Monday, January 21, 2019

Start in Sturgeon Blog


Welcome to the Start in Sturgeon Blog. Check here often for great articles about the County's Economic Development and other relevant issues.

The Heart Smart Red Meat!

I heard about Smokin Elk Ranch from a co-worker in a conversation about a herd of elk I noticed roaming a field while driving down Highway 2 past Morinville. I assumed that the herd had strayed from the Rockies while searching for food. Since this was my first time hearing about the ranch, I was naturally curious to buy a package of elk meat and try it out.

Smokin Elk Ranch is a family owned business that was started in 2003 by Bill Vischer, and his wife, Caroline. The farm occupies 280 acres and contains 210 free range elk - 82 bulls, 85 cows and 43 calves. Bill started his career in livestock as a dairy farmer after he took over a farm with his brothers from his father. He got out of the dairy business and moved with his family to Carbondale where his elk business started on a 77 acre farm. Building on the success of that ranch, he purchased a larger plot of land at his current location around Township Road 554 and Range Road 254. With product lines that include meat, processed elk antler and bulls with good genetics, the farm has operated successfully for twelve years.

Great meat!

Health-conscious eaters will appreciate that elk meat is very high in protein and is more richly flavoured than beef.  Elk meat, or venison, has fewer calories, less fat, and less cholesterol than beef, chicken, lamb and turkey. It is also rich in minerals particularly iron and phosphorus, which shows in its rich dark colouring.

Elk are raised with no growth hormones or chemicals. They are predominantly grazers and eat most upland grasses such as broom and legumes like alfalfa.  The lean nature of elk meats means it needs less time on lower heat. Customers stop in at the ranch for their supply of elk roasts, steaks, smokies, sausage rolls and other meat products. Since the animals are slaughtered and processed at a federal inspected facility in Barrhead, the meat is perfectly safe to eat.

Good supplements

Velvet antler is effective as an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, immune stimulant, and pro-grown agent. Antlers are said to be the fastest growing membrane known, and it is this rapidly growing tissue that contains nutrients needed to improve some human health deficiencies. Did you know that bulls grow antlers back in 90 days and can grow upwards of 2 inches a day during peak times?  If a human could grow bone that quickly, a broken leg would heal in one day!

Since elk grow and shed antlers every year, the cutting of the velvet antlers does not harm the animal. Typically, the antler is cut off near the base after it reaches about two-thirds of its potential full size before any significant calcification occurs. Harvesting the antler at the right time is crucial as it holds the most active ingredients within it at that time. The velvet covering is scraped off during processing and the rest of the antler is ground up into powder and packaged at a local processing facility in Sagundo. Royal Elk Products is a well-established local manufacturer of elk velvet antler capsules and bulk powder sold at the Smokin Elk Ranch.

and Excellent Genetics

There is significantly more profit generated from selling elk with good genetics. The animals are carefully selected to produce better elk to meet the needs of the velvet, hard antler and meat market. The size of a bull elk's antlers is an indication of his health and strength, and of his capacity to breed similarly hardy offspring. A large number of antler points and antler mass on a bull are usually indicative of superior genetics, good feed and maturity. Smokin Elk Ranch has achieved high standings in trophy elk competitions and with that; the ranch has increased its status among top breeders looking for excellent genetics. The ranch sells genetically superior elk to farms in the U.S. looking to improve the quality of their breeding herd, looking to grow heavier velvet or searching for trophy hunting stock.

Smokin Elk Ranch is a fun place to visit in the summer for your elk meat and to learn about elk. The Vischers host field trips from nearby schools, giving kids an insight into livestock farming. Stop by the ranch and try some elk meat – you’ll love it!

Smokin Elk can be reached at (780) 939-5659.

Did you know? Elk easily adapt to a wide range of temperatures by growing two entirely different coats.  The summer coat is a thin, sleek layer of short hair that is the colour of copper.  It is entirely replaced by the light brown and tan winter coat, which consists of two layers – thick, long guard hairs and a dense, wooly undercoat.

Your desire for everything green

My visit to First Choice Tree Nursery occurred on a beautiful sunny day when I was just itching to get out of the office after spending several hours at the computer. First Choice is just off Range Road 245 from Township Road 642, East of Morinville. The 80 acre tree nursery is owned by Ron and Deb Cherdarchuk who have owned the business for 22 years. If you have a passion for florals, you’ve probably heard of their son, Cory Christopher who makes regular appearances on Breakfast Television, CTV and the Edmonton Journal.

I was greeted warmly by Deb, who came out her greenhouse with a big smile and her tools – she was clearly enjoying her day working with her plants. It’s quite amazing that she’s able to get back to work after a bout with Hanta virus that threatened to take her life. Despite her slow road to full recovery, Deb is grateful to be back to what she loves.

First Choice Tree Nursery offers caliper and shelter belt trees, including edible and floral container gardens. In case you’re wondering, caliper trees are older and larger than saplings, and require extra care when planting. Shelterbelt trees consist of one or more rows of trees or shrubs planted in such a manner as to provide shelter from the wind and to protect soil from erosion. Container gardening on the other hand is a method of cultivating plants exclusively in containers instead of planting them in the ground. It’s useful in areas where the soil or climate is unsuitable for the plant or crop in question. Ron (Deb’s husband) also provides landscaping services and skid steer work.


First Choice Tree nursery has prairie hardy trees and shrubs in many sizes and varieties, including some exotic tree species like the Japanese Maples pictured on the bottom right. The nursery sells plants in container sizes along with balled and burlap field grown trees. Tree nursing can be labour intensive and a risky venture especially for small producers and is truly a labour of love. Deb spends several hours potting plugs, irrigating, fertilizing and weeding them until they are ready for her clients. With the experience she’s gained over years of nursing trees, you can be confident of the quality of her trees - her customers love her products. So whether you are a rookie gardener in need of hand-holding or an experienced gardener planning a major project, Deb can give you the professional advice and tailored recommendations to ensure your unique project is completed easily, with long-lasting results.


Container Gardening

For some home owners, the distinctive feature of their home is the expansive landscape and garden. Large flowerbeds filled with colourful perennials and annuals, bushes and shrubs lining the side walks or rows of vegetables. Fortunately, for those who lack ample space around their home, they do not have to miss out on all the gardening fun. Condo-bound gardeners who have even just a few square feet of available space can still work on their green thumb and beautify their outdoor space.


Container gardening is a niche that Deb is rapidly expanding at the nursery – I’m personally excited by this aspect of her business because it allows anyone to change the ambiance of an area by changing the plants in their pot or by moving them around. Take your pick – flowers, herbs or vegetables, Deb has an impressive array of plants that can bring splendor to your balcony, patio or window.

Take a visit to First Choice Nursery with your family. She will show you around the nursery, and around the farm. Even if you don't need plants right now, Deb would be happy to talk about possibilities with you, and share some of her ideas about landscaping. Here is her contact information:

56032 RR 245 in Sturgeon County
Phone: 780-939-4448

Call for an appointment

Your next sweater should be alpaca!

Late spring and summer are the best times to go on farm visits - longer daytime, warmth and animals that come out to play. Looking for a fun filled visit, I picked up my camera and headed over to Alberta Rose Alpacas which is located just 20 minutes North of Edmonton just off Highway 2, West of Morinville. There’s red alpaca barn is quite noticeable from the turnoff so it’s easy to spot. The owners of this alpaca ranch are Bob and Lauraine Bijou.

Prior to being involved with Alpacas, Bob worked in the construction industry and Lauraine worked as a school secretary in Morinville for many years.  They started a farm 20 years ago with a couple of alpacas and continued to breed them until they reached about 150. I have got to admit, the moment I saw the animals, I just loved them. They are so cute and look like a giant stuffed animal – what kid wouldn’t like them! Bob and Lauraine have built up their herd over the years to include prize champion winning alpacas. Breeding genetically superior alpacas is the most lucrative part of the business besides wool products.


Alpaca Wool

Alpacas produce one of the world's finest and most luxurious fibers, known for its fineness, luster, light weight and insulating quality, which is eight times that of wool. High-end designers are flocking to alpaca for its valuable fiber as many of them feel the yarn produced is more luxurious than cashmere and mohair. They are the only animals in the world that come in so many different colors. While similar to sheep’s wool, alpaca fiber is warmer, not prickly, and is hypoallergenic.

Alpacas come in 22 natural colors, with more than 300 shades from a true-blue black through browns-black, browns, fawns, white, silver-greys, and rose-greys

Bob and Lauraine shear the alpacas at the end of April or early May. The fiber is then sorted and sent to a local mill. Just as certain parts of a cow produce prime cuts, so do specific sections of an alpaca produce prime fibers—and that’s how alpaca yarns are sold. Twisted Sisters & Company Fiber Mill and Store in Leduc processes the raw fiber, which they spin into yarns and a variety of other products such as alpaca socks, duvets, blankets, scarves. Alpaca products may seem expensive but they are a good investment because they are far less likely to pill.

Did you know that an alpaca can handily grow enough wool for four or five sweaters in a year?

Woven alpaca scarf, hat and mitts

Bob and Lauraine are in the process of winding down their alpaca business within the next two years; however, their experience in the business has provided many insights that they’re willing to share with other alpaca enthusiasts. They also have a wide range of alpaca products for sale, so whether you’re interested in learning more about alpacas, planning a daytrip for the kids or getting a clothing gift for a friend or family member, visit their website at:


Heart ♥ healthy
Everyone's talking about the Nordic Diet - a diet with an emphasis on good, home-made and often home-grown, seasonal food - consisting of a wide variety of grains, berries, vegetables, fish, poultry and game (but very little meat). Health-wise, the diet has been proven in studies to lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation and lead to weight loss. 

New Nordic Diet calls for canola oil which is the main cooking oil in Scandinavia and contains seven percent saturated fat, even less saturated fat than olive oil, which contains 15 percent. It’s a great local alternative for those without access to olive oil. Canola is used as a key ingredient in many foods including the Nordic Diet. Its reputation as a healthy oil has created high demand in markets around the world, and overall, it is the third-most widely consumed vegetable oil. 

Canadian-grown canola contributes $19.3 billion to the Canadian economy each year, including more than 249,000 Canadian jobs and $12.5 billion in wages according to the Canola Council of Canada. The main canola products manufactured in Canada are oil for human consumption and meal for livestock feed. Canola oil can be further processed into a wide range of consumer and commercial food products.

I visited Bunge, a multinational company with a seed crushing facility in Sturgeon Industrial. Bunge is an agribusiness and food ingredient company that manufacturers edible oil products. From canola oilseeds, they produce shortenings and margarine, as well as salad and cooking oils for food processors and food service operators - you have likely enjoyed one of their products.

Bunge’s canola crushing plant in Sturgeon County produces crude canola oil and canola meal from harvested canola seeds. The company has been in the County for 35 years and currently employs 50 full-time people. Bunge sources its raw materials locally by working directly with local growers in Alberta .

Although I didn’t get an opportunity to tour Bunge’s processing facility, I learned a lot about the process used to turn canola seeds to oil. Essentially, canola oil is made at a processing facility first by removing waste material from the harvested seeds. The seeds are then pre-conditioned by slightly heating and turning them into flakes before they are pressed to extract the oil. The extracted crude oil is further refined using organic acids to give it good stability and shelf-life. The final step uses distillation to remove any unpleasant odour or taste. At this point, the canola oil is ready to be packaged and sold as cooking oil, or further processed into other products.

Every day, Bunge’s crushing facility in Sturgeon Industrial Park crushes about 850 metric tons of seeds, extracts 350 tons of crude oil and produces 500 tons of meal or pellets (a by-product created after the oil is removed from the seed flakes). The crude oil is transported to Wainwright, Alberta for further refining and then shipped back to Edmonton for packaging. Bunge sells fifty percent of its products on the Canadian domestic market and the remaining in the U.S. West Coast, China, Malaysia and Indonesia to name a few.

The Canola market has a great future ahead and processors are expected to gain tremendously from a healthy market outlook. In 2014, domestic processing totalled 7 million metric tons but that is expected to double by 2025. Trade agreements with South Korea and Europe in 2014 eliminated the tariff on canola and will improve market access for Canadian canola. Bunge is hoping to capitalize on this positive trend by expanding its seed crushing capacity. That could result in new employment opportunities in upcoming years.

For more about Bunge, visit:

Interesting Fact: Did you know that the name "canola" was chosen by the board of the Rapeseed Association of Canada in the 1970s? The "Can" part stands for Canada and "ola" refers to oil.

It’s all about good chemistry
I made a trip out to Guardian Chemicals, a privately owned Canadian company that researches, develops, and manufactures specialty chemicals in Sturgeon Industrial Park. I was impressed to find that environmental health and safety embody Guardian’s product development, from raw material selection to waste disposal. The company has been in existence for over fifty years with a current count of 53 employees at their 44,000 sq. feet facility. It really looks like a great place to work.

Chemical and materials manufacturing facilities play a major role in just about every facet of our lives but few people are aware of this industry’s role in keeping other sectors of our economy humming – think chemicals for newspaper printing presses, recycling water, cleaning boilers…the list goes on. Guardian Chemicals provides over 400 chemicals products for multiple applications and they have four divisions that cater to a wide range of sectors. One thing is common across these industries – they’re looking for products that are not only effective and reasonably priced, but environmentally safe as well - a tough juggling act from my point of view but a manageable challenge for their research and development team.

Pressguard and Roadtek are two products that are equipping industry to move toward safer, high performance products that are also environmentally friendly. Let’s starts with Pressguard and its uses in the wood panel manufacturing industry. I’m sure most of us have, at one time or another, bought furniture made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF). MDF is a product made from wood fibers that are glued under heat and pressure - a versatile product that replaces timber as a low-cost alternative.

The most common binder used in making these boards is formaldehyde, a chemical that is of concern to the wood panel industry because of the risk of cancer. The industry has imposed tighter controls on the use of formaldehyde and most mills in Europe and North America are switching to resins that are free of them.

Although these resins are safer to use, some cause excessive buildup on panel pressing machines, thereby slowing production. So the smart scientists at Guardian Chemicals have formulated a release agent called Pressguard that prevents this sticky resin buildup from occurring. In the picture above, the wood panel is sprayed with the release agent before the surface of the metal press comes into contact with the panel. Unlike other release agents on the market, Pressguard does not require any elaborate application process so it keeps the cost of board manufacturing low and our furniture affordable for us.

Another product that Guardian Chemicals invented has the potential of changing the road construction industry. If you’ve ever had unpleasant experiences with rough roads with washboard bumps and loose gravel, potholes, ruts or excessive dust, you’ll be pleased to learn about another product Guardian Chemicals is currently testing. Roadtek is an environmentally friendly and nontoxic product that is designed to stabilize and extend the life of roadways without major road base work. Twelve roads are currently being tested across Strathcona, Lamont and Sturgeon Counties, including some in St. Albert. You can test drive one of them in Sturgeon County at Lamoureux Drive at Highway 15 or Range Road 251, 1 mile south of Township Road 544. Roadtek has other uses including parking lots, mines, construction site, trails and embankments.

In the picture above, a computer-controlled spray boom on the back of a distributor truck is spraying a county road with Roadtek. Depending on the weather, the road is typically tack free (i.e. not sticky) within 4 to 6 hours. At that stage, the area may be reopened while the sealer coat continues to cure. It reaches full strength within 10 to 14 days.

Here's what a country road looks like after it’s sprayed. Looks like you'll have a few less trips to the carwash this fall! It’s remarkable to see a local company develop such innovate products that will ultimately have a positive impact on industry and the environment. If you’d like to learn more about Guardian Chemicals, check them out at or use this link to find them on Google Maps.

Guardian Chemicals
Phone: (780) 998-3771

Salt rocks the Ice

Does anyone share my frustration with the recent fluctuations in temperature and the resulting icy conditions? I can list several annoyances - thick layers of ice that seem to take the strength of Hercules to chip away, local roadways that are literally skating rinks, cancelled school buses, collisions and traffic delays…the list goes on.

This St. Albert Police cruiser rolled over while responding to another rollover. The RCMP officer survived with minor injuries.

Any of these situations has me praying that the roads and sidewalks I use are salted and sanded just before I leave home. I visited a mineral salt business in Sturgeon Industrial Park that helps us fight those icy conditions that seem to be occurring with such infuriating frequency – NSC Minerals Ltd.

NSC Minerals, a 28 year old business headquartered in Saskatoon, has been operating in Sturgeon County for 7 years and is currently a leading supplier of bulk and packaged rock salt for municipalities in Edmonton Region including Fort Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Sherwood Park and Stoney Plain to name a few. Their bulk products are used for a variety of applications such as highway de-icing, livestock feed supplements, hide curing, drilling muds, water softening, road stabilization, and industrial applications.

NSC Minerals’ storage facility in Sturgeon County is serviced by CN Scotford Yard. The majority of the facility’s bulk products are distributed within the Province of Alberta and Northern BC. NSC Minerals also has two modern operating plants with a daily production capacity in excess of 6,000 tonnes of salt crystals, located at Rocanville and Vanscoy, Saskatchewan. The production facilities are located in Saskatchewan where the salt is mined with potash deep under the Prairies.

The company started with two salt storage domes until it expanded its transload capacity. Over the years, the facility has evolved with the construction of a third storage dome, a shop and a truck washing bay. Two years ago, the Sturgeon facility started offering transload services and storage for fertilizer – a smart choice that now provides a steady revenue stream for the company throughout the year. Today, NSC Minerals is in the planning stages of a potential expansion project that could result in more rail car capacity and greater onsite storage.

Here is a brief photoblog of my visit to NSC’s salt storage facility. One of the foremen was kind enough to drive me around as he explained how the company ships salt every day with eight full time staff.