly. Things went wrong and when we came back there were things we had to accept weren’t exactly as we wanted them to be. But it’s OK because we were able to pick up and move forward.”

A CANADIAN FIRST

One of the Lockwoods’ biggest innovations was how they chose to feed their flock. Lockwood Farms was the first poultry operation in Canada to incorporate black soldier fly larvae into the chickens’ diet. They source the larvae from Enterra feed, a B.C.-based company that produces insect ingredients for both animal feed and pet food. When they first made the shift, the concept was so new that they had to wait for Canadian Food Inspection Agency registration before they could begin feeding.

“We had been searching for an environmentally conscious protein alternative to soybeans and we realized that an insect-based diet was likely the answer,” says Cammy. “Enterra takes pre-consumer food products that would normally go the landfill and uses no water inputs in the production of the larvae. They can yield up to 130,000 pounds of larvae per acre of infrastructure, so it is very efficient. We think it is the way of the future.”

While it is possible to produce the larvae on site, the Lockwoods say they treat sourcing the feed the same way they source highquality seed — they don’t save seeds, so they feel they are getting the most efficiently produced grubs from Enterra.

This new way of feeding has some unexpected benefits, says James. “We figured out early on that the eggs tasted fantastic. In addition, our birds look great throughout their lifecycle — they’re fully feathered and their health has been great. At this point we are attributing that to their change in diet.”

They have decided to brand their larvaefed, free-range eggs into a new egg called the EcoEgg. They’ll be marketing the egg as a soy-free alternative, produced with high animal welfare standards and minimal impact on the environment.

FINDING NEW MARKETS … QUICKLY

Like many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic had an immediate impact on their operation. Restaurant clientele disappeared overnight and the ability to source temporary workers became a logistical nightmare. But their ability to adapt quickly allowed them to pivot into new business opportunities.

“We had been looking for new online distribution systems and had settled on a developer literally the week before everything shut down,” says Cammy. They developed an online platform and discovered that people were actually looking for a way to purchase eggs from somewhere other than grocery stores. “So we set up online ordering with pickup locations and were able to move our eggs that way.”

Recognizing there was a demand for locally-sourced chicken, in early 2020, the Lockwoods received a permit for 1000 meat chickens. They also found a local buyer for their lettuce. As B.C. opens up they aren’t sure how many of those buying habits will remain, but, they want to be able to continue to support their restaurant and grocer customers.

Throughout the shutdown, finding people to work on the farm has remained a challenge. “In addition to our three parttime egg graders, we have always relied on volunteer labour,” says James. “Those people are usually Willing Workers on Organic Farms or WWOOFers, and they have the drive and desire to live and work on our farm. With restrictions on movement and quarantine requirements it has been much more difficult to find people who are able to commit to this work.”

The Lockwoods were recently named winners of the 2019 Outstanding Young Farmers’ Program award for the BC/Yukon region. Participation with the program was the first time they had been part of any formal farming organization, and they said it has been a great opportunity to connect with all different types of farmers who may do things differently but in the end have similar aspirations and drive, and, with similar growth mindsets.

“I wouldn’t call ourselves gamblers but that doesn’t mean we are not willing to take risks,” says James. “We wanted to build our business based on a production system that we wanted to see in the world. If you want to see a better option you need to be willing to try something new. That idea is something we will continue to build our business and our lives upon.”