Photos taken by Margaret Bose –Johnson of Kitchen Frau
Peas on Earth Organic Farm is nestled in the plains of Sturgeon County, a 65 acre certified organic market garden, owned and operated by Eric and Ruby Chen. Before establishing Peas on Earth in 2000, Eric operated a small farm around north Edmonton. Eric comes from an agricultural family while Ruby has a background in business – these two couldn’t be better suited for running this successful venture together. When the couple initially bought the land from its previous owners, it was an empty field with no trees. Eric and Ruby saw a ripe opportunity for investment, starting with a green house and then expanding into acres of organic crops. The couple are looking to expand the farm and exploring the idea of using the log building on their farm for business retreats and weddings – not a far stretch, considering that they hosted local chef, Blair Lebsack at an outdoor, farm to table dinner. This event included a five course dinner and wine pairings....oooh, I’m getting the cravings!
So why organic?
It is not just about better flavour and nutrition. It is about being part of a food cycle that cares for people and the environment. Price comparisons are often made between conventional and organic food items. The price of food is directly correlated to the number of labour hours spent on production. Organic food is much more labour intensive because farmers do not rely on mechanical and chemical inputs at the same level as some conventional production. The Chens practice crop rotation and use green manure crops, grown as ground covers or plowed down, to build fertility and improve the soil. Eric admits that one of the biggest challenges of farming can be finding a healthy work/life balance. Because farmers love their work, it can be hard to remember to make time to do things not necessarily farm-related. Eric and Ruby find satisfaction in providing their customers with organically grown, healthy, nutritious, and most importantly, delicious produce.
Is organic labelling a gimmick?
No, organic food is the most highly regulated food in Canada. There is an extensive regulatory framework that ensures every farm, producer, processor and distributor is inspected at least once per year. Every producer pays for its own certification and inspection costs and works in partnership with the Canada Food Inspection Agency to ensure food labelled organic is truly organic.
Visiting the farm was such a refreshing treat! Eric and Ruby were so hospitable and generous. I left with samples from their farm and a big smile! J. Peas on Earth has established itself at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market, the St. Albert Outdoor Farmers’ Market, the Callingwood Farmers’ Market, and the Organic Box home delivery program. The farm is located at 24527 Sturgeon Road, Sturgeon County. Check out their website at peasonearth.ca or call 780-973-6680.
There is no doubt that the plunging oil prices have caused
concerns among industries that are linked to the energy sector. Is it all doom
and gloom as some would lead us to believe? My answer is an emphatic no. My
perception from visiting firms linked to the energy sector indicates mixed
impacts. Indeed, some companies have scaled back and put new plans for capital
projects on hold while others are forging ahead and capitalizing on lower
construction costs resulting from a more competitive labour market. Obviously, the
metal fabrication sector will continue to thrive because existing industrial
facilities will need to maintain and replace old machinery and parts.
I toured McSween Custom Fabricating's facility in Sturgeon
Industrial Park a week ago and their mood spells optimism even in the midst of
changes within the energy sector. McSween
Custom Fabricating is an industrial fabrication and construction company that
has been serving industrial plants in Alberta since 1980. The company
was started as a family business by two brothers that were involved in the
trades. It evolved through the years, expanding its client base after it was
purchased by its current owner, Nelson Martin. McSween’s expertise covers a broad range of industries, which include
petrochemical, fertilizer, cement, mining, pharmaceutical and power generation. The company
has two shops; a main shop with 28,000 square feet which is their custom
fabrication shop with 15 employees. This shop is involved in fabricating
vessels and custom forming, shearing and rolling. The second shop of 10
employees is a pipe products shop which is 12,000 square feet fabricates
process pressure piping of any alloy.
Fabricating also employs 18 people that are capable of providing project management
services, engineering and design. It also has a field
maintenance division consisting of 70 people of various trades, pipe fitters, pressure
welders, millwrights, boilermakers and iron workers that provide maintenance
support to the industrial sector.
has built a great reputation on high quality and flexibility when it comes to
difficult projects. Inside one of the facilities, there were large pipes and
vessels that were being worked on. I wondered how these giant, heavy pieces
ever leave the shop. It turns out that the shops are equipped with multi five
ton overhead cranes and the large overhead doors are designed for the finished pieces
to exit the shop.
also learned a couple of interesting facts about welding. When two pieces of
metal are welded; scorching temperatures of around 5,500 degrees Celsius (9,900
degrees Fahrenheit are used). The sparks that result can be as hot as 1,300
degrees Celsius (2,500 degrees Fahrenheit) so needless to say, I was sure to
stand clear! The finished pipes and vessels also undergo testing for strength
and leaks. The test involves filling the vessel or pipe system with a liquid,
usually water, which may be dyed to spot leaks more easily. Vessels are
pressurized to a specified test pressure at which point, instruments measure
pressure loss. The strength of a vessel is usually tested by measuring the
deformities of the container. These tests are conducted in front of clients to
ensure that their project is compliant with all stated specifications and
enjoyed my visit with McSween Custom Fabricating and I have new admiration for
engineers that design and build stable and durable structures that keep Alberta’s economy
humming. You can also learn more on how engineered technologies sustain our
economy by visiting the Western Manufacturing
Technology Show. This event will be hosted in Edmonton from June 15-17, 2015. The show is geared towards the needs of manufacturers in
Alberta and throughout Western Canada in industries ranging from oil and gas,
industrial and commercial machinery, construction, mining, agriculture, wind
energy and aerospace.
The show will provide access to
state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment, educational sessions and networking
opportunities. It is
designed to be a one-stop, all-encompassing venue for the latest technologies
and trends in machine tools, tooling and accessories, metal fabrication, design,
automation and assembly, advanced manufacturing, plant maintenance and process
control, so if you’re interested, visit the Edmonton EXPO Centre at the
Northlands, Halls F, G & H, 7515-118 Avenue, Edmonton. Get more information from the event website at: www.wmts.ca.
McSween Custom Fabricating, Welding, Erecting Ltd may is located
Sturgeon Industrial Park
Sturgeon County, AB T8L 5C1
Phone: 780 998
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.
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.
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.
My four year old son Sam, has an unusual fascination with
aircraft and counts them as they are flying by. I know that Sam would’ve loved
to join me on a visit to a helicopter maintenance company at Villeneuve Airport
but he would’ve been quite interruptive with requests for a ride, so Sam had to
wait for an appropriate opportunity to see a helicopter up-close.
Avialta Helicopter Maintenance introduced me to a whole new industry
that I didn’t know much about. When I think of helicopters, the obvious
activities come to mind - site seeing, heli-skiing, firefighting and search and
rescue operations. But I wasn’t aware of some of the specialized uses for them.
Helicopter are involved in new and expansion projects within several business
industries across Western Canada such as mining exploration, logging, equipment
moves, aerial construction and power line construction. These are lucrative
markets that companies like Avialta have targeted since they came into
existence 26 years ago.
Helicopter Maintenance is a Transport Canada approved helicopter repair and
overhaul maintenance shop, performing
routine and major maintenance and aircraft customizations including, interior,
paint, avionics, optional equipment installations and maintenance level
company also leases a fleet of over 30 aircraft to various industries across
Canada for specialized applications such as those I previously mentioned.
industry around Avialta
The helicopter industry has historically been built on
providing access to remote areas and is sustained by clients that work in the
field. In Alberta, helicopters plays an essential role in the natural resource
based economy and so the slowdown in exploration and delays on major capital
projects caused by low energy prices has increased competition within the
helicopter industry to a significant level. While lower profit margins are
squeezing some operators out of the business, Avialta has developed well-honed
survival skills to navigate their businesses through seasonal and cyclical
upsets. Even though some
aircraft owners and airlines perform maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services
in-house, many more prefer outsourcing them because they have chosen to focus
their attention on core business operations, as opposed to MRO. This area of
opportunity has expanded over the years and contributed to Avialta’s success.
industry around Avialta
The helicopter industry has historically been
built on providing access to remote areas and is sustained by clients that work
in the field. In Alberta, helicopters plays an essential role in the natural
resource based economy and so the slowdown in exploration and delays on major
capital projects caused by low energy prices has increased competition within
the helicopter industry to a significant level. While lower profit margins are
squeezing some operators out of the business, Avialta has developed well-honed
survival skills to navigate their businesses through seasonal and cyclical
though some aircraft owners and airlines perform maintenance, repair and
overhaul (MRO) services in-house, many more prefer outsourcing them because they
have chosen to focus their attention on core business operations, as opposed to
MRO. This area of opportunity has expanded over the years and contributed to
Avialta Helicopter Maintenance was purchased by Rod Wood in 1985 when it was a small two-person operation located at the tiny St. Albert airfield just north of Edmonton at ProNorth Industrial Park. While he may not have ever anticipated challenging the giants of aviation maintenance, Rod had a desire to grow his small firm quickly but steadily.
Today, the company consists of 18 employees that range from aircraft maintenance engineers, office staff and support workers at their maintenance facility within Villeneuve Airport. This facility is 19,000 sq. ft. comprising a hangar space, paint shop, part sales area, and component shop with an adjoining office structure.
Although current economic conditions continue to challenge the
survival skills of many helicopter companies, Avialta is well-diversified and
specialized enough to weather the slowdown across the energy industry. With the
province kicking off its forest fire
season earlier than it traditionally has, Avialta could have a busy helicopter leasing
season ahead. I’d like to thank Paul Horvartis and Avialta for giving me a tour
of their facility – Avialta is definitely an important contributor to the
economy of Sturgeon County and they certainly make us all #SturgeonProud!
Contact Avialta Helicopter Maintenance at 780.460.1800
or check out their website at www.avialta.com
I was really excited about a visit to an organic farm with my co-worker, Leanne, 5 minutes north of Morinville. I’ve dreamed of being a farmer in a “second life” because I just love being outdoors – well, except for prairie winters. It was a beautiful fall day and we pulled up in front of a beautiful house nestled in the corner of a large farm area. The field was a sea of colour with its varied crops.
This cute little calf came to greet us, followed soon by Jo-Anne and Ward Middleton.
They were a very hospitable couple, eager to give us the grand tour of their organic farm and share their story. They told us how they got involved in organic farming, some of the challenges involved, and how they worked to overcome them. I could tell this couple is really passionate about organic farming. You likely met them if you attended the Alberta Open Farm Days just this past August.
How it all started
Ward bought the property from his siblings and his father in 1994. Since Jo-Anne grew up on a farm, she chose to farm full time. They first grew medicinal herbs, ornamental grasses and native grass seeds. They then transitioned to higher premium organic products not only to profit from the growing natural food trend but also because they have a strong belief in sustainable farming at the core. The farm presently covers about 750 acres of organic milk thistle seeds, sugar peas, brown peas, rye, wheat, buckwheat, canola, and flax. Ward and Jo-Anne also use a myriad of innovative farming methods within their business model that include intercropping and custom cattle grazing to name a few. It was really neat to see a farm plan that Ward creates on an annual basis to manage the crops that he grows. Besides the layout of the farm, the plan detailed the date of sowing and maturity, crop yield…you name it. This farm is really well organized! One of the most fascinating things Ward discussed during our conversation was weed control.
How are the weeds controlled?
Ward admits that there are no quick fixes for weed management. Complete eradication of well-established weeds is not only unachievable but is generally not the intent of organic farmers. However, certain practices can have a significant impact on the type and number of weeds on a farm. So what are these practices, you might ask. It starts with prevention. Every care is taken to select seed sources that are free of invasive weed species and monitor their spread. Sometimes, new weeds need to be quickly destroyed by digging them up or by laying plastic over the infested area to raise soil temperatures and kill off all roots or seeds in the upper layer of soil. Mulching also creates a barrier to new plant growth in order to starve new shoots. Ward also uses crop rotation not only to control diseases and insects but also to improve the fertility of the soil. For example competitive crops like barley are alternated with less competitive crops such as flax. Varying seeding dates also limits the ability of some weed species to adapt and become a problem. Early seeded crops can become well established before those pesky weeds emerge.
An innovative, sustainable farming system
Let’s face it; most farmers could share a story or two about a season of crop failure. The Middleton farm is no exception but they’ve learned to adapt to those challenges. Ward and Jo-Anne have a diverse farm operation that includes custom grazing. They seeded a portion of the farmland that used to be a seasonal body of water prone to occasional flooding with grasses and legumes and fenced it off for rotational grazing. It’s a match made in heaven for the neighboring cattle ranches that would be forced to buy hay without that grass patch. They also raise these cute little bunnies that we had a chance to pet, a few calves and pigs. We were told that during the summer, they have a limited supply of pork and beef they sell to the public but they always run out very quickly.
Ward and Jo-Anne are also exploring new markets for a unique orange berry called sea buckthorn. I had never heard of or tasted this fruit, which is chock-full of protein, vitamin C, antioxidants and other good stuff. The berries are quite tart, sort of like sour orange with hints of mango that make tasty juices, jams and spicy jelly. Here is a plate of sea buckthorn & goat cheese bruschetta that will surely make your mouth water! The Middleton’s have rows of these bushes that could soon find their way to high end restaurants in Edmonton and Calgary someday. Ward is very involved with Organic Alberta and very keen to share his knowledge with people thinking about starting an organic farm and sharing ideas on new markets. I think this is a great opportunity for young farmers or urban families interested in small scale organic farming.
I had such great time with at Midmore Farms that I’d like to visit next summer. If you’d like to load up your pantry with healthy organic grains and try some new recipes with those sea buckthorn berries! – fresh from the field and brought to you from a friendly, hardworking farmer, visit Midmore Farms at the address below.
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 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
Call for an appointment
When I heard of an apiary just on the outskirts of Morinville, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit it. I called the owner of Greidanus Apiaries, Paul Greidanus, to schedule a visit. During our conversation about the visit, Paul asked if I was allergic to bees. I thought “uh oh” as I responded no. I was stung by a wasp last summer and that wasn’t fun, so evidently, I felt a tiny bit of uneasiness.
I drove east of Morinville and 2km north of Highway 642 and Range Road 245 to the honey processing facility. When I got to the parking lot next to the facility, there were some bees flying around my car – a little concerning but I took some courage, opened my car door and remained calm – no stings….phew! I met Paul working busily on an extractor among some other coworkers. He gave me a tour of the facility and gave a little bit of history on how he became a bee farmer.
The company’s hives are placed on farms to pollinate crops such as alfalfa and canola – think of interdependence between crop and bee farmers. Crop farmers get pollinators which allow plants to produce seeds and fruit while the bees use plant nectar to make honey. Paul employs seasonal workers, mostly from Nicaragua to harvest the honey because it’s difficult to find local people who are willing to work on the bee farm.
Greidanus produces about 110 drums of honey per day and this year has been an exceptionally good one for them. The dry climate causes field crops to germinate and bud flowers at different points in the summer season. When that happens, bees are able to obtain nectar over a longer period of the season. This period is also extended when farmers delay swathing until their crops have flowered. This means more nectar for producing honey at each bee hive. Honey production per hive can range from 150 to 200 pounds, which works out to about 50-60 pounds of honey per box.
How the bees are kept?
A standard beehive has a bottom board and a hive cover with five supers in between. A honey super consists of a box in which 8–10 frames are hung. Each super contains bees that rear their young and store honey and pollen. Normally, the bottom two supers are brood supers used for rearing the young and storing honey and pollen for short-term and winter use. The top three supers are used to hold the honey crop.
Whether bees come from packages or have been kept over the winter, the bee colony is inspected to ensure that the queen is present and laying eggs; that there is no sign of disease and that the colony has sufficient stores to last until the first nectar.
As July approaches, frames are put in place to hold the honey. When all the frames in a super are filled with honey and one-half of the cells are capped with wax, the frames are removed from the hive and the honey is extracted. Normally honey flows in Alberta slow down in August and the amount of space given to the bees can be reduced somewhat.
Once the honey supers have been removed, the bees are fed sugar and water to ensure that they will have enough food to survive the winter. Greidanus purchases 300,000 pounds of Rogers sugar per year to keep the bees fed during the winter. This feeding is done before the end of September. Towards the end of October the bee colony is wrapped with a tarp to protect the bees from the elements.
If the bees are outside, there is little that can be done to assist them. They will survive even if they are completely covered by snow for a while.
How the honey is harvested?
Harvesting the honey crop involves several steps, all of which require some equipment. The first step involves separating the combs of honey from the bees (pulling the honey). Using chemicals requires a number of special covers (acid boards). The chemical is placed on the underside of the cover and the smell drives the bees out of the honey super. A bee blower is then used to blow the bees right off the frames.
The left picture shows a device with an electrically heated knife that is used to remove the wax cappings from the honey comb. This honey extractor is a motor-driven machine that can handle 100 or more frames. You can also see Paul loading the frames into the honey extractor which spins the frames around in a centrifuge.
Once the honey is extracted, it is strained and then stored in a warm place in a tall tank to allow the fine impurities to rise to the top. At the bottom of the tank is an outlet that the clean, warm honey can be drawn from directly into the honey containers. During peak times, the company can produce 110 drums of honey in excess of its usual 80 drums per day.
The drums are then kept in a storage warehouse until they are ready to be transported to market. Paul was very thorough in explaining how the business works, so I ended this visit very educated about bees and bee farming. If you’re interested in getting some tips on starting a hobby as a bee farmer or want to buy some honey in bulk, give them a call at 780.220.6712. They’re such a happy and friendly bunch at the facility.
Start in Sturgeon is the Economic Development initiative of Sturgeon County, Alberta. The county encompasses a large area of land with several towns and hamlets throughout.
Sturgeon County has become home to 40+ world class companies. Is yours next?
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9613 - 100 Street
Morinville, AB, T8R 1L9