On Monday afternoon, I had the privilege of accompanying Chef Sebastian Lysz to meet one of his clients. Since leaving Devlin’s in March due to a carpal tunnel-related ailment, Sebastian has started a culinary consulting company called Relish.
We drove to Viking, just under two hours east of Edmonton to meet Danny and Shannon Ruzicka of Nature’s Green Acres. The Ruzickas have two young children (with another on the way) and have been farming for about six years. They currently raise cattle, pigs and chickens, mostly for direct sale. As a small family farm, they are working with Sebastian to grow their capacity over the next year, and hope to supply several Edmonton restaurants with their products beginning in the fall, in addition to eventually having a weekly presence at the city’s farmers’ markets.
Shannon and Danny Ruzicka (their dog Nash crashed the photo)
All of their animals are hormone free, pasture-raised and grass fed. With the dry weather conditions up until last week, the Ruzickas were certain they would have been forced to fold if rain hadn’t arrived (hay bales are up to $200 each). Although I had read stories about the drought affecting farmers, hearing Shannon and Danny’s story firsthand made it all the more real.
Shannon points out an area of pasture still crunchy and brown
Shannon and Danny were more than happy to provide a tour of the farm – the transparency of it all was so refreshing. We started with the pigs – 20 animals contained within a movable pen, with continuous access to water. The pen is hitched to a truck at least twice a day to be moved, which ensures the pigs have access to fresh greenery.
Moving the pig pen
Seeing the pigs swish their tails around, ecstatic with fresh grass available, I thought back to Joel Salatin’s comment about how animals are happy when they are able to do the things they were naturally meant to do. I had no doubt that these pigs looked happy.
Four month old pigs
Next up were the cattle. Their 31 cattle have a large run of the land, and obviously require the most space of all the animals. As their farm totals 480 acres, just how much land is required to support the grass-fed approach blew my mind – such a contrast to the industrial system of grain-fed CAFOs.
Cattle out in the field
Nature’s Green Acres is the only farm to produce what they call “nouveau beef”. Instead of butchering the cattle at the conventional 18-20 months, they are butchered at a much younger age – 6 months, in fact. The result is very tender beef with naturally less fat.
What are you looking at?
Our last stop was a viewing of an area of their land that archaeologists have said may have been a buffalo jump at some point. With a pool of water at the valley’s base and an uninterrupted view of green, Shannon brought up a novel idea of holding an outdoor barbecue on the site – similar in nature to vineyards hosting meals in the orchard itself. Sebastian and I thought it was a great concept – I will definitely be posting details of the dinner if it happens on my blog.
Potential buffalo jump
Shannon and Danny were beyond hospitable – they did not just invite us onto the farm and into their home, but also prepared a hearty, home-cooked meal for us. Barbecued rib steaks with mustard, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil were served with a sage onion compote alongside mashed potatoes and an apple, avocado and feta salad. The steaks were by far the star of the meal, undeniably tender and flavourful.
Visiting farmers’ markets and speaking with producers firsthand are one thing, but seeing the land that allows it all to happen is something else entirely. Thanks to Shannon and Danny for their hospitality and allowing me a peek into their daily lives – I certainly have a greater appreciation for where my food comes from. And thanks of course to Sebastian for taking me along for the ride!
Watch my blog for updates about when products from Nature’s Green Acres are available in the city – at restaurants and beyond.