By Robin Booker
The peas had cooled down enough from the baking process the previous day and were now being packaged by University of Saskatchewan Food Centre by staff.
They wear hairnets and white coats with red collars that allow access to the facility’s organic areas.
Allen Zak, chief executive officer of Zak Organics, made a 300- kilometre journey to bring a trailer loaded with bags of organic peas he grew and cleaned on his 6,000-acre family farm.
Taste was very important to us when we were initially developing our product. – Allen Zak, Zak Organics
Once the food centre staff finished packaging the spicy or herbed peas, Zak loaded them back into the trailer for the trip back to Fir Mountain, Sask.
This trek was brief compared to the research and development journey Zak spearheaded while creating a green pea snack.
He went through a grant application process for Saskatchewan Agri-Value Initiative Program, then a year of collaboration with food scientists at the Food Centre where the final recipes and pea snack producing techniques were fine tuned.
“There is a lot of testing that goes on behind development of a food product like this. Once you have it at that stage and it’s ready for commercial development, they can help you bring it to market and learn how to scale up your product to larger commercial style production,” Zak said.
The Zak farm has been operating for more than a century. It produces wheat, peas, lentils and flax, grown under strict organic protocols that trace crops from the field to the customer.
Zak hires two labourers to get him through the farm season. Zak’s father, his wife, Marilyn, and their two boys also work on the farm.
“My sons are in charge of the warehouse. My wife is actually the financial officer for the company and handles all the accounting work,” Zak said.
Peas ability to fix nitrogen in the soil makes it a useful crop to manage soil-nitrogen levels for organic growers, who are limited in the amount of fertilizers they can apply.
“We use green manure plow down to increase our fertility in the soil, crop rotation. Seeding timing is very important when you are organic,” Zak said.
Pea fits well into Zak’s rotations, but he chose the legume as the base ingredient of the snacks for its nutritional content also.
“Peas are naturally high in vitamins, minerals, and have incredible other health benefits from anti-inflammatory, and other health benefits. Also peas are rich in protein and fiber, and low in fat,” Zak said.
He tested many varieties of peas at the food centre before settling on a variety. The farm had to ramp up its production to keep up with his food company’s demand.
“Taste was very important to us when we were initially developing our product, so we began working with Splendor Gardens from Watson, Sask. They’re providing a lot of our organic spices so they are fresh and have a great taste and give our product a great taste as well,” Zak said.
Processing the farm’s raw products adds value to the peas before he markets them.
“Markets go up and down, but if our food company can create demand through our snack, that helps diversify our farm and demand for the commodities our farm is producing too,” he said.
There are lots of snacks that taste good but are unhealthy, and also snacks that are good for you but have poor taste, he said.
“So we decided to make a snack that was healthy for us that we could make with our own organic ingredients grown on our farm, something that we would like to eat and other people would like to eat,” he said.
The pea snacks are USDA and Canada Organic Certified, as well as free from trans-fat, cholesterol, dairy, gluten and artificial flavors or colors.
Zak likes to educate his customers about how he grows and processes his peas.
“It made sense to start a company where we could grow our own product, process it, package it and meet the people that are enjoying it,” he said.
For more information, visit zakorganics.com.
This article originally appeared on The Western Producer.