By Bonnie Sitter
In Seaforth, Ontario, a family business named Everspring is making products that are meeting the demand for healthier, whole, minimally-processed food. The factory is a true family affair with parents Dale and Marianne Donaldson at the helm and their daughters and sons-in-laws —Michelle and Patrick Reilly and Dianne and Jonathon Wolters -- all heavily involved with the process of sprouting grains, seeds and beans.
Dale and Marianne began the journey approximately 25 years ago, never imagining at the time it would lead to a sprouting business. It all began as a poultry business on the Donaldson farm near Arva. The family specialized in gourmet duck and goose products. One day, a veterinary friend who had witnessed positive results in the health of the horses after feeding them sprouted grasses, suggested they grow sprouted barley grass and provide a year-round source of fresh grass for their geese. They took his advice and set up a hydroponic unit on their farm and began experimenting with sprouted barley grass. They were impressed with the results.
They learned a lot about the nutritional benefits of sprouting along the way. During the sprouting of grains, enzymes are released allowing the grain to become more digestible. They investigated the history of sprouting and learned that for centuries, civilizations all over the world knew and understood that soaking and sprouting grains, seeds and beans was beneficial for their diets. It improved digestibility, texture and taste. Although this collective wisdom is less common in the modern household, it is reemerging as a way to enhance the digestibility and function of whole foods.
When the Donaldsons were approached by the owners of a bakery which was looking for a source for sprouted flax, the family saw the potential. That call got the wheels turning because by this time the family was getting more and more interested in the sprouting process so in the early 2000s they purchased a 7,000 square foot building on Seaforth’s Main Street.
Dale and Marianne named their company Everspring and at the time of purchase, never dreamed they would need or use all that space but they have been proven wrong. In 2014 they purchased a nearby building which previously housed the E.D. Smith salad dressing plant.
After the purchase of the plant on Main Street, the next challenge was finding the specialized equipment they needed to expand the sprouting business. It wasn't readily available so they hired a talented millwright named Keith Verhoeven who designed and custom-made the specialized equipment where the sprouting and drying processes take place.
The first step in the process of sprouting is the soaking to allow the bean, grain or seed to germinate. Germination typically takes between 24 and 48 hours. The second step is moving the germinated product to the huge dryers to carefully preserve the sprouted goodness. Fresh water, time, temperature and air are all critical in the sprouting process and when done properly the resulting products are shelf stable for one to two years. When the process is complete, the sprouted product can be left whole or stone ground into whole grain flour.
It has taken a great deal of research along with trial and error for the Donaldsons to achieve a BRCGS (Global standard for food safety) certification with a AA rating. Equally important is the fact they have also earned Organic and Kosher certifications. Everspring imports seeds, grains and beans when they are not grown in Canada and exports sprouted products worldwide. Everspring's production facility on Main Street is allergen-free and gluten-free. Their secondary production facility on Railway Street offers sprouted products with gluten.
Everspring sprouts over 30 grains, seeds and beans. There are six cereal grains with hulless oats and hulless barley, two varieties of wheat, rye and spelt. The five ancient grains include buckwheat, teff, quinoa (red and white), amaranth and kaniwa. They also sprout three types of rice, plus millet, sorghum and corn. The pulses (beans) are mostly grown locally and include adzuki, black, pinto, mung, navy, red kidney, plus greenpeas. Lentils, black, green and brown, and chickpeas are also sprouted. In the seed category, Everspring sprouts sunflower and pumpkin seed, white and black chia seed and golden and brown flax seed. They tell customers they can sprout anything with a germ.
Most products are available as whole seeds, coarse or fine flours and some are offered as powders.
In 2016 the Donaldson sisters, Dianne and Michelle, launched Second Spring products, taking part of the name their parents had chosen for the business and added the second generation tag to it. Their goal is to share sprouted foods directly with individuals.
My visit included a tour of the plant and then a visit to the kitchen lab where I met Mary-Kate Boss. The aroma of warm sprouted buckwheat chocolate chip cookies and sprouted whole grain wheat and sprouted oats cookies made from sprouted buckwheat, sprouted whole grain and sprouted oats filled the air. Mary-Kate was preparing gingerbread cookies too. They were all made with sprouted cookie mixes that are available from their online store and at select health and natural food stores across Canada. Orders for mixes and flours are also shipped across North America.
Growth continues! Early in 2022 the family anticipates opening a micro bakery and retail store in downtown Seaforth. All their products will be offered, including both sprouted and freshly milled flours.
For the Christmas season, Second Spring markets three seasonally favourite cookies: a gingerbread cookie mix made with sprouted spelt flour, peppermint chocolate cookies mix made with sprouted rye flour and a shortbread cookie mix made with sprouted red fife flour. The gingerbread mix only requires that you add butter and molasses with easy to follow directions, while other mixes may require an egg and butter.
If you started baking bread during the pandemic, consider trying freshly milled flours which are proudly advertised as nothing added, nothing removed, just freshly sprouted and stone ground, 100 per cent whole grain flour. The flour can be used in sourdough, yeasted bread, quick breads, cookies, muffins, pancakes and more, just swap a cup of sprouted flour for a cup of regular white or whole wheat flour. Their product line has expanded to include sprouted pizza crust mix and sprouted black bean brownie mix. The products are packaged in a compostable bag inside a recyclable box made using responsible forestry practices. ◊