With a greater portion of the population residing either in urban areas or simply possessing spot on an acreage, fewer people have any idea of where their food comes from or how it gets made.
That’s the premise of Alberta’s Open Farm Days, instituted by the Alberta Government and several partners four years ago, in hopes of teaching people in more hands-on ways about agricultural food production and hopefully encouraging support for local farmers.
A pair of Ponoka area farms – Rocky Ridge Dairy and MSW Farms – both opened their gates to the public on Sunday, Aug. 21 to showcase their operations, which included tours, tastings and other various activities along with the opportunity to purchase some of the products they produce.
The Bos family, consisting of Patrick and Cherylynn along with their four children, operate Rocky Ridge Dairy on their 640 acres located southwest of Ponoka and the eight-hours they took to provide the public with a look at the inner workings of the goat dairy operation was almost a cake walk compared to what they do each week to make their products.
Cherylynn conducted the tours of their milk and cheese production plant, where they not only process their goat milk and cheese but also products from other Alberta goat farms along with organic cow milk from a local producer.
The plant can process, pasteurize and package up to 26,500 litres of milk in one shift that can run as long as 24 hours and is usually done three or four times per week.
Milking of the approximately 700 goats is done twice daily with the milk collected in the barn area via a sophisticated computerized 90-animal rotary table, which allows a goat to be milked in under seven minutes, and held in a tank before being transferred via underground pipes to the storage tanks about 400 feet away in the processing plant.
Along with the whole goat milk, they also produce feta cheese and chevre (similar to a cream cheese) from their goats as well as organic cow milk and cheese with product from another nearby producer. For the past three years, the Rocky Ridge Dairy brand has been making its way to specialty store shelves and the hope is that large chain stores will soon pick up their products.
“We put bacteria in the goat milk and leave it for 12 to 36 hours before taking and putting it into some special cheese cloths that we get from France. We’d like to get them over here, but the company producing them won’t let anyone else know how or what they are made with,” Cherylynn explained during a tour.
“We add salt before the pressing depending on what kind of cheese we are making. We can produce about 320 kilograms of cheese or up to 620 kg of feta in one batch.”
The Bos’ also package and ship from their facility, which operates six days a week with only a few employees besides their family and is mostly automated.
“We try to be as automated as possible to be as efficient as we can while keeping labour costs down as it can be difficult to find workers that will stay longer term,” she said.
To that end, plans are in the works to expand the warehouse portion of the plant so more automation can be put in place on the cheese production line in order to enable more to be made at the facility.
Both Patrick and Cherylynn hope that their participation in Open Farm Days will help the public see how they can support local producers.
“We hope this will help gather more support with people knowing where their food and other products come from and grow that base,” said Cherylynn.
“By growing and buying local, as much as people can, that money stays here in Alberta. That’s why we do this and the hope is people realize and see that by spending that extra dollar to buy local can make a difference. We know that some can’t always afford to do that, but if you can, that would be great for the whole community.”