Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supplies Celebrate 70 Years!
by Scott A. Sumner
Many local residents in the Thunder Bay area are familiar or have some knowledge of our farming community in the Slate River area to the south of the city. They have been working together for 70 years now with the Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supplies business that helps them operate as a team and more efficiently. Since then the Co-op has opened to the public andbegun expansions in order to better serve farmers, home-owners and seasonal residents in Northwestern Ontario. Co-operatives uphold certain other principles, including concern for community, educating the public and youth about co-operative values, voluntary and open membership, and autonomy.
The business started in 1952 as a cooperative of local farmers. There were a handful of members at the start when it was established to provide better purchasing power from suppliers. Instead of each farm buying individually, for example say fertilizer, they pool all of their needs together to get better deals. To be a member of Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supplies you have to be a bona fide farm with a farming number.Today there is a board of directors of Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supplies who represent about 130 members who are all farmers. The Co-op started in the basement of an old schoolhouse and has expanded to today. They meet annually and the 7 member board is chosen that provide the
management direction on the business operations.
“ It is their business, they own it and receive the rewards. We report to the board. Most of our staff are all farmers and jack of all trades ,” said Darren Fisk, General Manager of Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supplies for the past 5 years. “We don’t just supply the larger local farms that are primarily dairy, beef and potato farming; but also many of the smaller vegetable farmers and many of the hobby farmers.”
Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supplies have three full time and two part time employees plus their controller, Carol Maki who is part of the management team. One of their mission statements is to provide quality employment to local community members.
“ The Co-op has been very a positive operation for the farming community from the start. It has had it’s ups and downs but with lots of growth over the last 10 to 15 years. In the last 5 years there havebeen a lot of capital improvements. Two years ago we expanded our fertilizer plant from 1000 tons to a 1800 ton capacity forstorage. We blend the fertilizer all locally here to support the farmers. We sell a lot of fertilizer for peoples lawns and small gardens as well and it is all blended here. Additionally, there is seed and livestock feed as well.” said Darren Fisk.
“ This is our biggest capital expansion ever over the last two years, over $2 million, with some help from Fednor and NOHFC on the fertilizer plant, but not the retail store. The fertilizer plant was finished lastJanuary 2021. The retail building should be finished mid May. We used to be about 1200 square feet of retail space and now with the expansion will be approximately 3000 square feet with another 900 square feet of office space,” said Darren. “ Our renovations have been so professional and well done especially given the winter. Tyler Wade Contracting, our general contractor, have been amazing and we are thrilled with their work. Their staff are very intuitive and also provide us with ideas we can use to improve the construction process. The building that was designed by Approach Design, is beautifuland fits the farm vibe we are going for."
“ We saw a need here to service the local community. During Covid we never shut down as we are an essential service.What happened was many people started coming here for our lawn fertilizer and other garden supplies because it was hard to get in the city. The new customers loved it here and the next year they came back with their friends so it has grown,” said Darren. “ The Board had been planning a retail expansion for many years but felt the timing was right to build a local hardware store. A a lot of times we get people who stop in and say we just need this one thing and I don’t want to go to town for it. So we want to provide that one thing as much as possible. It is really to service Neebing and the Slate River Valley, as well as the entire region.”
For the expansion Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supplies decided to partner up >with ACE Canada, owned by Peavey Mart, a Canadian owned company that specializes in agricultural retail for rural communities out west.
“ We will carry their ACE brand here as our supplier. By doing this it allows us to be part of their supply chain and what that enables us to do is provide an E Commerce platform. We can’t stock everything and
people want to support us so they can go online, order it and it will be shipped to the Co-Op. This could be everything from riding lawn mowers, farmimplements or barbeques,” said Darren Fisk. “ To be able to provide the E Commerce site is really exciting for us. In addition, physically we will be quadrupling our inventory with the expansion, and will have an infinite supply with e commerce. When you go online to ACE Canada, you pick our store and the product is shipped free to the Co-Op.”
Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supplies did see an increase in sales during COVID, especially in metal roofing with many people doing home projects. Last year they were a top 10 retailer for Ideal Roofingproducts in all of Canada and it is a significant part of their business.
“ Our profits are returned to the farmers who get dividends. This helps the farmers off set their costs of operation” said Darren. “ During Covid people realized the value of local businesses and supply chains
so they want to support local. We want to grow the service we provide to people. Farming can be a tough gig but is very important and we see the potential of farming in our region.We have a lot of land in our area and the governments want to promote farming here and see an opportunity for agriculture to grow, where it is actually retracting in Southern Ontario.”
Be sure to take the short drive south on HWY 61 to Boundary Drive and turn right to 560 Boundary Drive just near the intersection to visit the newly expanded Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supplies.