In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of consumer interest in local food – it’s fair to say that today, an increasing number of consumers think that local is the way to go whenever possible. If you ask people why they shop local, many reply that it’s fresher, has a smaller environmental footprint, supports the economy and creates jobs all along the food chain that links farm to fork.
I cannot deny the influence of the growing local food movement on my grocery shopping habits today – my eggs, meat, honey and some vegetables are all purchased from local producers in Sturgeon County. The difference in quality of produce from a local farm relative to a big chain store can be quite stark in some cases. Apart from taste, I enjoy the personal connection to the farms where crops and animals are produced. I certainly felt that way when I visited Cardiff Meat and Sausage early this October.
Located near Morinville, Cardiff Meat and Sausage is a licensed and inspected butcher shop owned and operated by Tony and Brenda Rustemeier; third generation livestock producers that specialize in all aspects of the beef industry from cow-calf and seed stock production to feedlot finishing and custom processing. Twenty-six years ago, the butcher shop began doing custom cutting and wrapping for local farmers and hunters and in recent years they have expanded their mandate to provide affordable, naturally raised, high quality beef direct from their farm to local consumers.
Tony and Brenda note that they’ve seen a rise in demand from people looking for an alternative to mass-produced meat. The couple forms a growing number of livestock farmers across Canada who are breaking from the status quo and raising fewer animals, typically letting them graze on pasture. They tend to slaughter their animals in smaller abattoirs, and then sell the meat through a growing network of independent butchers or directly to consumers.
Butchers have always been an important resource to any civilization from the humblest of villages to the most urban of cities. The art of the butcher has steadily evolved to become one of the world’s oldest and most respected professions. The local butcher was a major neighborhood fixture by the dawn of the 20th century. Today, most of them employ their trade at food processing companies and large supermarkets.
However, there remains a small pocket of neighborhood artisans that help us relive that nostalgia of simple times and a sense of connectedness with the food we eat. I admired them both as they worked in their little shop. Tony is a true artisan - with careful hands and a calm demeanor while Brenda pays keen attention to quality and customer service. With high standards for themselves as far as meat products go, the couple has grown a successful business with confidence in their craft developed over years of dedication.
Working in a custom shop where meat is often cut to customers’ orders means the workload varies from day to day and week to week. There are always new challenges, and frustrations, and yet as they cut different parts of different animals, the couple takes time to do it right.
The animals are fed naturally
Though I didn’t visit the Rustemeier farm in the summer, I managed to get a picture of their animals grazing on the rolling grasslands of the County.
Their calves are born on pasture in April and May and then in the fall, they are weaned and fed through the winter on hay and oats green feed. When they mature to yearlings, they are moved back to pasture with a supplementary self-feed ration of grain. This results in a beef product that is rose colored, well marbled and intensely flavorful.
The Rustemeiers additionally use selective breeding to attain specific traits in their beef cattle. An example of a desired trait could be leaner meat or resistance to illness. To achieve the standard of “naturally raised beef”, the animals are raised without the consumption of growth hormones or antibiotics. That’s as close as one can get to the stringent standards of organic meat.
Great meat cuts for a variety of cooking
The chart above shows the types of cuts you can get from a steer and the best cooking method type for each cut.
I would highly recommend Cardiff Meat and Sausage for their locally produced beef – the quality of their product is simply outstanding!
If you’re interested in dropping off game animals (elk, deer etc.) as well, call the Rustemeiers at 780-973-5998 or 780-908-5998. The butcher shop is located on 24512 Township Rd 554 (Cardiff Road) Sturgeon County.
Cardiff Meat and Sausage makes us #SturgeonProud
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.
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.
I remember when I got my first job as an Economic Development Officer in a small town in Saskatchewan a few years back, I managed to pack all my belongings into little Toyota Echo as a minimalist bachelor and made it all the way to Regina.
Fast forward to 2014, after being married with two children, we needed two trips with a 14-foot U-Haul cargo truck to get all our belongings to the home we presently live in – a stark contrast to my moving days while I was a bachelor. Feeling the burden of being saddled with “stuff”, my wife and I switched to purge mode. We got rid of unneeded items on Kijiji, at Goodwill and the Edmonton Recycling Depot. It really made a difference - uncluttering our home, freeing up more space and reducing the amount of cleaning. Purging can indeed simplify ones’ lifestyle but sometimes there are legitimate reasons to invest in storage.
The self storage industry in one of the fastest growing industries in North America. It’s no surprise because we have a lot of stuff, and we like to keep it. Self-storage can be a wise financial and personal move when:
Place For Your Stuff is a locally owned self storage facility in Pro North Industrial Park I visited early this year. The facility is located 5 minutes north of St. Albert, 10 minutes south of Morinville, or 15 minutes west of the Garrison Military Base.
Place For Your Stuff has 854 storage units in 5, 10 or 20 feet sizes with interior LED lighting at lower rates compared to similar units in Morinville, St. Albert and Edmonton – check out their website for current deals. One unique aspect of this facility is the convenience it provides customers – online registration and payments, and 24/7 gates access to your personal belongings. Take a video tour of the facility below.
Jakub, the onsite manager gave me a brief tour and I must say I was very impressed – the site was clear of snow, clean and visibly well maintained. It was also secured with motion sensors, cameras and a computer controlled gate access for additional security. Place for your stuff provides 5, and 10-foot storage units for your contents.
You’ll also be glad to know that they are a member of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce in 2017. If you have an M2M discount card, you could get 10 percent off your storage fee! For more information on storage availability, contact Yakub at (587) 764-0119.
Place for your stuff makes us #SturgeonProud
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
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.
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: http://www.albertarosealpacas.com
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.
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Morinville, AB, T8R 1L9