About a month ago, Mack and I drove out to the Greens, Eggs and Ham farm in Leduc County on a Sunday afternoon. I had arranged to interview Mary Ellen and Andreas Grueneberg that day for a Vue Weekly story about their businesses and the challenges they face, and they were nice enough to invite us to stay for dinner as well.
Green, Eggs and Ham farm
Sometimes, 900 words isn’t enough to tell the whole story. This was one of those instances. Also – though I loved the images Gabe Wong produced for the Meat Issue, I was hoping they would showcase at least one of the photos I took that day. Thankfully, I have no such space restrictions on my blog!
Mary Ellen and Andreas (my favourite photo from that night)
Though I’ve buying from Greens, Eggs and Ham for a few years now (and just started my second year as a member of their Community Supported Agriculture, called the Greens, Eggs and Ham Futures Program), this was the first time I had the opportunity to sit down with them and learn how they entered the farming business.
We had already toured some parts of the farm back in November, but in warm weather, we were able to see some of the land that would be seeded shortly, and check out the status of the greenhouse since our last visit.
Andreas finishing up with watering duties
We also took a quick peek inside the duck barn, containing a flock that would be processed at the end of the month (I think the duck legs we had last week were actually from animals we saw that day…).
More pets than food, the last stop was to check out some beautiful birds and not-so-quiet guinea fowl.
Whatcha lookin’ at?
The small family farm is referenced so often in current literature that it almost seems cliché, but Mary Ellen, Andreas, and their two daughters Ariana and Megan are a great example of how each member of the family contributes in some way.
“Ariana has an absolute way with fowl,” shares Mary Ellen. “She keeps them calm and friendly. One of the reasons our birds are so great and tender is because when we load them, there’s minimal stress. Usually when people are loading birds for processing, they wait ‘til dark and then they turn off the lights, put the black light in and hold them upside down by their feet so they can hold more in their hands, then throw them in the cages.”
“Because of Megan, my bird person, we go with their natural rhythm,” continues Mary Ellen. “At dusk, the birds lay down and go to sleep. So we load them before dusk. And the birds are all calm. We walk towards them with boards to corral them other than the turkeys who follow Ariana everywhere. Megan and I just stand in the back to make sure they don’t go away and they all follow her. Any changes are going to be stressful, but we try to minimize that because with adrenalin, it takes eighteen hours to get it out of the system so you will end up with tougher meat.”
Megan being a “bird person” isn’t an understatement either (she learned about birds primarily from working at The Bird Shop in Edmonton). They have ten parrots, in addition to the fowl kept outside as pets (turkeys, guineas, ducks, geese, chickens and peafowl), two dogs and three cats. Having grown up in a virtually pet-free house, it was a nice change to be surrounded by animal companions.
Too cute parrot
Yukon looking fully satisfied after his dip in the pond
We also talked about the increased distribution role Greens, Eggs and Ham has recently adopted. Because of her marketing skills, Mary Ellen has often promoted other small producers to potential buyers. This year, however, they have a formal contract to source and deliver local products – everything from cucumbers and tomatoes to Wagyu beef, alpaca and ostrich – for ZINC.
“It’s very important that the producers have their names on their products,” says Mary Ellen. “Other than the alpaca will go through us because I work with the Alpaca Association, the elk will come from Amber Lane Game Farm, Wagyu from Jordan Valley Farm, rabbit from Sean Anam Farm. I never want to be the kind of distributor who avoids using producers’ names because I want a local, vibrant, sustainable system and I want them to get a pat on the back for their product.”
This van gets things done
Dinner that night was a delicious turkey stew, made entirely with products from the farm – turkey drummettes, carrots and potatoes – coated in a flavourful jus. It’s a recipe I will definitely have to try myself.
There was also dessert – a sinfully rich chocolate cake from Eco Cafe in Pigeon Lake (an upside to Mary Ellen’s distribution role is picking things up to bring back home).
Thanks again to Mary Ellen and Andreas for having us over!