Eat Alberta 2012

The vision of Eat Alberta is simple: to create interactive opportunities for people to learn how to source and prepare local food directly from the experts in our community – producers, chefs and local food advocates. We were also hoping that participants would connect with one another and perhaps foster relationships that would extend beyond one isolated event. Because after all, there are only so many farmers’ markets to visit and shops and restaurants to patronize that showcase local food in Edmonton!

I had great intentions to write a post to sum up our inaugural Eat Alberta conference last year, but it fell by the wayside. I regret it now, because it would be nice to have a reference point, since our second Eat Alberta was so different in many ways.

On April 14, 2012, we welcomed over one hundred attendees and eighteen presenters at NAIT. In comparison to Eat Alberta 2011, we had nearly doubled the number of participants and sessions offered, so our classroom footprint had to grow accordingly as well. Although there were many positive attributes about our previous base venue of Enterprise Square, it did not contain kitchen facilities, and for a hands-on cooking conference such as ours, it became clear that they were a necessity. So we were thrilled when NAIT agreed to allow us to book their kitchens and adjacent classrooms as a venue, as this was the first time they have opened their doors to an external group.

Eat Alberta 2012

The sandwich spread from NAIT

Eat Alberta 2012

Lunch also included this wonderful stout cake

The NAIT staff did a wonderful job in taking care of many tasks –from setting up meals to dishwashing – that had fallen to the organizing committee and volunteers last year. Of course, that did mean the cost of putting on the conference increased (and as a result, heightened the attendee fee), but from an organizer’s perspective, it allowed us the time and space to manage other things, and for a few of us, even the opportunity to take in a few sessions!

Eat Alberta 2012

Mack learning how to make spring rolls from Elaine Wilson (a lot of the photos I’ve used in this post were taken by Maki, our volunteer photographer – she did a great job!)

The keynote from Danny and Shannon of Nature’s Green Acres was a great way to start the day. They shared their farm story – how labour intensive their methods are, how their children are involved in the day-to-day chores. I think it set the tone for the conference – one of humble appreciation for producers like the Ruzickas and the hard work involved in bringing consumers a quality product!

Eat Alberta 2012

Danny and Shannon Ruzicka

Afterwards, I did a quick walk-through of a few of the hands-on sessions in the kitchens, and it looked like people were having a blast.

Eat Alberta 2012

Cheesemaking with Alan Roote

Eat Alberta 2012

Knife skills with Kevin Kent

Eat Alberta 2012

Pasta making with Kathryn Joel

Much of this can be attributed to the stellar presenters that volunteered and took it upon themselves to plan practical and insightful workshops, and were able to impart both their knowledge and their passion in the limited time available. I think there was a lot more tweeting going on this year than last, so it was neat to see some of the real time comments of participants – talk about immediate feedback!

Eat Alberta 2012

Owen Petersen’s class making sourdough babies

I was also able to sit in on two sessions that day. The first was with Martin Osis of the Alberta Mycological Society who addressed the topic of Foraging for Mushrooms. I’ve heard Martin speak before, and he certainly hasn’t lost his sense of humour about fungi. There was no doubt attendees were engaged, and had Martin not warned the crowd numerous times about the exceptions to the edible mushroom rules, I’m sure people would have wanted to start foraging for mushrooms right outside the walls of NAIT.

Eat Alberta 2012

Martin Osis

In the afternoon, I joined Chef Blair Lebsack’s session on how to prepare bison. Blair was among three NAIT Culinary Arts instructors we were fortunate to have, as they are the mentors behind the next generation of the city’s culinary talent.

Eat Alberta 2012

Blair Lebsack

Blair didn’t show us just one, but three ways of cooking bison so we could taste the difference between different cuts and preparation methods. He started with a roast from First Nature’s Farms, seasoned it, then placed in a hot oven (it reminded me that I need to get myself a probe thermometer!). Blair then pointed to a brisket he had started earlier that day, having cooked it low and slow for several hours. It was fork tender, surrounded by the aromatic bath it had been prepared in.

Lastly, Blair divided up a striploin into individual steaks so participants would be able to cook it up on their own to their liking. Many chose to pan-fry their steaks, but I went with the grill, mostly because the barbecue isn’t something I get to play with all that often!

Eat Alberta 2012

Seasoning up my steak

The plenary panel was something we had great fun designing. “How to survive a zombie apocalypse” was an off-beat way of asking some really important questions about how one would be able to fend for themselves in our Prairie context. I think Allan did a great job moderating the panel, though I know we had some minor clarity issues for those seated at the back.

Eat Alberta 2012

Zombie apocalypse panel

Valerie and Allan deserve all of the credit for the tasting boards served at the wine down. They were a sight to behold, all lined up in Ernest’s, and yes, they were as lovingly prepared as they appeared to have been. My favourite taste was similar to my favourite last year – the Cheesiry’s pecorino with a drizzle of Lola Canola honey.

Eat Alberta 2012

Valerie preparing the boards

Eat Alberta 2012

Maki’s beautiful shot of a tasting board

In all, I think it was a really successful event. We achieved what we set out to do, and hope everyone thought it was a worthwhile day as well (you can check out what others said here). That said, we know there is always room for improvement, and for the future, there will be some minor adjustments (for example, ensuring that all attendees have the opportunity to participate in at least one hands-on course). And if you have any other suggestions, please get in touch with us – we’re all ears!

In reflecting back on the day, I feel indebted to so many people. Thanks to everyone who attended, and took a chance on our event. I want to thank the tireless volunteers – the event truly could not have taken place without your energy and hard work. Thanks also to the Italian Centre, Mighty Trio Organics and Gold Forest Grains for sponsoring us – it means a lot that small local businesses believed in our vision as well. Last but not least – so much of the feeling I am left with now is an intense respect for my fellow committee members – it was such a pleasure to work with you, Allan, Mack, Ming, Nicole, Su and Valerie. Here’s to Eat Alberta 2013!

If you’re interested in finding out more about future Eat Alberta events, make sure you
sign up for our mailing list.

Slow Food Edmonton Dairy Farm Field Trip

Some Slow Food Edmonton events are all about eating, like Indulgence and Beer and Boar. Others are more about getting to know fellow members, like the Wood Fired Solstice and the annual potluck at Mary Bailey’s residence. The focus of the Dairy Farm Field Trip at the end of September was learning.

We are very lucky to have someone as enthusiastic as Valerie in the organization – she is so energetic and positive it makes my head spin sometimes. She had the great idea of arranging a group field trip to two of our local dairy farms – Sylvan Star Cheese and Bles-Wold Dairy – and ending the day with a meal at Eco Café. Seats sold out quickly, which, although priced at $75 a ticket, was a fair price given the inclusion of three meals, the tours and transportation to and from the farms.

We were up and at ‘em early – we had to be at Southgate Mall before 8:30 a.m. Thankfully, we live right on the LRT line, which made the trip fast and convenient. Our premature wake up call was made better by the two sweet and savoury scones that greeted us upon arrival, fresh out of the oven from Duchess.

I’m fairly certain it was the butter in the scones that pushed me into nap territory, but when I woke up, we had arrived at our first destination – Sylvan Star Cheese in Red Deer County.

Sylvan Star Cheese

Sylvan Star Cheese

They were a new vendor at the City Market this year, but I was familiar with their award-winning cheese from Planet Organic, and restaurants such as Madison’s Grill who have featured their product on their menus. Though I enjoy their cheese (particularly the cumin-spiced gouda and the aged cheddar), I know the price is a deterrent for us to use it as an everyday cheese. Still, I was looking forward to see their new home, with expanded cheese making (and aging) facilities.

Sylvan Star Cheese


Jan Schalkwijk was our host for the tour. First, he invited us to help ourselves to samples of their cheese. Mack and I were able to try a few varieties, which was good enough for us (10 in the morning as it was), but I was hoping for a guided tasting from the expert himself – for example, running through flavours and textures to look for.

Sylvan Star Cheese

Tasting Platter

After the snack break, Jan told us how he got into cheesemaking in Alberta – essentially, because he couldn’t find good cheese here after immigrating from Holland, he decided to use the skills he had to make good cheese himself.

Sylvan Star Cheese

Jan introduces his business

Though Jan was fantastic at answering questions, I thought the tour side of things could have been better thought out – we could have started on the factory floor, for example, where the cheese is made, then worked our way to the aging and smoking rooms.

Sylvan Star Cheese

The smoker (Jan uses maple wood)

Regardless, it was a little frustrating not being able to hear our guide. Jan unfortunately does not have a voice that carries, and most often, our large group were in rooms where it was difficult to hear him due to a combination of factors including space constraints and whirring fans. A microphone – or dividing the group – would have helped immensely.

Sylvan Star Cheese

Where the cheese is made

Though I didn’t get as much from the tour as I would have wanted, it really was neat to see the humidity-controlled rooms where the cheese is aged. At the end of each of the shelves was a post-it containing the batch date – for the first sixty days, the wheels are turned once a day to prevent mould, and after that, turned once a week.

Sylvan Star Cheese

With my birthday batch of cheese!

It was also hard not to appreciate their expansive facility. Though there seem to be few employees on his team, they have ensured that they will have ample room to grow. The room below, for example, will be their new cheese aging room – it was absolutely massive, but given their increasing popularity, it’s not surprising.

Sylvan Star Cheese

Coming soon – another cheese aging room

Valerie’s post on this trip is much more detailed, particularly on this aspect of the day. She also has many great photos of the facility!

Sylvan Star Cheese

Mack loves cheese!

Before departing for our next stop, we had a nice soup and sandwich lunch, where we were able to socialize with Sherene and Su.

Sylvan Star Cheese

A tasty minestrone soup – just what I needed that morning

A half hour later, we arrived at Bles-Wold. Unlike Sylvan Star, Bles-Wold yogurt is something that I regularly have on hand – their fruit yogurt is thick, not too sweet, and is definitely more substantial than commercial varieties – and their plain yogurt is my go-to choice for salad dressings and other recipes. When we drove up to the farm, it was reassuring to see that the red barn pictured on their containers actually exists, and happens to be where the yogurt is made!

Bles Wold

Bles-Wold Dairy

This tour experience was much more organized. The group was split into two right off the bat – my group followed Hennie upstairs for an introduction to Bles-Wold.

Hennie Bos described how the company began – after many years of experience running a dairy farm in Holland, he and Tinie moved to Alberta and started a dairy farm in 1994 with 60 Holsteins. In 1996, Tinie started making yogurt, and slowly, business grew – they now have 250 cows. Their products are currently stocked in 120 stores in Alberta, and most recently, two stores in Vancouver began carrying their wares.

Bles Wold

Hennie talks to the group

It was most interesting to hear Hennie explain that yogurt is quota-based system in Alberta, which only produces up to 0.5% of the demand (rights to produce more can be purchased from other farmers). The other part of their business is producing milk, which is sold to Saputo.

We then switched with the other group, and Tinie talked about the yogurt-making process on the lower level of the barn. She said she was first prompted to make yogurt for her daughter, who was diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager, and had to avoid commercially-produced yogurt that contained artificial sweeteners. Using her brother’s recipe, she eventually started making yogurt for family and friends as well, and they suggested that it might be a viable business.

Bles-Wold yogurt was first sold at farmers’ markets, where Tinie appreciated the feedback from customers. She found that Canadians preferred a much thicker yogurt than the Dutch, and liked being able to choose from a variety of flavours.

Bles Wold

Menu (plain is by far the most popular, followed by French vanilla, then blueberry)

She pointed to the machine behind her where the yogurt is made: it all starts with 3.5% butter fat milk. Skim milk powder is added for calcium and milk solids, then the mixture is transferred to the double-walled machine to be pasteurized, then separated.  Cultures (from Denmark) are added, then allowed to grow for fifteen hours. The last step is integrating fruit jelly mixes (containing no artificial sweeteners or stabilizers from a company in Vancouver) to produce flavoured yogurt. The amount of yogurt they produce every week varies somewhat (depending on market need), but that week, they would be making 3000L of yogurt.

Bles Wold

Where the yogurt is made

Tinie said she would be going to Europe in October to learn more about drinkable yogurt, which many of her customers have asked about. She said she had played around with various recipes, but hadn’t yet found one that worked.

Next, we moved on to the barns – one contained the calves (one just a day old!), and another, the 250 Holsteins (and one bull!). Everyone seemed to be just as delighted to see the young cows as we were, and even better, Hennie and Tinie had set out samples of their yogurt on the table for everyone.

Bles Wold

Pet me!

Bles Wold

Mack with a container of Bles Wold yogurt

The large barn that held the adult Holsteins was a sight to see (and smell, I suppose, but by that time, we had acclimatized somewhat). Though the cows typically have access to pasture, because they were expanding the barn this year, the cows had to remain indoors during this process – they will be back outside in the fenced pasture next year.

Bles Wold

I am such a tourist

The notable features of this barn were the mechanized helpers inside – one that swept the hay back towards the cows as they nosed through it – and another behind them that we joked was a Roomba for fecal matter – a motorized circular machine that pushed manure down into the slats below.

Bles Wold

Feed sweeper (we didn’t get a photo of the Roomba, unfortunately!)

Hennie was also very proud to show off the milking machine, where two cows could be automatically milked, a process that usually takes between 5-10 minutes. Here is a link to a video if you’re interested in seeing how it works – a cow steps in, a brush simultaneously cleans the teets and stimulates them, sensors pinpoint the udders, and the machine starts to collect the milk. It really was a sight to see.

Bles Wold

The magical milking machine

Valerie really had timed everything quite well – we never felt rushed at any part during the day. We all had our fill of the milking machine, Holsteins, and of course, yogurt – and got on the bus for the journey to our last destination that day, dinner at Eco Cafe.

Bles Wold

Leaving the barn

I had heard a lot about Eco Cafe, and their pride in sourcing local ingredients (including products from Greens, Eggs and Ham). Valerie had arranged a pre-fixe meal for the group, which was included in the price of the tour.

Located at Pigeon Lake in a small strip mall, Eco Cafe was much smaller than I had anticipated (our group took over the restaurant!). But what it lacked in size it made up for in charm, with lots of natural light, warm paint colours and friendly staff.


Eco Cafe

We started off with a plate of smoked prairie trout, served with cold pressed canola oil Mousseline in a corn and sweet pepper crepe, with greens and candied beets in a yogurt maple dressing. Though the dish was pleasant enough, it wasn’t memorable though I did like the dressing.


Smoked prairie trout with greens and beets

The entree was delicious, however – fall comfort on a plate. The bison short rib ragout was served over goat cheese mashed potatoes with oven roasted root vegetables. Everyone around the table – Valerie, Vanja and Mack – loved this dish. The meat was unbelievably tender, and thankfully for Vanja and I, the goat cheese was subtle.


Bison short rib ragout


Photo op

Valerie had told us that homemade cookies were waiting for us for the trip home, so we opted not to order dessert. Instead, we took the opportunity to stretch our legs before the trip home.


I always make a beeline for gazebos

The promised cookies were indeed worth the wait: the chocolate cherry hazelnut and breakfast cookies were a great way to end the day.


Breakfast cookies

More napping on the bus ride back, and before we knew it, we were in Edmonton again. Thanks again to Valerie (and Vanja) for all of your work in planning the trip!

People’s Food Policy Project: Kitchen Table Talk

Last night, I attended an event at the Central Lions Seniors Centre put on by Just Food Edmonton and Growing Food Security in Alberta that was seeking input from citizens around the People’s Food Policy Project (PFPP).


Welcome table

The PFPP is a grassroots project that hopes to, in April 2011, submit policy papers for consideration by the federal government. The ten current papers can be accessed here, and will be revised several more times as input is received at these so-called “kitchen table talks” as well as at an upcoming conference in Montreal.


Local food was served, of course, including BC apples and grapes, bread donated from Bon Ton Bakery, and some amazing homemade jam

The first part of the event saw individuals self-select one of the ten papers they were interested in having an in-depth discussion about. With perhaps 30 people in attendance, it wasn’t possible to have every topic covered, but it seemed to work well. I should also note that election candidates were invited to attend, but as the discussions were supposed to be based upon the ideas presented in the papers, I can imagine it would be difficult for someone who hasn’t given food-related issues much thought to jump in (and as a result, only one of the candidates, Brent Schaffrick, ended up staying the entire evening).

Discussion papers

Discussion paper topics

I know I felt a bit selfish being there, feeling like I didn’t have much to contribute, but having a thirst to learn. The discussion I chose to participate in was “Access to food in urban communities”, touching on issues of personal food security, accessibility and affordability.

The discussion in the group was rich – touching on food deserts, vertical farming, and the need for small abattoirs, among other things – and perhaps even more so because the passion around the circle was palpable. And like some other events I’ve attended, the networking opportunity was more valuable than the content learned (Maryann Borch for instance, has a farm called Good Note southeast of Edmonton that I’d never heard of before – she participated in the On Borrowed Ground CSA this year). I do think more time could have been given for this part of the discussion, however. By the time we were given our two-minute warning, we had barely scratched the surface of the topic, and scrambled to write something down on our notes sheet.

The second part of the evening was done in an open space format, which allows individuals to start a discussion, and for participants to “vote with their feet” and change groups if they become disinterested with the dialogue.

I sat in at Perry Phillips’ table, where he talked about a new initiative by the Leduc-Nisku Economic Development Association, which has received a loan from Community Futures, to establish a local food value chain. This chain intends on growing the Alberta agriculture and food processing sector by connecting farmers and entrepreneurs with the right resources and expertise they need to succeed (e.g. sourcing products, locating processors, marketing to retail). It sounded like the chain was still in the beginning stages (they are hosting a facilitated discussion in November for the purposes of a needs assessment), but he did mention two things of note: first, the Leduc Food Processing Development Centre sounds like a great facility, a sparkly new incubator for food companies that provide, for a fee, access to state of the art equipment, staff, and assistance in the development of products, among other things. Second, he mentioned that the Executive Royal Inn in Leduc offers a 100-mile menu option for local-conscious folks organizing events and conferences – I had no idea, but will be looking into it.

Group share

Sharing our open space key points

Susan Roberts, the host of the event who works for Growing Food Security in Alberta, was asked at the end of the evening if Food: Today, Tomorrow, Together would be holding a conference next year (I attended the first conference she helped put on in 2009). Though the focus will be beyond food, Growing Food Security in Alberta has partnered with Pathways 2 Sustainability to host Food, Fuel and Finance in Red Deer next year, from February 23-25, 2011. Though food will be one of the angles covered, all speakers, she said, will be ready to address issues from all three sides.

Susan Roberts

Susan Roberts

The talk was worth attending, as I was able to find out more about the People’s Food Policy Project, and met some others in the city passionate about food! Thanks to Just Food Edmonton and Growing Food Security in Alberta for organizing the event.

Farm Visit: Riverbend Gardens

Two weeks ago, Mack and I were fortunate enough to visit Riverbend Gardens, one of the producers we frequent at the City Market, and one of the farms that is located within Edmonton’s city limits.

A few months ago, Patty Milligan introduced me to Janelle Herbert, who operates Riverbend Gardens alongside her husband Aaron and her parents Doug and Evelyn Visser. I had hoped to get out to the farm earlier this summer, but as we are now into harvest season (particularly with the frost bearing down on the city), it seemed like a fitting time for the tour.

Riverbend Gardens

Riverbend Gardens

The first thing we discovered is that Riverbend Gardens is nowhere near the neighbourhood of Riverbend. On the northeast edge of the Edmonton, the farm is actually located near Norbest Farms, which many people know from last year’s Great Potato Giveaway (it turns out Norbest’s Gordon Visser is actually Janelle’s uncle). The farm’s name actually comes from the shape of their land, which curves where the North Saskatchewan River curves. It is an absolutely beautiful property, and one where the wind’s slight rustle of leaves through the trees is the only disruption of peace. The silence was serene.

Riverbend Gardens

Panoramic of the river’s bend

Janelle and Aaron have two young children, who, in addition to the work on the farm, keep them busy and away from manning the six markets Riverbend Gardens is involved in themselves. The quarter section land is divided into two – about 65 acres is used to farm, while the other 90 acres is preserved as the original forest.

Riverbend Gardens

Done for the season

Janelle’s grandparents started the farm nearly sixty years ago, with her parents taking over in 1981. Janelle didn’t plan to continue the family business (“I didn’t want to marry a farmer,” she laughed), and worked as an Occupational Therapy Assistant for a few years, while her husband Aaron was a welder. In 2005, her parents expressed that they wanted to slow down, and Aaron jumped at the opportunity to take over the farm (“he’s always been the outdoors type”, said Janelle). They’ve been on a steep learning curve ever since.

Riverbend Gardens

Riverbend Gardens offers u-pick saskatoons (how cool is it that they use an honour system?)

It turned out the farm hands had just left, after a full day’s work of picking, sorting, cleaning and packing vegetables in preparation for the farmers’ markets. Janelle showed us their machinery, as well as the refrigerated sheds used to store all of their produce – they smelled of freshly picked onions. I was amazed that their entire fall/winter stock, which lasts them into spring at the year-round markets, could be contained in those two small buildings.

Riverbend Gardens

Storage shed

In the photo below, the boxes wrapped together below are full of cabbage. Riverbend Gardens does, at this point, sell their cabbage into the wholesale market (to be resold at grocery stores). Given the extremely slim profit, they are hoping to step away from that business soon, and focus on selling all of the produce at local farmers’ markets.

Riverbend Gardens

Sorting and packing area

The greenhouses right next door were empty at this time, but she told us that seeding typically begins in March, with transplanting to the fields taking place a few months after.

Riverbend Gardens


The five of us got on a mule for a drive through their various crops. While I’ve been to a few other farms before, this was definitely the largest I’ve seen so far.

Riverbend Gardens


Riverbend Gardens


Riverbend Gardens

Brussels sprouts

Riverbend Gardens

Kale (I love the alternating rows of colours)

Riverbend Gardens

Pumpkin peeking out!

Riverbend Gardens

Corn (they have the best peaches and cream corn)

It was clear to see that maintaining a farm of this size is no easy feat. Janelle said she and Aaron are continually learning, reading and attending conferences between December to February when the crops are not active. Although it is hard work, and definitely not a career chosen for its financial benefits, Janelle says she is happy with the lifestyle choice and is “rich in many other ways.”

Riverbend Gardens

Janelle and her two adorable children in the squash patch

To end our visit, we rode the mule through the woods that have been left untouched, save for a cleared path that allows access to the river on the other side. Janelle said their goal is to eventually somehow share the beauty of this grove with the public.

Riverbend Gardens

It was a good five degrees cooler under the shade of the trees!

Riverbend Gardens

At the river’s edge

Thanks to Janelle for taking time out of her afternoon to show us around! With the recently passed Municipal Development Plan, I am hopeful that farms on the city’s edge such as Riverbend Gardens will be protected (and with luck, continue to flourish).

You can see Mack’s full photo set here.

A Family Farm: Greens, Eggs and Ham

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.

Turkey stew

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).

Chocolate cake

Thanks again to Mary Ellen and Andreas for having us over!

Greens, Eggs and Ham are at the City Market every Saturday until Thanksgiving from 9am – 3pm, but their products can also be found at Careit Urban Deli and Ocean Odyssey Inland (10027 167 Street).

Farm Visit: Greens, Eggs and Ham

I’ve been buying products from Mary Ellen and Andres Gruenberg of Greens, Eggs and Ham for a few years now, and joined their Community Supported Agriculture project this year in order to help them expand their operations. I had been meaning to visit their farm at some point, but timing just never worked out. So when they announced that they would be hosting a greenhouse open house to be held at the end of November, I was ecstatic that I would actually able to attend!

My parents wanted to come along for the ride as well, so this afternoon, we piled into a car and drove to the farm, located just over a half an hour outside of the city in Leduc County. Greens, Eggs Ham is a ten acre mixed farm – in addition to various produce (salad greens, baby zucchini, squash and potatoes, among others), they also raise several types of poultry, including ducks, cornish game hens and turkeys.

Farm (with a shell of a new greenhouse set to be finished next summer already up on the right)

As the focus of the open house was the greenhouse, it was no surprise that we found the other visitors in the second-floor greenhouse, built above the barn that holds the majority of the egg-laying ducks. Though Andres said he is continually making improvements to the greenhouse, they started to grow greens indoors about three years ago.

Greenhouse interior

The wooden beds contained nearly two dozen varieties of greens, from swiss chard, kale, and beets to sorrel, spinach and lettuce. Both Mary Ellen and Andres encouraged us to taste the leaves, and we took advantage of the opportunity. My Mum loved the sorrel, while I found the purple oracle plants (explained to be a predecessor to spinach) to be interesting – all the leaves have to be hand picked instead of cut by shears. Though to be honest – when would fresh-picked greens ever not taste good?

Rainbow swiss chard

Lettuce (relatively boring compared to some of the other exotic varieties)


Can’t remember what this green is called, but so pretty!

The most jarring thing about the greenhouse were the swarms of ladybugs inside. Greens, Eggs and Ham employs natural pest control methods, and to remedy an outbreak of aphids last week, they released 35,000 ladybugs to eliminate the problem. Apparently, a combination of two types of wasps and the ladybugs will eradicate the aphids, and as opposed to pesticides, are more effective, given that sprays cannot reach on the underside of leaves. Eventually, when the ladybugs run out of their food source, they die off.


I think it is amazing that Mary Ellen and Andres can produce high-quality products in the dead of winter. So for those that think that fresh, locally-grown produce can only be had in the summer months – think again.

Mary Ellen also took us to visit the barn that held the birds raised for meat. Upon our entry, the birds welcomed us by sounding off, noises that were quite harsh to unfamiliar ears. The head goose in particular was quite friendly, and came over to greet us.

Inside the poultry barn

Mary Ellen said that while in the summer, the doors are open to allow the birds free access to the outdoors, she said the birds are actually really finicky, and in certain weather conditions, will refuse to leave the barn.

The group also visited with the other animals on the farm, including two beautiful goats who weren’t people shy at all, two adorable dogs, and a cat named BunBun who loves car rides so much we found her in our van after leaving the door open for a minute.

Opi wants attention

My parents playing with Yukon

Before we left, Mack and I helped Andres harvest a bag each of sorrel and spinach as a part of our order – the joke was that any ladybugs within the mix were a testament to its freshness.

Harvesting sorrel

Thanks to Mary Ellen and Andres for your hospitality, and your willingness to open up your farm to us!

If you’re interested in picking up some Greens, Eggs and Ham products when the City Centre Market is off-season, both Careit Urban Deli in Crestwood (9672 – 142 Street, 780-488-1110) and Ocean Odyssey Inland (10027 167 Street, 780- 930-1901)  stock their eggs and proteins, but if you want to make sure they have what you’re looking for, or you want a full product list, just e-mail Mary Ellen.