One Alberta farm family has turned a global tragedy into an opportunity to help impoverished children — with some pretty tasty results.
In 2010, then 10-year-old J.R. Wikkerink was awaiting the arrival of his adopted baby brother from Haiti when a catastrophic earthquake devastated the country, leaving his new sibling living in a tent and suffering from cholera.
“J.R. was pretty touched by this and felt, like the rest of us, pretty helpless,” said Wayne Wikkerink, president of Screamin Brothers, a dessert company based on the family farm near Lethbridge.
So J.R. decided to fundraise by selling a novelty frozen dessert he created at the farmers’ market, making it dairy free so his lactose-intolerant brother Dawson could enjoy some, too.
Week after week, the product sold out.
“As a dad, you’re going, ‘Hey, this kid may be on to something here,’” said Wikkerink.
Before long, a retailer approached the family, and today, its dairy-free frozen treats are sold at more than 80 stores in Alberta and B.C.
Now, the goal is to go national with Screamin Brothers — a name jokingly coined when J.R. and Dawson were loudly arguing about what to call the company.
At first, Wikkerink was surprised by the demand, but with eight flavours free of the 10 common allergens listed by CFIA — including dairy, gluten, and nuts — Screamin Brothers fills a gap in the market. Having locally sourced ingredients is also key.
“The ingredient with the largest volume we source locally is honey,” said Wikkerink, who also buys local strawberries and fruit from B.C.
As a farmer (the family raises grass-finished cattle and heritage chickens), Wikkerink feels it’s important to support local producers whenever possible.
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“All too often in agriculture, we’re based on a commodity market price,” he said. “The more value we can add to the commodity that’s come out of our region, the more dollars that get spun into our own economy.”
Farming has now “taken a back seat to the ice-cream business,” he said.
Screamin Brothers has a few contract employees, mostly for food safety and packaging, but the bulk of the work still falls on the family.
“It’s in such a growth stage at the moment, and there’s a lot of work that goes into getting to meetings and attending trade shows to get the word out there.”
Both J.R., now 14, and Dawson, 13, are still heavily involved in the business, with J.R. managing the marketing and Dawson taking care of the finances. Their mother, Anne, along with seven-year-old Joseph, and five-year-old David, work in their on-farm processing facility.
The family also donates five per cent of net profits to support children’s charities at home and abroad.
“The main goal of the business as it got started was to help kids, and that’s still a major part of why we do what we do,” said Wikkerink.