Recap: MilkCrate’s Feast in the Field

The last food event I attended was in mid-March 2020. COVID-19 seemed ominous, but we knew so little about it at the time. Over the last 16 months, food events have been postponed, outright cancelled, shifted outdoors, or scaled down to accommodate members of a single household only. Since then, I haven’t attended any food events, and also haven’t yet felt comfortable dining indoors at a restaurant. Having embraced the beauty of eating al fresco in that time, I was thus enthralled to accept the invitation to MIlkCrate’s Feast in the Field event that occurred last weekend.

MilkCrate, in partnership with Taste Alberta, organized an outdoor dining event at Allam Farms, located near Fort Saskatchewan. The food highlighted locally-sourced pork, dairy products, pulses, and canola through a comfort-driven menu. We were told the event sold out almost immediately.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Chef Steven Brochu and the sight of a whole pig roasting on a spit – the definite makings of a tasty evening.

Feast in the Field

Chef Steve Brochu and the pig

Tables had been set up on the freshly shorn wheat field, though Allam Farms also grows pulses and hemp, among other crops. The beautiful skies contributed to the stunning backdrop, one that everyone would ultimately take advantage of for (what else?) Instagram-worthy photos.

Feast in the Field

Feast in the field

I’ll also say that because I haven’t dined indoors in a significant period of time, it was particularly wonderful to be able to be within eyesight of the kitchen. We were able to see Chef Brochu and his team assemble everything just yards away.

Feast in the Field

MilkCrate staff at work

The meal began with MilkCrate’s house sourdough, but everyone was holding out for the main event.

Feast in the Field


The platters did not disappoint. Laden with juicy fire-cooked whole hog, smoked lentils and biscuits, lentil cakes, roasted vegetables, and field greens dressed with a smoked Saskatoon berry and canola vinaigrette, there was more than enough food for everyone. MilkCrate’s house sauces were a great accompaniment to the meat and lentil cakes, but I was most impressed with the lentils and biscuits.

Feast in the Field

Family-style platter

For dessert, continuing with the pig and family-style theme, we were provided with ice cream cookie troughs made up of house-made cookies, canola oil cake, and scoops of Yelo’d ice cream. It was the best kind of indulgence.

Feast in the Field

Ice cream cookie troughs

Mack and I were fortunate to dine with a table of familiar food companions – Linda, Sharman, Diane, and Carrie from Taste Alberta. It made the experience of dining out and with folks from outside our bubble a relaxing one.

Sharon & Mack

Night out without Emily!

Given its success, MilkCrate and Taste Alberta are open to replicating the event in the future. I do hope they are able to do so – more people should have the opportunity to enjoy Chef Brochu’s food in such settings, an escape from the city and a reminder of where our food comes from.

Feast in the Field

Team MilkCrate

Thanks again to MilkCrate and Taste Alberta for having us!

Taste Alberta Visit: Morinville Colony Egg Farm

When Mack and I started going to the farmers’ market regularly ten years ago, we became particularly conscious about where were sourcing our meat proteins. For us, the relationship we have with the vendors we buy from is as important as the conditions in which the animals are raised; as a result, we’ve even visited some of the farms we purchase from first hand.

That said, it’s not lost on me that much of the agriculture in this province is based on conventional farming methods. And while we have chosen to invest our food dollars based on what we value, I’m open to learning more about other farming practices. Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a tour of a local conventional egg producer organized by Taste Alberta.

We started off with breakfast at the Glasshouse Bistro at St. Albert’s Enjoy Centre. It was a bright and sunny day, with the clear enclosure around the restaurant amplifying the beautiful conditions outside. The family-style meal featured eggs with a house-made hollandaise, bacon, sausage, and addictive spiced potatoes.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

Breakfast at Glasshouse Bistro

Our group of half a dozen then rode a bus about 30 minutes north west of St. Albert to the Morinville Hutterite Colony. The colony is made up of 120 people and occupies 6,000 acres. They are a mixed farm, with grain, livestock, and dairy rounding out operations.

The Colony’s egg farming division is extensive, holding a hen quota of 20,160. In 2013, they were named the Alberta Egg Producer of the Year by the Egg Farmers of Alberta (who represent more than 160 registered egg farmers in the province). On average, the colony produces 1400 dozen eggs per day, and sells them to eighty restaurants in the area including the Hotel Macdonald and Cora’s, and commercially in Edmonton at the Italian Centre and through Four Whistle Farms. I was surprised to learn that Hutterites produce between 80-85% of all eggs in Alberta.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

At the Morinville Colony

Paul Wurz, Morinville Colony’s Egg Manager, led the tour of the barn and the sorting facility. Though I have visited many farms in the past (albeit small operations by comparison), it was the first time I’ve been required to suit up for biosecurity reasons. With 10,000 hens housed in the single barn though, it’s easy to understand how an errant virus could quickly contaminate the entire flock, which would result in serious financial consequences for the farm.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

With Sharman in our suits

While we weren’t permitted to take photos inside the barn (we were told an accidental flash might disturb the hens), the following photo from the Egg Farmers of Alberta captures a conventional hen house, and is very similar to what we encountered that day.

As mentioned, the barn we toured housed 10,000 hens. The cages were stacked three high, with seven hens in each cage. Each hen is provided with 72 square inches of space. We were told that this type of hen housing is being phased out in favour of furnished or enriched housing, which features more space, nesting boxes, perches, scratch pads and dust baths. The Egg Farmers of Alberta states that by 2020, 32% of hen housing in the province will be furnished or free-run/free range.

One of the advantages to this system is undoubtedly the built-in automation. The hens are allocated feed (105g per bird, per day, a mix of grain and soy for protein), and eggs laid roll down onto a belt that cycles them into the sorting facility next door. Manure is collected on a different belt underneath the metal grate of the cages, and carried outside for composting every four days. This was one of the factors Paul was most proud of – his eggs never touch manure; “In my books, the healthiest eggs are from barns like this,” he said.

Eggs cycled from the barn

In this barn, all of the birds were 24 weeks old. The colony raises all its own pullets (chicks), and they are placed in the barn at 19 weeks when they start to lay eggs (90% lay an egg a day). They lay for one year, after which they are butchered, then replaced by a new flock.

Before I set foot in the barn, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard stories of cramped living quarters, dirty conditions, and mottled birds, so what I saw was better than what I had anticipated. The birds were full-feathered, and apart from their obvious curiosity related to the visitors, they were relatively calm and quiet. In my opinion, the cages may be defined as humane, but it was hard to see so many birds in what appeared to be such a small space. In some ways, it was best summed up by a label that can be found at Save-On Foods, where they classify the different types of eggs available: “behaviours restricted”.

In the facility next door, the eggs travel on a conveyor belt to be cleaned, inspected, then sorted. The eggs are rinsed, removing any bacteria that may have been on the shell, as well as the protective barrier provided by the hen, necessitating their immediate refrigeration.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

Rinsing the eggs

Next, the eggs are inspected for any blood spots, unusually large air pockets, or cracks using a light placed underneath the conveyor belt, one of the jobs still done by a person. Only 1% of eggs don’t pass this inspection for sale.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

Inspecting the eggs

Lastly, the eggs are automatically sorted by weight from small through to jumbo sizes. The eggs are packed and boxed by another person. All told, the facility can be run by just three people due to the automation involved.

Sorting the eggs

Paul provided us each with a carton of eggs to take home, and was obviously proud of their quality. Among the feedback he receives from the restaurants he supplies – “My eggs don’t run – you don’t have to chase them,” he says, referring to the firmness of the egg white. Interestingly, he ensures the feed mixture doesn’t colour the yolks beyond pale yellow (the inclusion of alfalfa or corn can darken the colour), even though many consumers now consider darker yolks to have more nutrients. Paul shared that when the yolks have been darker in colour, he has received complaints from some of his customers.

Taste Alberta Morinville Colony Tour

Paul Wurz

I appreciated how open Paul was to having visitors at the Colony. His transparency and willingness to answer our questions was a welcome change from what I thought we might encounter. Thanks to the Morinville Colony and Egg Farmers of Alberta for hosting us that morning, and to Taste Alberta for organizing a very informative tour.

Taste Alberta Launch

On December 1, 2010, the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald launched Taste Alberta, a series to be featured in both papers on a weekly basis. Journal staff, local foodies, and area farmers were invited to the Shaw Conference Centre’s beautiful River Valley Room that evening to help celebrate the launch of the series.

Taste Alberta

Taste Alberta

Taste Alberta has been designed to become a central gathering place for those in the province who are interested in local food – reading about the food that is grown and processed in Alberta, where such products are available, and how best to prepare it. The series will run for thirty weeks.

Taste Alberta

Journal Food Editor Kerry Powell welcomes the hungry crowd

Based on their first few articles – featuring turducken, local company Mighty Trio Organics, and Bernard Callebaut’s new company, Papa Chocolat, to list a few – I can see the potential; there are so many stories that need to be told.

But content alone isn’t what sets it apart, nor could it – stories featuring Alberta producers are the core of the weekly Food section regardless. Taste Alberta seeks to be more than that: a go-to online resource that amalgamates everything food. They have links to local food and drink blogs, an event calendar, and a Twitter widget that imports food-related tweets. I know from Mack’s experience developing ShareEdmonton, it will be a challenge for them to collect everything – there is just too much information out there. That said, it’s great that the Journal and the Herald are attempting this Herculean task, and with their reach (and requests for reader submissions), it may be easier to do so.

Kerry acknowledged that they series would not have gone forward without the support from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA), as well as Save on Foods. While ALMA makes sense as a sponsor (given the number of livestock producers in this province), I’m still not sure where Save on Foods comes in. Great on them for supporting this initiative, but I hope it means that they are also working on bringing in more locally-sourced product in their stores too.

The night really was a celebration of local food though, with stations around the periphery of the room offering hot and cold dishes prepared using ingredients sourced from area farmers. Several of my food blogging colleagues (Evonne, Karlynn and Chris, among them) did a better job of capturing the food than me, as I didn’t get to all of the stations, but here are a few highlights:

Taste Alberta

The miniature Lola Canola honey crème brulee, with a Berry Ridge Orchard Saskatoon berry compote set the bar pretty high – silky texture with a perfect balance between tart and sweet, it was the best (or worst) way to start off the sampling.

Taste Alberta

Thankfully, the Big Rock braised Sunterra bison short rib could handle the pressure – a knife would have made eating it slightly easier (it wasn’t quite fork tender), but the meat was nicely cooked. And the potatoes underneath? Creamy, garlicky goodness.

Taste Alberta

The mini Ardrossan free-range chicken burgers with roasted garlic mayonnaise weren’t bad either. The patty was moist and flavourful, and really could have been served on its own for that reason.

Taste Alberta

We are rarely without Irvings Farm Fresh pork products in our freezer, so there was no doubt we would enjoy their sausage, served with a barley risotto.

Thanks to the Journal for hosting the launch, and treating us to some great local food! I am looking forward to seeing what else Taste Alberta has in store for us in the coming weeks.