Alberta Open Farm Days 2019
Alberta Open Farm Days is a province-wide open house to all aspects of local agriculture. Over 100 Farms and ranches all around Alberta open their properties to the general public, to promote and educate. I didn't find out about it until the day before it started, but I am sure glad I did. I don't have any affiliation with the event, the farms, or any Ag-tourism directly. My endless love for Alberta just made me want to document my tours and advocate for supporting local. It's also fitting that this event fell within Alberta Local Food Week.
I spent my Friday night planning my Saturday and Sunday routes! I wanted to make about six stops both days and quickly realized that wasn't going to happen. I had to narrow it down and make it count! I managed to hit five farms total over the weekend. I wanted to visit more, but some of the spots I ended up spending a lot more time at than anticipated. But that's the whole purpose of Open Farm Days; having conversations, building relationships, and taking in all the information possible at every stop along the way.
Stop #1: Grey Owl Meadery
Alder Flats, AB
I planned my entire weekend around making sure I stopped in here. It's 129km from home (the furthest point on my itinerary), nestled on a beautiful acreage along my favorite Alberta highway, Cowboy Trail. There were a few reasons why I wanted to visit. I knew I needed some honey and to try the Hot Apple Pie mead. Also, after creeping their Instagram, I was hoping for the opportunity to photograph their Highlands! If you know me, you know I'm obsessed with cattle (is that weird? no? okay good).
I was able to accomplish my entire list, and then some! The farm dog, Bella, assisted me to the pasture where all the Highlands were mooing and chewing. There were a bunch of mommas, babes, and one big beautiful bull. After getting the shots I wanted, I went back to the tasting room to pick up some goods. I got a kilogram of honey that had been harvested and dropped off the night before from Little Mercia Honey Farm. That's one significant benefit of supporting local; it's as fresh as you can get! I also got a beautiful cinnamon-infused beeswax candle that even unlit gives the most pleasant, warm aroma to our bedroom.
Not only did I LOVE and buy the Hot Apple Pie mead, but I also got a bottle of Black Current and Orange Cat. I have had meads before, and they were all so sweet, they resembled a dessert wine. The meads at Grey Owl aren't like that all. They've put in such an effort to make them palatable and had great success in doing so. They have some traditional meads as well hybrid honey wines, with Oraniensteiner grapes they hand-picked from Naramata Bench. As an Okanagan girl myself, I can really appreciate that. I can't wait to share these at family dinners so that others can learn about this incredible local meadery!
Stop #2: Forth Haven Farms
Next, the adventure took me out to a fifth-generation, all-natural farm that promotes local and grows organic. My goal was to arrive in time for lunch, which consisted of a pulled pork sandwich, beet chips, and a raspberry cream pie. Sooooo good! It was catered by Huckleberry's Cafe, which is one of my favorite restaurants in the area (they're famous for their dill pickle soup). I learned that this farm provides the produce for Hucks. I thought that was kind of cool because they're 5 minutes apart from each other!
I took part in the farm tour, where the owner got candid of the rainy/cold season we've had in Alberta. Most farmers in the province have experienced crop failures, lack of pollination, and in some cases, complete losses. Even the colder than usual winter we had killed off their thistle weevil colony, which they used for thistle control in their organic garden. It's been a rough season for many Albertans, but farmers are the hardest workers and always persevere.
If you live in the Wetaskiwin area, Forth Haven Farms has a weekly veggie basket delivery program, and do not ship outside of their local food marketplace. They also offer naturally raised pork, lamb, goat, and chicken. Definitely worth checking out, as they are the epitome of promoting local and sustainability.
Stop #3: Grey Arrow Farms
Grey Arrow Farms was the final stop of my Saturday and the quickest. I arrived just as most vendors were packing up to leave, but I was right on time for the last farm tour of the day! One of the property owners, who is a full-time teacher and full-time farmer, toured us through the garden, describing their methods for planting, cultivating, and weeding. He talked about the June snow we had that wiped out much of the cucumber crop. One thing I thought was super smart about this farm is their garden is raised, so the rain runs off rather than drowning the produce. Their property is also bordered by the Lyseng Reservoir, that they use for watering the crops. It's a pretty self-sustainable farm! After the tour, the group was able to explore the garden, take a scenic walk around the water, or in my case, take photos. I ended my visit by picking up some produce and indulging in a free lemonade.
This farm offers a CSA Program (Community Supported Agriculture) weekly veggie delivery program with pickup locations in Edmonton, Camrose, Leduc, Tofield, and Sherwood Park.
Stop #4: Sunnyhill Alpacas
Sunday Funday started at an Alpaca farm just minutes from my house! I wasn't sure what to expect but was pretty thrilled when I saw so many alpaca babies. I didn't know the proper terminology for the offspring, so I googled it. You call a baby alpaca a cria; a female is called an hembra, and a male is called a macho (if I'm wrong, it's Google's fault). Here, they raise the alpacas for their fleece, which is one of the softest things you'll ever touch. They have an onsite mill where they take all of the sheered wool and process it every step of the way to a yarn that can be used to knit. They had a few women hand spinning yarn the old-fashioned way, a lost art if you ask me.
The hardest part of this visit was trying to keep my money— I wanted to buy everything on the table! I settled on a pair of slippers since I'm a sucker for any cozy items that keep my feet warm. The outsides are knitted, have alpaca hair on the inside, and are the most comfortable things I've ever worn. If you are in the market for anything alpaca related, they take custom orders!
Stop #5: Gruger Family Fungi
The final stop of Alberta Open Farm Days 2019 was the closest to home, at an indoor-grown, hemp-based, vertical mushroom farm. They toured us through their method from the first spore, to the 100-pound bags hung in humidity-controlled rooms, generating culinary and holistic fungi. This method of farming allows consistent, reliable crops that are available all year while being chemical-free in a clean environment. Their culinary mushrooms consist of pink oyster, blue oyster, gold oyster, king oyster, and lions mane. Their holistic crops are lions mane, reishi, and cordyceps, all of which you can read about at the respective links, it's quite interesting.
I left with a half-pound of pink oyster mushrooms, accompanied by a recipe for "Roasted Mushroom Bacon" which I am going to put in an omelet. I also left with a turmeric face cream that I am very eager to add to my skin-care regime. The icing on top for the day was the mushroom perogies they were serving!! I'm Polish, and those were some of the best perogies I've ever had. So that says a lot.
That's a wrap on my weekend documentation of one of the coolest events Alberta has to offer. My biggest take-away was learning that there are so many farms in my area. I mean, yes, obviously there are tons of them because it's all you see when you drive around. But it was cool to be able to visit them and see first-hand what they do and how they do it.
A lot of people don't take the time to think about where their meals come from, or how hard people work to make it happen. Farmers and ranchers put in countless hours, sleepless nights, fight against unbeatable forces and still bring top-quality food to our plates. Alberta Open Farm Days gives us all a chance to get back to our roots and show appreciation for the fruits of their labors. Alberta has so much to offer, so support local as much as you can, and thank a farmer.
Places I wish I could have visited (but still so hard to narrow it down):