When Mike and Cynthia Beretta recently spoke with Canadian Family, they were travelling just outside of Calgary. A scenic drive through western Canada is really just another day’s work for the Ontario-based founders of Beretta Farms; they often visit the 35-plus ranches across the country where Beretta meats are produced—the better to maintain strong relationships with the ranchers they work with and the food itself.
Though Beretta Farms has grown significantly over its 25 years, it’s clear that the Berettas still heed the organic and sustainable practices and principles upon which their farm was originally founded. And while the couple has plenty to boast about their brand, they prefer to praise their three children, Thomas, Marcus and Lieschen—and the importance of being a family business.
Mike: “We look back at it fondly. You have so much energy and enthusiasm at that age, you don’t get overwhelmed as easily as you do when you’re older and so we just tackled it head on. We had three kids in diapers while we were trying to learn to be farmers and grow a business. Our eldest was born in 1995, and we had twins in ’97. The real motivator for us was having young kids and knowing what we were feeding them. Our children were all weaned off of Cynthia’s breast milk onto our cow milk. So we wanted to do everything in the world possible… We wanted to do it right, because our own kids were consumers of what we were doing.
“Fortunately, where we lived there was an old order Mennonite community that wanted to help out. In ’95 we had a barn fire. We lost our barn and all of our livestock, and we were fortunate to have that community. They came to help us raise our barn. Their knowledge and support (was a huge help) because when you’re farming, community is so important. Our original logo was a horse with a sun, and that all came from that experience.”
Cynthia: “Thomas was six months old when the fire happened. The Mennonite community wouldn’t take payment for their work. That was a pivotal moment for us, we could have forgotten this career and go back, but we made that decision to keep going. We felt like we had to work even harder to prove we were worthy of their help. We weren’t thinking about company or brand, we were just trying to give back to the community that helped us.”
Mike: “I think, looking back, we started the trend. We were young people getting into farming, not coming from farming families, so that was an anomaly. And then because we grew everything organically, that was yet again another.”
Cynthia: “Not having any notions of what farming should be like, farming organically seemed like the natural way to go.”
Mike: “There’s certainly more information about (organic and sustainable farming) today, and we’re finding that customers are more educated, which is exciting. Folks care much more about animal welfare and the way farmers treat their livestock, which is one of our greatest motivators. It’s fun for us to have consumers that are more educated.”
Mike: “Family businesses attract good people. When we started it was just word of mouth. Me and my mom and dad did deliveries, and Cynthia helped package the meat. It really was all word of mouth—this was before social media and everything else, and we were fortunate to be ahead of the curve, you know, being some of the first people doing it. We got to build an authentic connection with our customers.”
Cynthia: “What I’m really proud of is the fact that we just keep growing, and we’re across Canada, and doing exports—but, on social media, if someone questions something or wants to speak to either Mike or me, we still make time to speak to them one-to-one.”
Mike: “More recently we’ve been getting to know the multi-generational farming families we’ve been working with across the country. We now make a point to go out to some of the cattle brandings in Saskatchewan. We go as a family and we share pride in the hard work we and the other families do, and then we drive back together. For me, knowing that me and my family are going away together is very rewarding.”
Cynthia: “Especially as our kids get older… We always made it mandatory that the kids be home for dinner at least three nights a week, but now they’re at university that’s not possible. This family trip once a year gives us a great chance for bonding and connecting again when we’ve been waiting for 10 months of the year.”
Mike: “I think (our kids are) proud of the fact that they grew up on a farm. All of the responsibilities that they’ve had growing up they sometimes thought to be a pain, but now that they’re entering their twenties I think that they look back fondly on having that large workload.”
Cynthia: “I think one of the biggest things that growing up on a farm did is teach them an appreciation for the full cycle of life. You know, seeing births and deaths on the farm, whether caused by us eating the animal or just by maybe getting ill and dying. It’s something most children don’t experience, that gives them a different appreciation for life in general. And they also have a phenomenal connection with the food they eat that someone growing up in an urban setting wouldn’t have.”
Mike: “We’d love it if one or more of the kids stayed involved. Not even that they have to run it, but just for Cynthia and me, that would certainly be a motivator for us over the long term. Right now they’ve all gone off to university, but we’re hoping they’ll find ways to tie (their education) back to the family business. They’re involved now, our daughter does a lot of the social media, and I think they’re really proud of it. And also, I think they’re starting to miss it now that they’re gone away. We’re certainly proud of the discipline that comes with raising them on the farm. It comes with the lifestyle.”