Rowe Farms: Sustainability for Life

3. Good Health and Well-Being 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 12. Responsible Consumption and Production

Overview

Rowe Farms’ primary innovation is view that they take on farming in addition to how they generate their produce specifically their meat products. Having created the business in 1972, sustainability was always a priority in the eyes of John Rowe in addition to understanding the ingredients that went into the food he was eating. Through producing meat products and considering all aspects ranging from animal welfare, to using no GMOs and the impact that his farming would have on the environment, it is evident that John’s business model extended beyond the product in this case meat and extended to having a concern for the society at large. During this time, a sustainable transparent approach to farming was a relatively new concept within the farming industry, and an innovation that has served the company well in it’s 46 years of operations. 

Authors

Hayley McDonald

Hayley McDonald

Megan Grotsky

Megan Grotsky

Sydney Prince

Sydney Prince

Lucas Geisser

Lucas Geisser

Renee Gibbons

Renee Gibbons

School

University of Guelph

University of Guelph

Professor

Ruben Burga

Ruben Burga

Innovation

Rowe Farms achieves the good health and well-being goal (SDG number 3) by offering customers a variety of locally grown, organic, hormone and antibiotic free products. Customers shopping at Rowe Farm's retail stores are educated about the unique and sustainable products with signage around the store. Customers who aim to eat healthy are drawn to Rowe Farm's as their products are advertised as "quality with a conscience". The majority of Rowe Farm's business comes from repeat customers who value the goals of the company and strive to eat healthy, locally grown meats and produce.

Rowe Farms achieves the sustainable cities and communities goal (SDG number 11) as they support local farming and aim to supply their stores with as many locally grown products as possible. Rowe Farms describes their goal to support local farming by “reducing our impact on the lands we farm and becoming responsible custodians for future generations."

Rowe Farms achieves the responsible consumption and production goal (SDG number 12) as they are cautious of the impacts their farming will have on the natural environment and society. When John Rowe started the company, he knew that everything he grew would end up in the air. It was a priority for him to ensure that what was being put in the air as a result of their farming would not have any negative consequences on himself or anyone in the community. 

Rowe Farms: Sustainability for Life

Inspiration

“I was concerned for myself and for everyone else about the consumption of antibiotics in the food we eat.” was how John Rowe described his inspiration to start Rowe Farms. Rowe worried that heavy use of antibiotics in the animals we consume would create resistant pathogens in our bodies, making it difficult for consumers to have effective use of antibiotics when they are needed to fight illness. In 1972, it was hard to find food with labels. Therefore, people did not know what was in the food they were eating. Rowe thought it would be a fun hobby to start growing his own food to ensure he knew exactly what he was consuming.

The inspiration to start Rowe Farms was not just about the food, as Rowe believed that there were bigger issues that needed to be addressed, such as the environment.  Starting a career in farming would have many effects on the environment, and Rowe wanted to ensure he was contributing positively. Rowe made it a priority to farm sustainably as he noted, “anything we do in our environment, we have to pay attention to.” Rowe wanted to support local farming so he could monitor the farmers, and ensure everything they were doing was sustainable. He mentions, “people can farm in ways that are unsustainable, but when they are far away we don’t know.”

Overall impact

In 46 years, Rowe farms shifted their mentality from providing safe and sustainable food for John and his family to providing more for the community. Customers recognized the values John was embodying, which led to a “line out the door” for his sustainable products. John said a few customers didn’t even want to tell their friends about his business, as this would lead to fewer products available for them! This success led to more growth for Rowe Farms as a company, but even now they still have to work to keep up with the excess demand for what they supply.

Rowe Farms has grown to seven locations across southern Ontario from Guelph to North Toronto and continues to be offered in other retail locations. Their business has continued to grow and now commercially supplies some restaurants in the area. They also support other farms in the area by stocking their products to fill further consumer demands that they cannot supply, and by doing so are greatly supporting the local community. Sustainable efforts such as John’s, are now been seen on a national scale, such as with Earl's Restaurants who changed all their beef suppliers to ethically sourced farms, such as Rowe Farms. With customers and commercial focuses continuing to shift towards more conscious eating and ethically sourced meat Rowe Farms' target market will only continue to grow.

Business benefit

Adopting sustainable agricultural practices allowed Rowe farms to optimize the use of their natural resources, specifically land. In addition, when Rowe Farms first began in 1972, their sustainable farming practices forged a new, niche product offering totally unique from all other meat products filled with antibiotics, hormones and other unsustainable practices. Filling this niche has allowed the business to grow, due to the ever-increasing demand for sustainably sourced and ethically raised farm products. What began as a single store, selling only ethically sourced meat in Guelph, has grown to include a variety of products at seven different stores in Toronto and Guelph. 

Rowe Farms retail stores typically retain their employees for many years due to the store size and their employees aligning with the company's values. The majority of the store’s customers are regulars and often have individuals search their business out for their environmentally and socially responsible practices. The products sold at Rowe Farms bear a slightly higher price than non-ethically sourced companies carried at groceries, but they ensure their prices are competitive with other products made with similar values and they have no shortage of demand for their products. This has allowed them to expand their product lines to include a variety of other products that are supplied by other local farms they support. 

Social and environmental benefit

Rowe Farm's solution to farm sustainably provides many benefits to society and the environment. Many other farmers are looking at how to grow as much food as possible to earn high profits. However, this is not sustainable. Rowe Farm is focusing their efforts on how they are farming, as opposed to how much they are farming. John Rowe disagrees with increasing our food growth with methods that are harming our environment. The more food farmers grow, the higher the increase in bi-products that are damaging to our environment. Rowe Farms recognizes that farmers account for roughly 20% of our greenhouse gas emission, and that is not even including nitrogen. Their mission to farm using bi-products of maintaining a balanced, sustainable environment is beneficial to everyone in society and our natural environment.

By recognizing the stewardship required to support our growing population sustainably, Rowe Farms provides a wakeup call to local communities, challenging them to rethink the consequences of simple actions, such as how they choose to buy their food. Although Rowe Farm's products are priced higher than food from other grocery stores, consumers are challenged to think about the consequences to society and the environment that were caused in the production process of creating unsustainable products. 

Interview

John Rowe, Owner/Founder

John Rowe, Owner/Founder

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Rowe Farms

Rowe Farms

1027 Gordon St, Guelph, ON N1G 3Y1

Business Website: http://rowefarms.ca

Year Founded: 1972

Number of Employees: 11-50

John Rowe started Rowe Farms in 1972, with a vision to produce local food without the use of antibiotics, growth promoting hormones or animal by-products. Rowe Farm’s animals are raised locally in Guelph, Ontario, where the roots of the organization initially began, and are all provided with the highest levels of animal welfare. Customers can purchase Rowe Farms products from their branded retail stores located in Guelph and Toronto, Ontario.