Barry’s Bay — Spirits were high and an atmosphere of optimism prevailed last week as the owners of St. Francis Herb Farm celebrated the official opening of a new 33,000 square foot plant that will see all production for the company’s herbal remedies products moved from Combermere to Barry’s Bay.
“It brings us all together,” Paul Rivett-Carnac, president and CEO of the company, said. It brings the team together so we’re going to be able to better communicate, collaborate, with space for meetings and space for manufacturing capabilities as well. New equipment is on the way to allow for the expansion of manufacturing.”
St. Francis was a pioneer in Canadian natural herb products and now the company manufactures over 100 herbal health products. The company features organic herbs, craftsmanship and science all while focusing on producing high-quality products.
It was a long journey for a family-owned business which started in a kitchen in Bonnechere Valley and has since grown with sales across Canada, a staff of about 50 and a vision to continue to provide quality herb products to future generations. For Mr. Rivett-Carnac, his wife and partner Kaitlin and their staff Wednesday was also an opportunity to share their vision with the community, local politicians and to share their plans for growing the business in the Madawaska Valley at the new location. The new state-of-the-art building replaces production from several smaller locations in the Combermere area where the company has produced its natural health herbal-based remedies for the past 22 years.
St. Francis Herb Farm was founded by his parents, Monique and Jeremy Rivett-Carnac, 33 years ago. The couple moved from the Vancouver area where they had been involved in herbs for many years to the hamlet of Cormac in Bonnechere Valley Township in 1988. Here, they renovated a summer kitchen in an old farmhouse and from there St. Francis Herb Farm grew and prospered.
“They lived on the land. They grew their own food. They were really driven by a desire to help people, the people around them, with effective high quality plant medicine,” he noted.
Among the guests at the opening were MP Cheryl Gallant and MPP John Yakabuski, (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) and Madawaska Valley Mayor Kim Love. All three spoke highly of the family and the remarkable growth and progress of their business.
Mrs. Gallant said she remembered the first time she learned about St. Francis Herb Farm was when she met the senior Rivett-Carnacs who had a “special thing” they wanted to explain to her.
“It was in the height of H1N1,” she said. “They had a basket for our health minister that they wanted me to relay and in it was the Deep Immune because not all of us had access to the vaccine they were providing to the first responders and doctors. So, she presented this basket.”
Mrs. Gallant said it was remarkable how the business has grown, from one building to another building and all the other buildings.
“And most people, when I tell them I am going to St. Francis Herb Farm, they think I am going to buy some pot and I say ‘no, no, no’ and I tell them all about your products,” she said.
Mr. Yakabuski said the new plant was a culmination of years of work for the Rivett Carnacs.
“When I had the opportunity to view your production facilities in Combermere and have those discussions, I said, ‘boy what a great business, but do they need a new location, or do they need a new location’?
“And here’s what we are talking about today.”
Mr. Yakabuski shared the history of the property where the new plant is located, explaining when he was a kid there was a lumber yard on the site.
“We used to say that when the smoke was coming out of the burner at Murray Bros. it was a sign of prosperity and food on the table for the families in Barry’s Bay,” he recalled. “This repurposing of this land in this way is a sign of prosperity and food on the tables of the families of Barry’s Bay and area and this is a great day for the people.”
Mr. Yakabuski noted the herbal supplements manufactured by St. Francis can be found in stores across Canada, adding they are now in more than 400 Loblaws stores.
“It speaks not only to people wanting natural medicines and natural remedies, but also to the work you people have done … the quality, the reputation, and you don’t get that, you earn it.”
He paid tribute to the staff noting St. Francis Herb Farm is only as good as the people who work for it.
“You work for great people, but you make this company great, and I see great things ahead in the future as a result of this,” he said. “Growth, prosperity and food on the table for the people of Barry’s Bay and area, Madawaska Valley.”
Strong Local Support
Before attending the opening, Mayor Love said she took time to review her municipal file on the project. She said Paul and Kaitlin Rivett-Carnac asked council back in 2018 for a letter of support for a project they were developing to grow their business.
She said the couple and their project development team began working with municipal staff and council to sort out all the planning, permits and the little bumps along the road.
“There were a few of them and we had to get that all sorted out so we could have this wonderful complex here today and this wonderful opportunity for people of Madawaska Valley and beyond to have employment in good jobs,” she said. “Council and municipal staff are very excited this project is ready to roll and we’re hoping everything is smooth sailing going forward. We know this is going to be a great addition to Madawaska Valley, the people and the community … one of our best intergenerational businesses.”
Paul Rivett-Carnac recognized council and staff for working co-operatively with them on the project.
“We really have felt the support from you guys right from the beginning and it really makes all of this so important,” he said. “It’s important for us to be here, to support the economy, to be part of the local economy. It’s very meaningful for us to be able to do that.”
The company mission is to empower Canadians on their wellness journey through education and through effective natural health products, he said, adding the mission continues to be such a big part of who they are today.
“It’s the driving force of what we do. It’s the driving force of this project,” he remarked as he expressed thanks to his parents for the strong foundation that St. Francis is and for their passion and wisdom.
“It has really helped us to lay the foundation and we are building upon that foundation right here and now,” he said.
Mr. Rivett-Carnac said plans for new facility started at a meeting in the fire hall in Combermere.
“That’s when we had the sobering realization, we needed to move to a new place to continue to grow St. Francis business long term,” he stated. “And so, finally, five years later, here we are to celebrate this great milestone in our history. We position ourselves to further continue our mission to help Canadians through the building of beautiful, magnificent, incredible facilities.
“It’s such a game changer in so many ways. It amalgamates our operations from three different locations and warehousing from two other locations.
Mr. Rivett-Carnac said completion of the new building will allow the company to focus 100 percent on the business.
“It’s been such a consuming project for a lot of us and to have this finally completed it’s going to be exciting for us to really maximize now our time and energies through the growth of our business,” he said. “People and material flow is just going to be so much easier in so many ways. We’re still discovering news ways in which our lives are going to be better.
“Until now we’ve been handling things three, four, five times throughout the day through our previous setups, so it is such a game changer for us.”
The bottom line, he emphasized, is the firm has the space to grow and realize the plans it has been putting into action.
Customers Across Canada
Mr. Rivett-Carnac said St. Francis has customers across Canada, many of whom they have had long relationships with.
Before offering tours of the new facility, he saved his final words for his staff.
“I’m just so incredibly grateful,” he said. “I want to make sure everyone here understands that our team had been working in a less than ideal environment for a long time and it has been more challenging and those pressure points have grown as the business has grown. We’re talking about extra handling, negotiating for space, for working around things.
“We’ve joked at how we’ve all become masters at maximizing the space that we do have and it’s been really incredible what we have been able to do.”
He told employees to have been able to maintain the quality standards the company set and to have been able to meet customer demand in that environment was nothing short of amazing.
“From the bottom of my heart I really just want to say thank you for joining us on this wild ride, for being patient with me and with us,” he said. “I am so excited to share these new facilities with you.
“Our dream has finally become a reality.”
The 13 month-long building project received funding from Farm Credit Canada and the provincial government. The new building was financed by Farm Credit Canada and constructed by Maple Reinders. There were numerous trades involved in the project, in particular Zuracon of Barry’s Bay, who put up the shell of the building and interior walls. Production is expected to begin in the new facility today (Nov. 17) after the move is fully completed and the facility undergoes a deep and thorough cleaning.