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Archive for the ‘From Local Farms – The Series’ Category

From The Farmers’ Mouth – Time to Vote

12.21.11

My highlight reel of ‘From Local Farms‘ videos was just chosen by Daniel and Mirra of The Perennial Plate as a top-four contender in their recent video competition. I’m honored to be on the list, to say the least. The very reason I started a video series at all was directly because of Daniel and Mirra’s earliest episodes – inspiring me to pick up a cheap Flip camera, introduce myself to some farmers, and press some record button. My life, quite literally, has not been the same since.

So a big thank you goes out today to Daniel, Mirra, all the passionate farmers, and especially to you for taking the time to watch what other folks have to say about our food world. You plugging into and supporting projects like The Perennial Plate matters – it creates cracks in a food culture needing to evolve.

Please click over here to like the video on facebook, and vote for it too while you’re at it. If the vid wins the day, it will replace the regular programming of The Perennial Plate next Monday, exposing it to a very large viewership of like minded folks across many borders. That would be very cool. Even if it doesn’t, big thanks to Daniel and Mirra for your support of what I’m up to and sharing your audience.

Sundog Organig Farm – Teaser

08.26.11

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m producing a video project with Sundog Organic Farm that will span the next few years. I’ve been out there a few times lately to capture where their land, family, and heads are at, and wanted to put together a super-quick trailer to give folks involved [and you] a sense of the feel of where I’m headed with it at the moment. The feel might change, the post-audio will get done, and I’ll spend more than 15 minutes on the edit like I did on this tidbit – but I still think it gives you an idea what it might look like down the road.

It’s an interesting project – tracking somebody’s thoughts over a period of months and years. As a viewer the change over time is dramatic, but it seems to be unperceived by them as they toil and adapt to the constant change and challenge that is setting up their new farm. Thankfully the camera does its job at capturing those moments in time that are soon forgotten. I just hope I can do it justice in editing.

The final product is years out yet, but I’ll likely release tidbits here and there as things progress.

Enjoy the teaser.

Farm to Table w/ RGE RD & Nature’s Green Acres

07.27.11

Farm-to-table dining, while commonplace elsewhere, is still an extremely progressive concept in our restaurant scene. When one of the most well-respected chefs in the city, Blair Lebsack, mentioned he was going to tackle serving a multi-course dinner to 30-40 guests out in the cow pasture at Nature’s Green Acres, I wanted to be there.

I find in the food service industry, ‘Local‘ normally equates to an element, maybe two on the plate being local, and it’s usually a protein. ‘Seasonal‘ often really means, ‘seasonal somewhere’. Not here. The beef, pork, and chicken was from the farm, yes, but when the farm didn’t have enough garden to supply the dinner, Blair and Caitlin got out there and built and planted garden months in advance. They foraged nettle for one of the iced teas and the ice cream, and nicked edible flowers from farm yard to include in the menu. They made butter for bread and for the pastries in the desert course. Blair chased the pig into the trailer to haul off to the abattoir, and butchered it himself. They butchered chickens, made stock for the soup, and used the livers in a terrine. He even helped the farmer rip the ancient, neglected, wood burning stove out of one of the farm’s outbuildings so he could cook on it – the entire service being done over wood fire. Essentially, if it wasn’t from the farm or a neighbour, it wasn’t on the menu.

It was an epic evening for everyone involved, I think – certainly the kind of event you don’t soon forget, if ever. Keep an eye out for more from Blair and RGE RD [the name of his new venture], as this wasn’t a one-off. Perhaps farm-to-table has finally truly arrived.

From Local Farms – Riverbend Gardens

07.21.11

I wasn’t sure what to expect when driving up to Riverbend Gardens, whose farm is actually within Edmonton city limits, but it certainly wasn’t this: a young 3rd generation farming couple just in the middle of having a family struggling to find time to fight to stay on the land their family’s farmed for half a century. Juggling pregnancy, a couple toddlers, a large staff, farmer’s markets nearly daily, a whole pile of different vegetables and plants at various stages of growth, succession planning, and getting politically involved to protect their land against development cannot be an easy task. And the deer want to eat their crops. They have to hire a couple people to stand watch through the night while transplants size up, or the deer will put them out of business. Perhaps to drive the point home for my visit, mother nature knocked out their power, just for good measure.

One perk of taking on an established farm is they currently plant only half the land for the year, letting the other half rest. With the cost of land around the city in the millions/quarter, I’m assuming that’s generally not economically feasible. Producing food locally can be both a blessing and a curse, and it’s never been more evident to me than here.

From Local Farms – The Cheesiry

07.13.11

I left the Cheesiry feeling strangely like I’d just visited an old-world producer – and not simply because of the old-school pecorino they produce. There’s a wonderful vibe from the cheesiry being built into the heart of the family farm’s old cow dairy facilities which on a hot day offers a cool and patina’d experience – and stepping into their boutique where Rhonda will guide you through her creations certainly adds to the experience. Having decided at age 30 that it was time for a change, she uprooted and ended up in Tuscany making pecorino: sheep cheese. She’s carried the techniques – even her gear is custom built to replicate what she came to know at the Tuscan farm – back to Alberta’s sparse artisan cheese scene.

Rhonda and her husband Brian have a lot going for them. Youth, for one, but also the tremendous opportunity to carry on Brian’s family’s farming traditions in their own way. Takes guts. Their marketing is slick, their product oozes character and quality, and they have great help and support including an Austrian cheesemaker colleague helping in the Cheesiry, and an Aussie well versed in sheep husbandry helping them with their flock. The lot of them are in the process of changing our local food culture, one wheel of cheese at a time.

From Local Farms: Tangle Ridge Ranch

06.30.11

Tangle Ridge Ranch is inspiring. Though about as young a couple as I’ve met farming to date and not having grown up with parents that farmed, Vicky and Shayne sport agriculture degrees and farm industry experience – and have chosen land stewardship rather than veterinary science as their path to raising healthy animals.

I’ve been waiting to see my first rotational grazing setup, and I’m still taken aback. It’s simple, sensible, practical, and effective – and it leaves me wondering why more farms aren’t set up this way. It’s about as good for land fertility as you can get, promotes biodiversity, is a quick farm chore [half hour every 2 days], and eliminates chores like manure shoveling/spreading, overgrazing of land, and feed handling and cost. I’m sure it has its cons, but that’s a pretty serious list of pros.

Citing capital and financing hurdles as the biggest obstacle to young folks getting into farming – banks want farming-parent collateral to approve financing of land, and aren’t interested in credentials or a well developed business plan – these two have found ways to make it work, are raising a young family, and a whole lot of little sheep families. They, once again, make me proud of the direction folks in my generation are taking farming.

From Local Farms – Irvings Farm Fresh

12.15.10

It’s hard to believe it was only 2008 when I butchered my first side of Berkshire pig from the Irvings’ farm. It was the beginning of an adventure in charcuterie, and as I sit here about to make another batch of saucisson sec, I can’t help but feel grateful. Since that first side, we’ve done 18 – most from their farm, all done in my garage, generally done like this.

Alan and Nicola are wonderful, hard working folks tackling not only the animal husbandry business, but the meat processing  side as well – specializing in British sausages and cured products they grew up with. They’ve filled a void in the charcuterie game around here, no question, and it’s keeping them busy. So busy that a lot of the pork they process is from other local farms – something Nicola talked about on camera, but didn’t make the edit.

In this video, Nicola talks about Berkshires, feed, what got them started, and shares some frustration about a general lack of understanding on the consumer’s part about nitrites [which I share]. One piece that got me quite excited is their plan to start rotational pasturing their pigs on their 80 acres – when they do, I’ll be writing about it.

Cinder & Ella - our fall pigs

FROM LOCAL FARMS – En Santé Organic Winery & Meadery

10.08.10

A simple hard truth about living in Alberta: vinifera grapes don’t grow here. [yet]. As a self-professed wine snob, that hurts the feelings a little. For a time I felt pretty good considering the Okanagan valley ‘local enough’ to get my wines, but a recent drive reminded me that 14+ hours isn’t really all that local anymore. Not even all that close really. I arrived home after a punishing drive with small children to my apple tree in full-on-huge-red-apple glory, and  laughed at myself. 5 cases of wine awaited me from my tree alone. No need to drive that far, or at all.

I admittedly have become lightly obsessed with urban orchard wines, given the propensity for city yard fruit trees to produce literally tonnes of wasted fruit that can be had by all for free. [I tackled over a tonne of fruit myself this year, literally] Which, of course, made En Santé Organic Winery and Meadery a clear choice for my From Local Farms project. They had to build an industry for themselves to exist, and offer products that speak to the terroir of our region – highbush cranberry, rhubarb, saskatoon, and mead included. Xina, their winemaker, dives into a discussion about our cultural shift away from and back to regional flavors, challenges the notion of ‘conventional’ agriculture, and chats a bit about their apple wines, mead, and other products.

FROM LOCAL FARMS – Smoky Valley Goat Cheese

09.28.10

Used to be that fine goat cheese was something my wife and I would enjoy while traveling in France. Ten years later, as did the Smart car and Sephora, artisan goat cheese showed its face in Edmonton. When Smoky Valley Goat Cheese arrived at our City Market this spring, I wrote about it immediately. It changed our household food culture overnight, and since then our cheese has been hand crafted by Holly Gale.

As you may know, I’ve been on a bit of a crusade of sorts lately, doing what I can to help one of too many small artisan farm operations  struggling with viability. And yes, there’s a reason their new website looks shockingly like my blog, as I have recently been charged with re-creating their online face, asap.

I often wondered how Holly could make such good cheese right out of the gates, but now I know – she’s been making small-batch, farmstead cheese for over 30 years. In the video she discusses some of the challenges [everpresent in the regional farming gig], inspirations, and goals for their artisan dairy. Forgive the impromptu camera folly as the goats played with my tripod during the interview, and ate my list of questions for Holly. Ah, goats.

FROM LOCAL FARMS – Gold Forest Grains

09.22.10

Organic grains from just outside the city – a bit of a dream come true for me. I could buy organic bananas and skads of other items grown overseas, shipped, then trucked to me.  I could buy large sacks of organic flour from Anita’s Organic in Chilliwack, BC. But I couldn’t seem to find a good supplier of larger quantities of organic grains from the vast fields of cereal crops surrounding our city.  It didn’t make sense.

Problem solved. These folks are my new source. This episode was shot between Edmonton and Spruce Grove – other than Sundog Organic Farm actually IN the city limits, these folks are about as local as you can ask given the ridiculously high prices for land around the city. And this past spring, they bought a mill and started selling their products retail. Thank God for that.

As you’ll see, John’s very well spoken and informed, and is fighting the good fight supplying locally farmed organic grain retail rather than solely selling it into the international commodity market. He has an informative blog, which is going to allow me to defer to that for more information, and simply leave you to enjoy listening to John talk about who he is and what he does, addressing some of the issues surrounding grain farming – notably the disconnect between local organic feed and local organic livestock producers that came up in the comments of the Nature’s Green Acres episode.