Alberta Open Farm Days takes place every August, and is a great opportunity to visit with and learn about some of our food-producing neighbours. However, it is more difficult for those without a vehicle to participate in this annual event. This is where Northlands has played a key role over the past few years by offering one of the best deals of Open Farm Days: $5 organized bus tours of local farms. The morning and afternoon tours depart from their easily accessible Northlands Urban Farm, located just a short walk from Stadium LRT station.
Mack and I had a great time on the tour last year, so made sure to pick up tickets to this year’s iteration as well. We joined the morning tour, which would allow us to visit two farms in Sturgeon County: Erdmann’s Gardens and Greenhouses, and Sprout Farms Apple Orchards.
At Erdmann’s, we were greeted by Wendy Erdmann, matriarch of the farm. She shared that her husband Rony stared the farm in 1983, transitioning the fields from alfalfa to vegetables. They now farm 75 acres in crops and greenhouses, with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes making up their primary crops.
Wendy Erdmann of Erdmann’s Gardens
Although they are not organic (Erdmann’s uses fertilizer and pesticides), they only spray when needed, and do employ some natural methods such as using organic sprays for their broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. They use the Redwater River for irrigation.
In the summer, they are busy with direct sales at three Edmonton area farmers’ markets, including the City Market, St. Albert, and Callingwood, but also offer some on-farm sales in July and August. Co-op stores have started recently carrying some of their produce, and Erdmann’s does work with several restaurants in the city as well, such as the Shaw Conference Centre, Zinc, and Tzin.
On the tour
It was promising to hear from Wendy that her two sons, Shane and Cody, will be taking over the farm in the near future.
Before we departed, Wendy provided each attendee with a bag of veggies to take home – it was more than generous, and an appreciated token from the visit.
The group hopped back on the bus for our second stop, Sprout Farms Apple Orchards, located next to Prairie Adventure Gardens. In many ways, Sprout Farms feels like one of the region’s best kept secrets – I was astonished to learn that the orchard grows 150 varieties of apples.
Farmer Amanda Chedzoy explained that they moved to the property in 1980, and the farm began as a tree nursery. In 2000, they transitioned to a u-pick apple farm, planting any extra stock they had on hand. Since then, they’ve decided to move away from the u-pick business because it has been difficult for them to manage, and have adopted a Community Supported Agriculture model this year, in addition to selling pre-picked fruit. Sprout Farms is not certified organic, but they use organic practices, and haven’t sprayed in three years.
Amanda Chedzoy of Sprout Farms
Although they do grow many varieties, they primarily offer 14 types of apples spread over 700 trees. Amanda shared that the fruit was very small this year due to continued drought conditions. Although they had 7 varieties available that day, she encouraged us to return next month, as September is their prime picking period.
Like Erdmann’s, Amanda mentioned that her sons will be taking over the farm in the future – given the prevailing narrative about the lack of interest subsequent generations have in continuing the farm business, it was very encouraging to hear from two families that this is not the case for them.
On the farm with my parents
Before we left Sprout Farms, we had the chance to try some fresh-pressed cider, and buy some of their pre-picked apples from the on-farm store.
Thanks again to Northlands for organizing a great morning of farm tours!