Prairie Dome: Growing with the generations

“I love being out in those fields and watching things grow.”

There’s an interesting story behind the establishment of Prairie Dome Seed Potatoes, Strawberries, and Saskatoons—if Elwyn Vermette had not been allergic to grain dust this 120-acre seed potato and fruit farm spanning three generations may never have been.

When Vermette moved to Yorkton, Saskatchewan, over 30 years ago to take up a teaching position, he had dreams of owning a farm. He and his wife eventually found the land they wanted, but when Vermette discovered his allergy his dreams were somewhat altered.

While trying to figure out what to grow, destiny played a part in the form of another grower’s enthusiasm and encouragement for growing potatoes.

“One day this guy stopped by and said, ‘you should grow potatoes, I’m getting out of it and you should be getting into it,’ and that’s how it started,” says Vermette’s son-in-law and manager of Prairie Dome, Kirk Flaman.

Vermette built a storage facility to keep his potatoes cool and well regulated. By pouring layer after layer of reinforced concrete on top of a hill of sand, which was eventually dug out after the concrete set, Vermette created the dome for which the business is named.

After learning all he could about growing potatoes, Vermette started growing seed. At that time, in the early eighties, the market was very small and Saskatchewan was seen as a prime area to grow seed. Today, Prairie Dome offers 11 varieties to growers coast to coast, including Viking, AC Peregrine Red, Norland, Sangre, Caribe, AC Ptarmigan, Yukon Gold, Goldrush, Russet Burbank, Kennebec, and Red Pontaic. The seed is available in the Elite 2 and Elite 3 generation and all varieties are tested for bacterial ring rot, potato virus Y, and potato leaf roll virus.

Just like his father-in-law, Flaman traded his text books and chalk for blue sky and wide open prairie. After teaching for ten years, Flaman jumped at the chance to grow seed potatoes alongside Vermette. Coming from a line of dairy farmers, Flaman’s passion for farming is long-standing. “I love being out in those fields and watching things grow. Then, after the harvest, I love dealing with the people—our customers—in the industry,” he says.

As well as seed potatoes, Prairie Dome produces wheat, barley, strawberries, raspberries, and saskatoons. Keeping the farm a successful and healthy business is a family affair—Vermette’s wife, Marie, and daughter, Tonia, manage the fruit operation, while Flaman is in charge of everything potato—from marketing to planning—as well as marketing the grain they produce.

After 30 years, Vermette is still the leader in many respects. “He is our reference guide—the person you bounce questions off of,” says Flaman. He is indispensable, helping out wherever he is needed—with potatoes, the fruit operation, or out in the field on a tractor, Flaman adds.

The third generation is already engaged in learning the business. Flaman and wife Tonia have shared their enjoyment of the farming life with their daughters Alexandria and Zoe, who help out in the fruit patch in the summer.

“You’ve got to have a really good network of people to lean on,” Flaman says. Great staff members make the long hours and intense work load easier to bear, he says. Also, being a member of the Saskatchewan Seed Potato Growers’ Association and acting now as its president, Flaman has experienced the positive role associations play in the life of a producer. “As a provincial organization with a voice we can be very effective in being heard. It’s good to be part of something that can influence policy and industry,” he says.

Keeping a good quality product and knowing the market is also of utmost importance, Flaman notes, but the real secrets to Prairie Dome’s success are simple: “A positive attitude, great staff, and a very loyal customer base,” says Flaman.