cover

Copyright © 2018 by Karen Anderson and Matilde Sanchez-Turri

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. For more information, contact the publisher at touchwoodeditions.com.

The information in this book is true and complete to the best of the author’s knowledge. All recommendations are made without guarantee on the part of the author or the publisher.

Edited by Kate Kennedy

Designed by Colin Parks

Cover images: Neil Zeller (top); Edmonton Tourism (lower left);

Karen Anderson (centre and lower right)

Photograph, pages 2–3: Photo by Paul Zizka,

courtesy of Banff Lake Louise Tourism

LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION

Anderson, Karen (Karen Joy), author

Food artisans of Alberta : your trail guide to the best of our locally crafted fare / Karen Anderson, Matilde Sanchez-Turri.

Includes index.

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 9781771512466 (softcover).

1. Local foods, Alberta. 2. Food industry and trade, Alberta.

I. Sanchez, Turri, Matilde, author I. Title.

TX360.C32A5 2018 641.30097123 C2017-906559-9 C2017-906560-2

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund, and the province of British Columbia through the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

For the generous, fiercely intelligent, and
selfless souls we encountered in our travels
through Alberta’s food community

CONTENTS

Introduction

Northern Alberta

Edmonton

Central Alberta

Calgary

The Rocky Mountains

Southern Alberta

Conclusion

Acknowledgements

Recommended Resources

A Quintessential Alberta Menu

Index

INTRODUCTION

When it comes to experiencing all our province has to offer, our friends at Travel Alberta adopted the tag line “Remember to Breathe.” It speaks to the inherent beauty of this naturally endowed place and how gobsmacked we all are when we have the chance to stop and take it all in.

Alberta’s terrain starts as solid rock at the peaks of the Rockies and softens into hills and windswept prairie grasslands with hoodoos and coulees distinguishing the Badlands in the east. Stunning by day, Alberta’s northern dark sky preserves shimmer and bounce with the cosmic magnificence of the aurora borealis. In the south, the deep black velvet of the night invites us into the Milky Way’s starry embrace.

Mighty rivers like the Athabasca and Peace, the North and South Saskatchewan, the Oldman, the Bow, the Slave, and the Milk run to the Arctic, to Hudson Bay and to the Gulf of Mexico from our pristine glacier-fed lakes. There are five national parks and over 250 provincial parks that protect our wildlife and conserve the otherwise quickly diminishing wilderness on earth.

We’ve only just started to honour and access the wisdom of the Aboriginal people of Treaties Six, Seven, and Eight—in truth and reconciliation. Their cultures hold the inherent knowledge it took to thrive here for tens of thousands of years as the first people. Those of the subarctic lived on boreal foraged plants, moose, and caribou through all seasons, along with ice fishing in the winters. The people of the Great Plains were one with the bison, which they called their “staff of life.” In the central aspen-filled parklands, the people hunted and foraged. From Aboriginal people to homesteaders and immigrants from the world over, the food of today’s Alberta is emerging as one of the world’s most authentic tastes of place.

As food lovers, our motto is “Remember to eat.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek nod to our friends in tourism. Joking aside, our focus reflects an emerging sector called food travel. Food and travel are as inseparable as food and existence. We like the World Food Travel Association’s inclusive definition of a food traveller as “someone who would travel across town or around the globe to try something new.” If you are holding this book, you are most likely one of us.

Because food is so primal and travelling in our province is so enjoyable, we want to help you find food that’s authentically Albertan so that, whether you live here or are just visiting, you’ll be able to enjoy great taste memories. We know our food will reinforce the imprint of this place and transform your experience here. We also want you to connect with and support the people who grow Alberta’s food consciously, ethically, and with a level of skill and care that is uniquely theirs.

That’s why we were willing to tackle this book.

Matilde and I started building and leading daylong adventures and delicious farm tours with our mentor and chef friend, dee Hobsbawn-Smith, back in the late ’90s. We worked with Calgary’s City Palate magazine to take busloads of people on “Foodie Tootles” through Southern Alberta. We did it so that city folk could meet farm folk and understand what it takes to grow food in this province. There were always epiphanies for our guests.

Making connections always matters. The simple act of meeting together in a field to hear stories of the challenges farmers face and the fortitude it takes to overcome them is transformative. Making meals of the food we gathered along a tasting trail of three to four farms in a day renewed our fellow city dwellers’ commitment to eat differently.

When we ran the Tootles, they typically sold out within moments of being announced; there was nothing else like them. Now, there are over 100 farms you can visit on Alberta Open Farm Days each August and dozens of long-table feasts held in the fertile black fields of our farmlands throughout the growing season.

In a way, this book feels like a snapshot of what amounted to our biggest Foodie Tootle ever. Matilde and I divided to conquer the province in the summer of 2017. Matilde mainly covered Calgary and the south. I mainly tackled everything north of Calgary.

Alberta is 661,848 square kilometres. It’s roughly the size of Texas—or France, Belgium, and the Netherlands all together. We learned so much about our homeland and are excited to share it with you.

The land in Southern Alberta is dry prairie in the east. It’s part of an area known as Palliser’s Triangle. In the mid-1800s, surveyor John Palliser looked at the land and declared it a semi-arid steppe unsuitable for agriculture. Later, it was found to be suitable for growing wheat. Today, it is extensively irrigated and productive in certain regions with a high concentration of commercial greenhouses producing vegetable crops mainly for domestic consumption.

Central Alberta’s topography varies greatly. There are native prairie grasslands in the designated “Special Areas.” These areas were literally dust bowls in the drought of the 1930s. Parkland regions of the lower boreal forest pop up throughout the area.

Once you are north of Edmonton, the land alternates between prairie and boreal forests of mixed black and white spruce, aspens, poplars, white birch, and lodgepole pine. Lakes, swamps, and sloughs left behind by glaciers connect like dots in between. The west of the province rises through foothills to those tireless guardians we call the Rockies all along the border we share with British Columbia.

Alberta has a greatly varied landscape, but when we poll people as to what is the food that comes from this place, the response is unanimous: beef is the refrain most commonly heard. It’s true, Alberta is famous for its beef, but this book will take you beyond beef to discover a more complete bounty of the food offerings available here.

In 2015, the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance (ACTA), in conjunction with Cook It Raw, named beef, bison, canola, honey, Red Fife wheat, root vegetables, and saskatoon berries as Alberta’s seven signature foods. With the global influences of our diverse population, you’ll be surprised how these ingredients are transformed and how our cuisine continues to evolve. This book will broaden the work of our friends at ACTA, and continue the conversation they began in defining the unique culinary offerings within our province.

Still, going back to that beef, you’ll never hear any Albertan dis it. We’re very proud that Alberta beef really does taste better than any other in the world. A “steak out” here can involve slicing into the salty lemon gremolata of a Bistecca alla Fiorentina or letting the juices of a classic flame-broiled Triple-A Angus dribble off your lips while sipping a delectable wine or craft beer with it.

We savour the tenderness that comes from the difference in marbling achieved with barley- or grass-finished animals and we have the opportunity to learn at a taste-bud level the difference 28 days of dry or wet aging can make. Ranchers like Trail’s End Beef’s Rachel and Tyler Herbert (see page 284) in Nanton are steering away from industrial feedlot beef, leaving their cattle to graze the grasslands on their sprawling ranch from birth to plate. Rachel’s great-grandfather was one of Alberta’s original cowboys in a time before there were fences and she’s ranching much like he did 150 years ago.

While Alberta’s beef is beyond belief, we’d like you to savour the rest of our story too. A 2017 New York Times article cited recent archeological research from the University of Alberta confirming bison have roamed Alberta for 120,000 years. They represent the indigenous taste of Alberta along with elk and deer. These native species are recognized for their health benefits for humans and the wildlife and grasses they help regenerate when left to roam the land. They are a keystone conservation species and are regaining their primacy in the Alberta food landscape.

Canola was naturally selected here to become a flavourful and healthy cooking oil. Alberta is the world’s fifth-largest honey producer with over 40 million pounds of honey harvested annually. Red Fife wheat was first grown in Ontario and was distributed across Canada. It proved vital in sustaining our pioneers because it was one of the first varieties of wheat that would grow here. Root vegetables are sweeter here because sugars are formed in the roots during our cool nights. Saskatoon berries are indigenous and, along with the bison, were a key source of food for Aboriginal people. They are still a perennial favourite for people of the Prairies.

Rocky Mountain and Prairie regional cuisines that celebrate our local signature foods have slowly gained prominence over the last 25 years. The chef community here has depth, character, and a spirit for collaboration. Organizations like Slow Food International have forged bonds between chefs and farmers to ensure the sustainability of local ingredients and their producers.

There are dozens of year-round farmers’ markets around Alberta and while rural farmers’ numbers are on the decline, the urban agriculture revolution has arrived with Small Plot INtensive (SPIN) farmers making a living growing food on borrowed patches in people’s backyards throughout our cities. A group called YYC Growers and Distributors have joined with their rural colleagues to collaboratively market their farms in a food hub consortium.

The Red Fife wheat that kept early pioneers alive has made a comeback along with other heritage varietals. Our wheat is used in crazy-good bakeries that take days to make sourdough breads, use only real butter and organic flours, and still crack every egg by hand.

Our plentiful grains are also used in craft beer making and the distillation of fine spirits, like those of Eau Claire Distillery (see page 254), which is putting tiny Turner Valley on the map. Along with honey meaderies and fruit wineries, there are many lively watering holes to quench a food traveller’s thirst. We think Alberta will become a beer and spirits tourism destination, just like the Okanagan and Niagara are for wines.

Albertans also have a fondness for the exotic. Calgary’s Choklat (see page 179) and Edmonton’s Jacek Chocolate (see page 72) are two of only a handful of bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the country. Alberta has percolated oodles of third-wave coffee houses with baristas hand pouring coffee like born-again Seattleites. Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters (see page 154) are leading a fourth wave of single-origin coffee roasters who are partners in and microfinanciers of boutique coffee farms throughout the coffee-growing regions of the world. They recently bought their own coffee plantation as well.

While Alberta is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, two-thirds of travellers choose their destination based on the food offerings and events they’ll enjoy when they arrive. As fellow food travellers, we welcome you. We wrote this book to help you explore Alberta’s culinary landscape and give you an authentic taste of Alberta, no matter where your adventures take you in the province. We’re excited to introduce you to the people who are shaping the future of our food system and are making our culinary scene another great reason to visit our province.

HOW THIS BOOK IS ORGANIZED

After driving Alberta from Peace Country in the north to the International Peace Park near Waterton in the south—and everywhere in between—we can tell you there’s a lot of ground to cover. We’ve divided the province into six sections, very similar to what our colleagues in tourism do, so that you can use this book as a companion to their publications to plan your food travel.

Each area—Northern, Edmonton, Central, Calgary, the Rockies and Southern Alberta—has unique flavours for you to discover.

The Northern section of the book is pretty much anything north of Edmonton. Driving across Peace River Country in the summer, it feels like your car is a ship lost in a sea of golden canola fields. But a few hours straight north of Edmonton, and you are on the cusp of the northern boreal forest. Here, the people enjoy storied rivers like the mighty Athabasca and large lakes like Lesser Slave and Lac La Biche. Cold Lake and the northeast Lakeland region is filled with rolling hills and dells that reveal the province’s francophone history in towns like St. Paul and its Ukrainian heritage in Vegreville.

Edmonton is the provincial capital and a city of festivals. A deep river valley divides it north and south, and fertile farms fight for a future within its boundaries. Cultures mix and young chefs reclaim and celebrate their food heritages while also championing our farmers.

Central Alberta is everything between Edmonton and Calgary—for the purposes of this book. This is the historic and still most plentiful growing area in the province, and that is reflected in the sheer number of artisans in this section of the book. A four-lane highway known as the QE2 divides it east and west. The shelterbelts of trees that line the route are treasured legacies that keep farmhouses from being deluged with dust and snow. So much dust rolled through the semi-arid Special Areas of East Central Alberta during the Great Depression of the ’30s, there are still sand dunes in some pockets of land here.

Calgary’s skyline defines its downtown core but a necklace of livable, walkable, food-centric neighbourhoods surrounds it. Each has its own vibe, from party-central 17 Avenue in the Southwest to historic Inglewood in the Southeast, groovy Kensington in the Northwest and re-emerging Bridgeland in the Northeast. With each bust of the oil and gas markets, the maverick entrepreneurial spirit rises and the city diversifies a little more—bracing and recovering—as it always does.

The Rockies tower to the west—beacons of tourism that pull 5 million visitors each year to the Bow River Valley that carves its way through them. Chefs from the world over have come to work here and never left. Backcountry hiking and skiing, world-class downhill ski resorts, fishing and floating on rivers—this is a playground for humans and a refuge for wildlife.

Southern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass Highway meanders from the mining towns of Coleman and Blairmore to Lethbridge. The latter has a history of World War Two Japanese internment camps but now celebrates that culture with the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden—one of Canada’s top 10 garden attractions. Irrigation and long, hot summers make this a prime food-growing region for Alberta, and from Lethbridge to Medicine Hat, the area is dotted with hothouses. Locals here forage for rare pincushion cactus berries along with the common saskatoon berries. Looping back to Calgary, you’ll pass through parks filled with fossils and the Badlands filled with hoodoos and coulees.

In each section of this book, foodstuffs and where to find them will be arranged in alphabetical order with artisan products; baked goods, tea, and coffee; lists of farmers’ markets; foraged foods; fruits and vegetables; grains, seeds, and pulses; meat, poultry, and pork; and cooking schools and specialty foods all highlighted. You’ll find eateries featured in association with chefs and restaurateurs. Many of our favourite watering holes are featured and they include fruit wine makers, meaderies, distilleries, and breweries.

ALBERTA’S TERROIR

What is the terroir or the taste of this place? As a very young province in a very young country, we’re still working that out. We’ve got some clues and are starting to pay attention to how the land expresses its characteristics in the taste of the drinks and food grown here. We’re paying even more attention to the wild foods nature shares in abundance. Those foods represent our real terroir. We don’t have many answers just yet. Mostly, we’ve got a long list of questions, but we are excited by the possibilities and the quality harvested by the explorers on this path.

The time is right for the culinary knowledge of Aboriginal people to be recognized beyond bannock, pemmican, saskatoon berries, and bison. Preservation of the wood and plains bison will be crucial. Letting them feed strictly on the native grasslands they help preserve certainly provides a distinct flavour and taste of the land. Growers who try to rush them by feeding them grains are missing the point of the meat’s true flavour and health benefits.

Though honeybees are not indigenous to Alberta, they—mostly—thrive here. We can see the development of honey sommeliers who are versed in the difference in tastes of honey from bees foraging on nectar and pollen close to a fireweed or buckwheat patch versus those foraging on clover or alfalfa. Pairing honey with beverages and food will soon be a thing.

We know our root vegetables taste sweeter because of our soils and climate. Can we also taste a difference between corn varietals grown in Taber versus the Kohut corn grown in Didsbury? These are fun things for our taste buds to explore.

Another facet to explore is the foods grown here because of immigrant influxes. From the former Chinese railway workers to early Ukrainians, Eastern Europeans, Scandinavians, and Hutterites to the interned Japanese and post–World War Two Italians to the ’70s influxes of East African Ismaili Muslims to today’s Pakistani and Punjabi Indians, Syrian refugees, Vietnamese, and Filipinos—each group adds to the diversity of our collective cuisine as they add to our population.

We are also fascinated with the terroir of our grains as they are expressed in glasses of craft beer and fine distillation spirits. While we don’t grow grapes yet, our honey and prairie-hardy fruits, in the hands of the world’s finest mead and fruit wine makers, are starting to win international competitions. Spending time with the food artisans of Alberta has given us more clues to our terroir as each of them has led us further down the taste-of-place rabbit hole.

MEASUREMENTS USED IN THE PROFILES

We went with whatever our subjects used. In true Canadian style, it’s a mishmash of metric and imperial.

WHO MADE IT INTO THE BOOK AND WHY? AND WHAT ’S A FOOD ARTISAN, ANYWAY?

This book represents a curated look at the province, and we chose who was included with certain biases for sure. Farmers and ranchers received top priority. They risk the most and are virtually invisible to our predominantly urban populations. It’s time to bring them into the light.

The average age of a farmer in Alberta is close to 60. If the average age of people in an industry is over 30, it is considered a dying industry. When it came to food artisans, we sought out elders who’ve been successful at sustaining their land and at mentoring others to do the same. We include youthful farmers with bright ideas on how to successfully make it back to a life on the land.

We’ve always been biased toward food producers whose methods regenerate and build soil health and those are the sorts of producers you’ll find here. One thing is certain, if we don’t have farmers and healthy soil, there’ll be no food, let alone artisans.

For other artisans, we were looking for people who made things with their hands. They might specialize in hunting, fishing, baking, making, brewing, distilling, aging, foraging, or even importing—in the case of chocolate, tea, and coffee—but all the artisans included make or allow us to make something delicious. They elevate our food scene and Alberta’s reputation as a place to enjoy food. They increase the value in living or visiting here.

Confucius said, “The only way is to have many ways.” As we highlight the many ways of being a food artisan here, we use a lot of quotes from our subjects to bring you into their world so you may value their contribution to our lives.

This book is a snapshot of Alberta’s culinary landscape in the summer of 2017. If we didn’t have a full-stop deadline, we could’ve kept going for a lifetime. Both the people’s passion for what they do and our passion for them would have fuelled that.

While there is nothing definitive about our list of food artisans, we think you’ll find this book fascinating and useful. If you have the chance to meet any of these people, we know from first-hand experience that they will connect you from one to the other. That’s a food community. That’s the start of a caring food culture. That is what we want Alberta to be known for.

—Karen Anderson

photo by Neil Zeller Photography

photo by Karen Anderson

NORTHERN ALBERTA

ATHABASCA

BEAVERLODGE

GOODFARE

GRANDE PRAIRIE

GRIMSHAW

GUY

KITSCOTY

MAYERTHORPE

OPAL

RIO GRANDE

SANGUDO

SMOKY LAKE

ST. PAUL

THORHILD

VEGREVILLE

WASKATENAU

photo by Karen Anderson

For the purposes of this book, Northern Alberta includes everything north of Edmonton. We realize, if you look at a map of Alberta, that most of the food businesses we write about in this section are technically still in Central Alberta but, since not much grows north of Peace Country in the west and Lakeland Country in the east, we’ll focus here on the northern piece of Central Alberta.

As far as being able to grow food, it’s very challenging in this region, and yet people of the north need to eat too. The food artisans here go to great lengths to provide nourishment that would otherwise only come from afar. Fortunately, what the north suffers with frigid winters, they make up for with warm summers filled with 20 hours of daylight.

You can visit many of the artisans in person, but some of them only have a wholesale business and aren’t open to the public. Make sure to check out the artisans’ website for more details on where to buy their products.

Travel Tips

Check out the Honey Festival in Falher, Alberta, each June.

Looking for a taste-filled road trip? Download the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance’s Raw Trails North: Alberta Aboriginal and Early Settler Culinary Trail from Edmonton to Lac La Biche at albertaculinary.com for a DIY way to tasteful travel.

Note:Only artisans and producers who welcome visitors on site are shown on this map.

FOOD ARTISANS OF NORTHERN ALBERTA

Athabasca Farmers’ Market

Bench Creek Brewing

Broken Tine Orchard

The Cheesiry

Cold Lake Brewing and Distilling

Dog Island Brewing

Europa Deli and Sausage Hut

First Nature Farms

Fort McMurray Urban Market

The Grain Bin

Grande Prairie Farmers’ Market

Hog Wild Specialties

The Homestead Farm

Lac La Biche Farmers’ Market

Lakeland Brewing Company

Lakeland Wild Rice

Meadow Creek Farms

Nature’s Way Farm

Peace River Farmers’ Market

Debra Poulin

Red Cup Distillery

Red Willow Gardens

Sangudo Custom Meat Packers

Serben Farms

Shady Lane Estate Winery

Smoky Lake Farmers’ Market

St. Paul Farmers’ Market

Twisted Fork

Winding Road Artisan Cheese

Wolfe Peace River Honey

Wood Buffalo Brewing Company

Wolfe Peace River Honey | Guy | peaceriverhoney.co

Gilbert and Sharon Wolfe. Photo by Jodi Sware, A Thousand Words Photography.

Gilbert and Sharon Wolfe have Canada’s largest organic apiary and produce a million pounds of certified non-GMO honey annually. Gilbert convinced his father to buy him 50 hives when he turned 16. Anyone who keeps bees will tell you that if you have some, you’ll always want more.

The Wolfe family now keeps 7,000 hives. That’s about a half billion bees—a good thing when it takes 12 bees their lifespan to produce a teaspoon of honey. The beehives summer in Peace Country and winter near much milder Abbotsford, BC.

Sharon contributes much to the success of the operation by rearing the apiary’s own queen bees. Daughter Paige says, “It’s a hot, humid workroom and she can only last one hour at a time. It takes a lot of patience and Mom is really good at it.” Having healthy Alberta-raised queens contributes to the amount of honey produced because thriving queens lay lots of eggs, which in turn means lots of worker bees constantly hatching and going out to collect pollen and nectar.

Between the queens laying great brood and the worker bees having easy access to alfalfa and red clover, it’s not uncommon for the Wolfes’ hives to produce 150 pounds of creamy white honey per year. In 1988, each hive yielded a whopping 400 pounds. The average in Alberta in 2016 was 125 pounds, while globally most hives produce about 40–100 pounds per year.

Peace River is the honey capital of Canada because of the abundant forage and long days of sunshine afforded by the area’s northern latitude. Amid widespread colony collapse disorder, it’s uplifting to see the Wolfe family’s success. Paige, who will run the family’s international marketing when she finishes her business degree at the University of Alberta in the spring of 2018, says, “My dad won’t be happy until he has helped change the world. He’s convinced being organic and working with nature is the only way to save the bees.” The Wolfes’ sweet success speaks for itself.

Europa Deli and Sausage Hut | 9131 Crystal Lake Drive, Grande Prairie 780-532-9292 | facebook.com/EuropaDeli2017

Leslow Zep (left) and Srijohn Mandal at Europa Deli and Sausage Hut. Photo by Karen Anderson.

Leslow Zep’s father was a sausage maker in Poland. Zep grew up under a Communist regime there and though he was relatively well off, two things spurred him to immigrate to Canada. On a vacation in Yugoslavia, he went to a grocery store and was dumbfounded by the abundance. In Poland, supplies often ran out before his family’s monthly ration could be utilized. He did not want that for his son. Then, while watching the Calgary ’88 Olympics on television he had another awakening. “I was struck by how happy people in Canada looked—especially the older people. Old people in Poland seemed so beaten down and grouchy. I decided I had to find a way to get to Canada so that I didn’t end up that way.”

Arriving in Grande Prairie in 1990, after three years in refugee camps in Turkey, he worked two jobs, learned English, got his high school diploma and retrained to work in the oilfield. With his wife, Anna, he opened Anna’s Pizza in Beaverlodge in 1997 and after selling it in 2006, spent the next few years gaining the expertise he needed to open Europa.

“My father always said simple is best. We add salt, pepper, and garlic but it’s not what you add, it’s how you prepare it. There are no shortcuts. I’m an old-school butcher who practises nose-to-tail respect for the whole animal.” The shop is whistle clean, there’s a smoker in the back, a wall of walk-in fridges and display cases piled high with precisely cut meats and a plethora of sausages and salami. Dry goods from Poland, Hungary, and Italy are arranged attractively.

Zep has worked hard to bring a bit of his Polish heritage to Canada. Zep’s son has a lucrative career as a mechanic, and his successor in the business is Sri Lankan native Srijohn Mandal. Through his own dreams Zep is shaping the dreams of another immigrant. After taking a photograph of Zep and Mandal side by side, I buy a big coil of kielbasa and leave with a smile nearly as wide.

The Cheesiry | Kitscoty | 780-522-8784 | thecheesiry.com

Rhonda Zuk Headon in the pastures of the Cheesiry. Photo by Karen Anderson.

Between 2010 and 2015, Rhonda Zuk Headon had between 100 and 140 East Friesian sheep on her family’s farm in the rolling hills of Kitscoty near Lloydminster. “I’ve got six-year-old twins so I decided to stop the full production and retail wholesale business a few years ago, but I’m still making cheese seasonally and I still love it.”

Zuk Headon is a former agronomist who realized at age 30 that her work— which involved prescribing a lot of synthetic fertilizer—was too far from her personal organic credo. So, she quit.

On a tour of Italy, she fell in love with pecorino sheep’s cheese at an organic farm in Pienza. She did a two-month cheesemaking apprenticeship there as a WWOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteer.

Shortly after her return to Alberta she married into a family with a large cattle and chicken operation. She tried to get dairy quota for cows and failed but the inspector suggested sheep or goat milking instead. She built her own processing facility on the farm and now makes cheese when the ewes lamb and produce milk from May to October. Because she is down to fewer than a dozen sheep now, and they only make an average of 1.5 litres per day, she also uses Jersey milk from a neighbour to broaden her offerings.

“I have a wonderful recipe book for small-batch cheesemaking. I leave everything in a fridge in the barn and people pay on an honour system.” Will she have more sheep? “Making cheese in the summers is just right for now. With two school-aged children it’s all I can manage.” At one point the Cheesiry’s pecorino was available throughout the province. Let’s hope this food artisan and shepherdess ages more of her delicious cheeses as her children age.

Winding Road Artisan Cheese | Smoky Lake | 1-855-475-6757 windingroadcheese.com

Ian Treuer with his award-winning cheese at City Market Downtown in Edmonton. Photo by Karen Anderson.

Growing up in the ’70s on processed cheese, Ian Treuer had a cheese epiphany at age 13 when visiting Paris with his Austrian-born father and French-Canadian mother. The cheeses they would order in cafés had come from the farms where they’d been made that morning. Treuer’s young palate was forever shaped by the difference in taste.

He came to Edmonton in 1993 for university, but left after a year, found a job he liked in printing, and stayed. “In about 2007 I decided I needed a hobby. It was either cheese or beer making and my passion for cheese won out.”

Treuer found a home cheesemakers’ community online and started sharing his failures and successes with a blog called Much to Do about Cheese. He became a consultant in the cheese industry after emerging as a leader in a Cheesapalooza blogging event. He began working with a company to prove that plant-based cardoon rennet could work in home cheesemaking kits. Cardoon is a thistle from Portugal, where it’s been used for this purpose for centuries. “Regular rennet usually comes from the fourth stomach of a baby cow, sheep, or goat. I wanted to work with something more sustainable that didn’t rely on the slaughter of animals and cardoon made that possible.”

Treuer also began volunteering at a cheesemaking company in Smoky Lake and when the owners wanted to sell in 2015, he and friend Aurelio Fernandes took the leap and bought their facility. Treuer now makes several cheeses from milk supplied by Vital Green Farms (see page 247). “It’s pasteurized but not homogenized so we’ve got that nice creamy layer to work with,” he says.

“Gone are days where you can survive on just farmers’ market sales, so we got all certifications and proper labelling to be able to sell across Canada.” In July 2017, Treuer’s RDB washed rind cheese won second place at the American Cheese Society awards. Check out all the cheeses and where to find them on the website.

Debra Poulin | Twisted Fork | 4914 50 Avenue, St. Paul | 780-614-3276 facebook.com/twistedforksp

Debra Poulin. Photo by Karen Anderson.

“I married a community when I married my husband,” says Debra Poulin, chef of Twisted Fork. Growing up in Niagara’s lush fruit-growing belt, she loved her summer jobs picking produce—especially grapes (she’s attained level two with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust). But, after meeting her husband on a business trip, she moved to St. Paul, a town that she feels lives by its motto: “a people kind of place.”

Poulin’s been cooking professionally for 35 years and has Red and Blue Seals as well as a bachelor of arts in culinary management. She’s been a culinary instructor and, at one point, ran an oilfield services camp that fed 1,800 workers daily.

“I opened Twisted Fork in July of 2017 because I want to give back to the community that has given me so much. There are over 200 farmers in this Lakeland region of Alberta. People are looking for local food and I want to provide that and support our farmers.”

Over 20 local producers supply feature ingredients for the restaurant including beef and grains from Next Level Organic Farm, vegetables from Farm Chic, Emjay’s Prairie Berries, Kyle’s Greens, fruits from Flying Rabbit Farms, and cheeses from Old School Cheesery.

Menus change with the seasons and staff are empowered to be part of the creativity. “I want the chance to train other chefs. Flavour comes first always. We can make it pretty after the flavour of the food shines through. We ask customers for suggestions and we hope they’ll try new things.”

The walls of the 66-seat room are decorated with paintings by her father-in-law, noted Alberta sculptor/painter Herman Poulin—another authentically local touch. The place starts to fill, and two tables over, a woman is eavesdropping on a server describing the many local and house-made components on a charcuterie board. When it comes her turn to order she says, “I’ll try what they’re having.” Poulin’s success will come one palate at a time.

Red Cup Distillery | 210-5341 50 Avenue, Vegreville | 780-603-3040 redcupdistillery.ca

Left to right: Jerry Reti, Rob de Groot, and Sam Stewart. Photo by Karen Anderson.

Visiting Red Cup Distillery is a lesson in pop culture and history. The name comes from those red Solo cups that are synonymous with parties. Singer Toby Keith wrote a very “sticky” song about them. That’s the pop culture part.

The history comes from owners Rob and Barb de Groot’s wish to make something that pays homage to the people that settled Alberta. Moonshine was their liquor and the women made it. “Women weren’t recognized as persons until 1929 so they couldn’t be arrested. A group of five Alberta women known as the Famous Five got the British North American Act changed,” says Rob de Groot. “With no sugar in their budgets they learned to make their liquor in pot stills from sprouted grain and that is what—after much trial and error—we’ve been able to recreate.”

A gleaming copper still sits front and centre. Distillery manager Jerry Reti, a farmer and jack of all trades, had the skill set to braze the massive sheets of copper and weld it into being. “It’s the only legal made-in-Canada still. It did not come from a catalogue,” says de Groot.

“We work with 100-bushel batches. The grains come from George Olynyk’s farm 10 miles away. It’s cleaned and aged. Sprouting allows the sugars within the wheat to develop. Malting takes place on the concrete floor—like the best distilleries in Scotland. Fermentation is open. Distillation happens twice and the copper allows the taste of the grains to shine through. There’s no filtration because we don’t need to. The output per bushel of grain is low because we don’t use any chemicals like commercial malters do. That’s why we end up with pure essence. The time and temperature we distill at are proprietary,” says Reti, in a quiet moment when the endearingly frank, honest, passionate, and politically charged high-voltage tower that is Rob de Groot runs out to do an errand.

And then de Groot is back. He pours a tasting round (in shot-size red Solo cups). Drinking is believing. It’s easy to see what the excitement is about.

Broken Tine Orchard | Rio Grande | 780-518-9115 | brokentineorchard.ca

Kreg Alde with his haskap berries. Photo by Karen Anderson.

“There are 20 different haskaps on the market. I’ve bought about 20,000 plants from the University of Saskatchewan over the last five years. They are Borealis, Indigo Gem, and Aurora varietals and they are doing well here in Peace Country.” Haskap is the Japanese name for Lonicera caerulea. The oblong berries are also known as blue honeysuckle or honeyberries.

Kreg Alde’s family homesteaded this land near Beaverlodge in 1926 and he owns 2,400 acres. His own children are weeding the family vegetable garden as we tour the fields and facilities. Inside the family home, we try haskap muffins, cheesecake, and ice cream. There are smiles all round on this hot day in late July.

Alde has returned to the farm from a career in oil and gas marketing. “My accountant told me that if I wanted to farm, I had to find a way to increase the revenue on the land that I have. I want to go large scale so I’ve started a haskap growers’ co-operative. We’re finding a way to get local food to local people.”

Networking is like breathing for Alde. “I believe haskaps could be as good for farmers as canola was—only without all the chemicals. Haskaps have natural pesticides in their leaves called iridoids. They have twice the antioxidants of blueberries and none of the diseases that have plagued saskatoon farms.”

Dr. Bob Bors, head of the University of Saskatchewan domestic fruit program, went to Japan, where haskaps are big, to study them. Through natural breeding methods he has developed the varietals available here. “He really hit a home run. They add an early fruit to our growing season.”

Alde has invested in an on-farm processing facility and can clean 500 pounds per hour. He blast freezes them to minus 23 Celsius for storage. He’s partnered with Village and Mackay’s Ice Cream and Foothills Creamery for products and Mo-Na Food (see page 79) for distribution. He’s also hired one of the best fruit wine makers in the world, Quebec’s Dominic Rivard, to make a melomel haskap and honey wine. Expect more blue fruit in your future.

Red Willow Gardens | Beaverlodge | 780-354-8211

Eric and Carmen De Schipper on their organic farmland. Photo by Karen Anderson.

On the banks of the Red Willow River, a few kilometres south of Beaverlodge, lies a farm with cherry-red buildings encircling an asphalt loop of driveway so clean it looks like a fresh chalkboard. There’s a cold storage facility, tidy chicken coop, and cheery new farm store where you can buy popcorn and lemonade along with your vegetables.

Eric De Schipper, a tall blond man with a ruler-straight back and measured gait, appears along with a few of the farm’s dogs and we’re off on an ATV to tour the 45 acres in cultivation. Eric and his wife, Carmen, own a total of 110 acres but the others are left natural with ponds and forest that work together to cool the land and provide water for irrigation. A red fox glances over its shoulder and flicks its showy tail before slipping into the bushes as we round a corner.

We find Carmen in a far field, weeding with the crew of Mexican workers the De Schippers credit as the key to their survival as farmers. Eric moves carefully as he joins Carmen for a photo. He’s a cancer survivor and lives in chronic pain related to a series of accidents and eight back fractures since his 15th birthday. A few instructions in Spanish to her staff and Carmen rides back with us to the main yard to pick strawberries fresh from the field.

The De Schippers bought this land in 1984 with Eric’s parents and then bought them out so they could retire. Eric has kept a journal every day since he began the farm. He has not sprayed the land with pesticides or fertilizers since 2008. “We use regenerative methods here now. Potatoes get two years back to back and are not replanted in that field for six years. With carrots, we keep four years between planting in the same field. We sow and mow oats to build the soil nutrients in fallow years.”

The carrots are their most famous crop. “I’d like people to know that they taste so good because it’s a specialty carrot that’s been grown in regenerated soil with the pristine air, water, and climate of Peace River Country.” A hug goodbye comes with a bag of carrots for the road. You can find the De Schippers’ produce here or at the Grande Prairie Farmers’ Market.

The Homestead Farm | Goodfare | 780-356-2744 | thehomesteadfarm.ca

Lisa Lundgard. Photo by Donovan Kitt.

“Food is medicine.” When a farmer starts quoting Hippocrates, it’s time to listen.

Lisa Lundgard and her partner Donovan Kitt own a quarter section of land next door to Donovan’s father, Jerry Kitt of First Nature Farms (see page 36). Of the 160 acres, 30 are cleared for pasture where they are raising a few cattle, sheep, and laying chickens. Their log home has a small greenhouse attached to lengthen the growing season here in Peace Country where the seemingly endless days of summer light and warmth vanish harshly with October blizzards.

A large vegetable garden—as lush as Jurassic Park—is visible over tall deer fencing. Two old yellow school buses are parked on the property. One houses freezers for meat storage and the other is converted to an animal transport unit. Inside the cabin, trays of sprouts are parked under the skylight’s beams of sunshine and books on farming fill an entire wall in one corner of the kitchen.

Both Lundgard and Kitt were raised on organic farms and both have returned to farming after earning degrees. Kitt still works off farm to pay down the purchase of the land. A quarter section of land here runs anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000. This is Alberta’s prime canola-growing territory, and that has doubled and quadrupled land prices over the last decade.

Lundgard and Kitt met at a holistic management course. “Now we’re creating a farm from scratch and we’re focusing on diversity and anything we think will add value to the farm.” Though only a few years on this property, they’ve attained certified organic status and take every opportunity to explain why they go to that effort and expense to their customers at the Grande Prairie Farmers’ Market where they sell eggs, beef, pork, lamb, bison, vegetables, and pea, radish, and sunflower shoots. “I tell people the consumer dollar is mighty. If you seek out local small-scale farms, and put your dollar there, it doesn’t take much for us to be able to have a business and survive.”

With their peers in the Young Agrarians of the National Farmers’ Union, they are making changes so that farms can become viable businesses again. You can find produce from the Homestead Farm at the Grande Prairie Farmers’ Market.

Lakeland Wild Rice Ltd. | Athabasca | 780-387-3389 aptolemy17@gmail.com

The Ptolemy family. Photo by Karen Anderson.

Alice and Wayne Ptolemy have been growing wild rice near Athabasca since 1989. At that time, there was an annual Wild Rice Growers convention in Lac La Biche and, along with a neighbour, they went to check it out. Alice describes her husband as “someone who can do or make just about anything he sets his mind to. He even built our airboats.”

Wild rice is an aquatic grass native to Canada. The Ptolemys have 1,000 acres planted on four lakes Alice describes as “back in the bush.” They lease the land from the Department of Forestry and plant the seed annually. “It can be planted in spring or fall—either way we lose a lot to moose and birds or if there aren’t enough rains and the water in the lakes is too low.”

Each fall they use a scoop Wayne welded to the front of the boats to plow the wild rice kernels ashore to Alice, their family, and friends who volunteer to hand scoop it into buckets. The rice is then shipped to the Great Northern Wild Rice company in Manitoba to have the kernels rubbed off and then dried and packaged. “It’s also grown in Minnesota and California in rice paddies but that’s not the real rice like ours.”

The Ptolemys are the last wild rice growers in Alberta. Slowly their friends in the business have quit, moved, or died. “My husband was attracted to this idea because of his great passion for the outdoors. We’re retired now and though it is incredibly hard work—each bucket we fill is 60 pounds—we both still love working in the great outdoors.”

You can order your Alberta-grown wild rice directly from Alice by phone or email for five dollars per pound plus shipping.

First Nature Farms | Goodfare | 780-356-2239 | firstnaturefarms.ab.ca

Jerry Kitt with a young turkey out on the pastures of First Nature Farms. Photo by Karen Anderson.

First Nature Farms is surrounded by land preserved by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ducks Unlimited, a few other organic farmers, and Crown land. Driving west past Beaverlodge’s roadside giant beaver attraction (south off the main highway), tracks of heavy gravel and towering aspens narrow the sky to a lean strip of blue. On the farm, machinery sits where it’s needed and animals raise their heads from the lush green grass along a rut-filled lane leading to a log home. “There isn’t another farm west of here until you hit Russia,” says owner Jerry Kitt. As that sinks in, he pours a cold draught from a specially designed tap and keg beer fridge in the dining room.

Walking the near pastures with pints of ice-cold draught in hand, we meet the menagerie of animals in Kitt’s care including bison, Berkshire and Tamworth hogs, laying and broiler chickens, turkeys, Muscovy ducks, a goat, a few milking cows, cats, fish, a turtle, and Sixty, an intensely smart farm dog who is part border collie, part Great Pyrenees. The cattle are grazing 2,000 acres of leased land to the west.

Using Holistic Management International principles, Kitt has farmed this land since 1980. Born and raised in Edmonton, he left a zoology degree behind to join his cousin and a few friends in buying this property. He’s the only one left. His six quarter sections have been certified organic and humane since 1990 with 90 percent untouched. Over 400 WWOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) workers have poured through in the last 20 years.

We learn how each animal helps keep the “farm in harmony with the natural surroundings to sustain and enhance its natural biodiversity.” Whole Foods in BC takes lots of Kitt’s product and his stall at Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market in Edmonton thrives.

Over a meal of wood-fired ranch-raised bison, garden greens and potatoes, and haskap berries from neighbours, he shares stories of a well-lived life. He’s proven that a farm can be kind to the ecology and economically viable. Exuberant and involved, he’s a reflection of the vibrant life surrounding him.

Hog Wild Specialties | Mayerthorpe | 780-786-4627 | hogwild.ab.ca

Earl Hagman in a field of barley that will become feed for his wild boar. Photo by Karen Anderson.

Since 1992, Earl Hagman and his family have raised wild boar on their 1,800-acre ranch just off the Cowboy Trail south of Mayerthorpe. Almost as though he had a crystal ball, Hagman began to diversify his operations long before BSE, or mad cow disease, hit in 2003. He had already reduced his cattle operation from 300 head to 50 while bringing a dozen sows from Germany and one boar from Russia to begin his enterprise. “Our wild boar saved our farm—it’s as simple as that,” he says.

“It took about 11 years of investment before we started turning a profit and paying off what we’d borrowed—you know, we’re your typical overnight success. Chefs like Glen Manzer, Angelo Contrada, and Sal Howell, owner of the River Café, have been our greatest support from day one.”

Having grown up cattle ranching, handling these animals did not intimidate him. “In all this time, I’ve only been hurt once.” Moving the hogs for processing requires strategy, but he’s an expert at it now. Demand for his product is such that he is also supporting four other wild boar farms throughout the province by ordering from them with increasing frequency. “There used to be 200 farms raising these animals. Now there are 12.”

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