Alberta farmers open doors to consumers

Farmers across the province have opened their doors to further educate consumers on the private and sometimes misconceived world

Despite their curiosity

Farmers across the province have opened their doors to further educate consumers on the private and sometimes misconceived world of food production.

Alberta Open Farm Day’s took place Aug. 24 and 25 and 41 farming operations in northern, central and southern Alberta participated.

Although Open Farm Days began in the Maritime provinces almost 10 years ago and progressed west, this is Alberta’s first year hosting the event.

The Bos Farm and Rock Ridge Dairy Ltd., a family farm and dairy processing plant near Ponoka, received a phone call form Alberta Tourism several months ago inviting them to partake in the event.

Owner and operator Cherylynn Bos says because it’s Alberta’s first year, it’s too early to predict the effects Open Farm Days will have on the province as a whole, but to smaller operations like the Bos Farm being given the opportunity to meet potential customers is important.

“For us, to have people come to the farm and see our plant, it’s fostering a relationship . . . For us that’s invaluable,” said Mrs. Bos.

“We did it because even though we’ve been processing for seven years not that many people know about us,” she added.

Mrs. Bos’s husband, Patrick, feels Alberta Open Farm Days should have started years ago.

However, he realizes Alberta’s farms are spread throughout the province, making the event harder to orchestrate.

Mr. Bos says provinces such as British Columbia, where many farms are located in the dense Fraser Valley area, will have an easier time will events such as Open Farm Days.

However, Laura Siebenga, who owns Brown Eggs and Lamb with husband Cal, believes now is a good time for Alberta Tourism to begin Open Farm Days. “I think the interest has grown to where people are ready for it.”

The process of re-introducing people to their food and educating them on where it comes from needs to be done in baby steps to accommodate both the public and the farmers, says Siebenga.

“I think it’s a process for farmers to realize what they have is special,” she said.

The process is necessary for improved health of consumers. “It’s an education and anytime we educate ourselves we’re preventing abuse of uninformed people,” said Mrs. Siebenga.

Her only qualm with the event was the lack of a fee for the open house tours; she didn’t think they should be free. “I don’t want you to think I’m only in it for the money but we’re trying to educate people that it costs money to produce food.”

Mrs. Siebenga wants the public to remember that organic and the healthier practices of smaller operations, leading to higher quality products, cost more.

Aug. 24 was a day of culinary events for the farms, and Aug. 25 was the free, open house event.

The Bos family opened their milk and cheese processing plant and barn for guided tours and an in-depth look at the plant and the lifestyle involved with running it.

“Any small artisan plant like ours, you’re really doing a lot of lifting every day,” said Mrs. Bos.

While larger operations are more automated, the Bos family spends much of their time in their dairy processing plant manually cutting large loaves of cheese or hauling cheese cloths. Mr. Bos also does his own welding for the machinery used.

The Bos family has owned goats for the past 15 years and began processing goat and organic cow milk for other operations six years ago.

Six months after purchasing their goat herd, Mrs. Bos and Mr. Bos ran into problems with a Ponoka processing company, which went bankrupt four years later.

After working with another processer that eventually retired, they began processing the milk themselves.

Much of their product was being sold in Vancouver, Ontario and Quebec, and they wanted to sell more locally.

In February, Mrs. Bos and Mr. Bos developed and released Rock Ridge Ltd. dairy products for select Calgary, Edmonton, St. Albert, Stony Plain and Red Deer retailers.

“Usually when people come out here and see what we do they buy my products,” explained Mr. Bos. “It’s an opportunity to get people out here. I can’t bring the farm to the city.”

Mrs. Siebenga, along with giving tours of her small farm, had Cilantro and Chive, a Ponoka restaurant serving her lamb, come out to serve visitors to the farm.

She showed throngs of delighted children and their parents her pigs, sheep and close to 300 chickens, the maximum a farm can own in Alberta without having to purchase a quota for the fowl.

The single wheat field and custom farm machinery designed by Mr. Siebenga were also on display. “One of the things about farming these days is you have to be resourceful,” said Mrs. Siebenga, referring to the farm’s homemade grain bin.

One of Maria Sanford and her mother, Christina’s, favourite spots were the apple trees.

Christina recently moved to Bentley and is buying products such as tomatoes and lamb from the farm.

She heard about Open Farm Days on the radio. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to take her,” Christina said.

Those interested in Open Farm Days, and advancing their knowledge of food production milked the event for its worth, and many who stopped at Brown Eggs and Lamb also had the Bos family farm on their itinerary.