It was late summer, on one of those beautiful days when you forget for a little while that fall is creeping up on you that my wife and I drove out to Berry Ridge Orchard just north of Gibbons. The orchard overlooks the beautiful Sturgeon River valley, from which it derives its name. Wade Fossum, who runs the orchard along with family, friends, and a few seasonal employees, greeted us with such a warm welcome. It was almost as though he was expecting us. Within a few minutes, we were touring his automated berry picking facility and chatting about his family operation, and had long forgotten our desire to pick our own berries.
Before moving to the prairies, my wife and I had never even tasted saskatoon berries. We certainly had no idea that the saskatoon berry (or June berries, as they're called south of the border) industry has grown to be the second largest commercial fruit crop on the Canadian prairies. (Strawberries still clinch the number one spot). Berry Ridge Orchard has grown right along with the saskatoon berry popularity, planting their first bushes in 1993, now totaling 40 acres of berries! Berry Ridge Orchard is primarily a farm direct service that provides frozen Saskatoon berries to food processors and restaurants in the Edmonton region, but they also welcome visitors like us who wish to buy in bulk or have the more hands on U-pick experience. If you want to catch the pick-your-own season, aim for mid-July to early August. Just don’t forget your insect repellant.
Wade took us on a tour of the farm, explaining how the operation runs, from mechanical harvesting to sorting/grading, bagging, freezing, and then shipping. The mechanical harvester is an impressive machine, standing 15-20 feet tall. It's so efficient - it kind of makes picking by hand look like an incredible waste of time. It simply drives over a row of saskatoons, shaking the berries off the plant and collecting them at the base of the harvester. The collection plates channel the berries onto a conveyor belt where a couple of fan units blow out the leaves and other debris. The berries are then transferred to large plastic bins, brought in from the field, and cooled to 4◦C to preserve the fruit’s freshness. This is where the human work comes into play. Some human eyes and hands are then used on another conveyer belt system to de-stem, weigh, and bag the berries. 10 pound bags of berries are then frozen and ready for market. Berry Ridge Orchard ships between 20,000 to 40,000 pounds of berries per year. That's a lot of berries! Even still, the current demand for saskatoon berries far exceeds supply, so this industry has some exciting potential.
Fun & yummy stuff
Back at home, we get to enjoy the fruits of our labour…ok, the fruits of the farm machinery. My two-year-old son, Sammy, is going through a stage of very picky eating, but he loves his smoothies. And I mean loves! He calls them “me.” "More me? More me, please??" His current favourite is one we like to call the Peachy’toon Smoothie. (See recipe below - and check out his smoothie moustache!). Add a bit of protein powder to the mix and you'll have a fantastic healthy breakfast or an energy boost for your workout. And if you have a picky toddler like mine, throw in a carrot or some spinach! The dark purple colour of the saskatoon berries does a brilliant job of masking the greens! Or, if you're looking for something a little less healthy, there are loads of other recipes out there - pies, muffins, jams - for your enjoyment.
If you're interested in visiting Wade's farm, he'd be happy to show you around.
Berry Ridge Orchard
On a side note, did anyone hear the recent debate brewing about renaming Saskatoons to Juneberries? Check out this article. Share your thoughts below in the comments section!
I wouldn’t have guessed that the alfalfa plant belongs to the pea family. As a nitrogen fixing plant (a legume), it has the highest nutrient value of any forage crop. Alfalfa is primarily used as feed for high-producing dairy cows, because of its high protein content and highly digestible fiber. It is also fed to beef cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. Sturgeon County has an estimated 60 percent of 14,000 acres harvested by a Legal company called Alfa Tec, the largest alfalfa feed manufacturer in western Canada.
Alfa Tec is a harvesting and processing plant that produces alfalfa pellets and hay cubes for animal feed. 50 - 60 percent of their product is shipped through British Columbia to the Pacific Rim countries of Japan, Korea and Taiwan while the rest is sold within North America (Texas, Florida, and Atlanta). Ontario and Quebec also have market distribution centres in Eastern Canada.
Guy Blanchette, Administration Manager at the facility, gave me a tour of the facility to see a production run in progress. The process begins at the farm where the alfalfa is cut and baled. The harvest timetable is a fundamental part of pre-production process to obtain the most suitable plant for manufacture of various commercial qualities.
Wilting is the second stage, which consists of natural drying to lower the average humidity level of the alfalfa before dehydration, without altering its nutritional qualities. The product is then delivered to the plant as green chop and artificially dehydrated in a rotary drum dryer. With hot air (between 250° and 600°C in dryer entrance), the moisture is reduced to about 10 -15 percent and then the green chop is crushed. The flour obtained is put into granulation presses where they are compressed through columned holes on a die and discharged as pellets of different sizes. The pellets go through a cooler and are then bagged and stored for shipment.
The markets for processed alfalfa have predominantly been in areas where shortage of land to grow forage crops has led to large quantities of forage imports. Spot markets for alfalfa continue to emerge from time to time; largely to fulfil a specific need (such as weather related feed shortages). Alfa Tec markets about 60,000 – 80,000 tons of products per year. Production has increased by 23 percent within the past five years and business continues to grow steadily for this Sturgeon company.
Alfa Tec is located in Legal, Alberta
To the untrained eye, Global Aircraft Industries might appear as a large yard with airplane shells and neatly organized scrap metal – however it is actually a huge warehouse for all types of spare parts that saves the aircraft industry thousands of dollars every year.
Global Aircraft Industries serves the aviation industry by supplying a community of general aviation pilots, aircraft maintenance facilities and aircraft mechanics with a huge selection of quality used aircraft parts, aircraft salvage, used aircraft engines, and used avionics. The company professionally dismantles, preserves and documents aircraft equipment to ensure their clients get quality parts with a known history.
Founded in 1985, Global Aircraft Industries has operated successfully over the past 25 years at Villeneuve Airport, north of Edmonton. The business operates on 10 acres of leased land and a building space of approx. 22,000Sq. Aircraft that make up their inventory have been either been retired or are received due to bad weather conditions, airport flooding, mechanical malfunction or pilot error resulting in an incident.
Owner, Abe Silver has decided to retire from the business to spend more time with family. Global Aircraft Industries will be auctioning its inventory of parts this summer as it winds down business. The company’s estimated asset value is approximately $1.9 million which includes inventory of $1.8 million. The land and building space is currently being leased and is available for purchase separately.
We wish you well in your retirement Abe!
If you are interested in purchasing this property or getting more information please click to visit the property listing.
Written by Jonathan Saah, Sturgeon County Economic Development Business Development Specialist
Start in Sturgeon is about building your business within Sturgeon County. We wanted to create a website that welcomed conversation, included easy to find information and was flexible to work on multiple devices.
We are excited to reveal our new website that we have been working on for a number of months. We will continue expanding on the information and resources that are available on the site, and welcome your input along the way. One key piece of this site will be our new Business Directory. This directory will soon list all businesses within Sturgeon County, including licensed businesses in Bon Accord, Gibbons, Legal, Morinville and Redwater. If you have a business that is currently not listed, please email your business information to Leanne at firstname.lastname@example.org to have it included.
Thank you for browsing through our site, we look forward to expanding on it to include everything you need for doing business in Sturgeon County!