Our Farmer's Market Experience

Welcome back.  I hope you are all having a wonderful week wherever you are located.  We have returned to winter here in our part of the world.  Tuesday night dropped to -25C with the following few nights down around -35C.  By the end of the weekend it is forecasted to warm up quite considerably.  We are expecting one more cow to calve shortly so I sure hope she waits until it warms up a bit.  When it is this cold we absolutely have to get to that calf right away and get mom and baby in the barn as fast as possible.  So this means many nights of broken sleep having to get up and check.  Thankfully there are four of us to take turns.  

As promised last week, I will take you along as I reminisce about our days of participating in the local farmer's market.

In 1998 our farm became certified organic.  Shortly after this we started to attend the Grande Prairie Farmer's Market.  This market was located about an hour drive from our home.  Every Saturday morning we would pack up all our products and children and head to market.  We were taking our grassfed beef and grassfed lamb plus a small amount of fresh baked bread with us.  Within a year we had a small, but faithful following of customers.  At this point the farm was not making a full time income.

Our booth at the new Farmer's Market location downtown

Our booth at the new Farmer's Market location downtown

After being at the market for a couple of years the board of directors decided that if the market was to grow it needed to move to town.  It had been located in the current location about five miles out of the Grande Prairie city limits for many years.  Within a short time a new home was located in the downtown area.  An old car dealership was leased and renovations began to make it a pleasant place for a farmers market.  

The move to the downtown core of the city brought an increase of customers because of easier accessibility to public transport.  Two additional days were added as well.  It also brought an increase in vendors.  

We continued to bring our grassfed beef and lamb, pastured eggs and pork, and breads.  We also added bulk organic foods to our offerings.  

 Eventually Larry and I were asked to serve on the board of directors.  During my time on the board we initiated and completed a total renovation of the market.  Individual stalls were designed using timber framing to create a rustic setting.  This renovation further increased the traffic flow through the market.  

Our business had continued to grow during this time.  So anticipating further growth we built an government approved, on-farm meat processing facility.  This allowed us to offer a larger variety of meat cuts to our customers.  

Also during this time we were invited to attend Terra Madre in Torino, Italy.  This is a Slow Food conference that is represented by producers from many, many countries around the world.  We were able to rub shoulders with other farmers from around the world.  We made connections with other Canadians that we would be able to learn from.

Torino, Italy:  Finally registered and looking forward to a time of learning and relaxing

Torino, Italy:  Finally registered and looking forward to a time of learning and relaxing

We spent a few more happy years at the market.  Our business continued to grow.  Our dreams looked like they were coming to fruition.

But, low and behold situations change.  As you are all probably aware change is not something that comes easily.  Political wrangling had started to happen within the market.  This made it uncomfortable to customers and vendors alike.  A noticeable decrease in customers for all vendors was noticed, including our farm.  Three days a week was taxing our energy.  Also, by this time we had been leaving the children at home on market days.  This decision was not the best for our family. 

After about a year of struggling with the decision to leave we finally pulled the plug.  We packed up all our equipment and dreams and left the market.  

Well, animals still had babies so we had to sell somewhere so we resorted to selling through the auction mart.  We have done this for about six years now.  A few very loyal customers did stick with us.  We felt that they had a deep appreciation for high quality meats we produced and they needed for their family's health.  We were also able to stabilize our family.  Everyone became much more content with each other.

God is good and He is faithful.  Our dreams may have been stifled for awhile, but are being revived on a daily basis. Our focus, which had become a little blurred over the years has now come into sharp focus.  Seventeen years ago we went through the Holistic Management training process.  At that time we were able to verbalize our life goals.  As sometimes happen with a young growing family things get set aside while life happens.  After struggling with how to make our farm a viable business we revisited that holistic goal.  Low and behold it had not changed at all.  So with new determination we have gone through the holistic planning process again.  All of us who are actively involved in the farm now have a place to focus our passions.  Our road is no longer a winding trail whose destination is unknown.  We can now look toward our goal and travel the straight path to where we want to be.

It has always been our desire to have our children want to farm with us.  This is now happening for us.  We have two children living at home who work with us on a daily basis.  They are such a tremendous help.  Our middle son and his beautiful wife are living in Edmonton until she finishes her nursing degree.  Then they plan to move back to the area to start up their own enterprises, sharing in the established infrastructure of the farm.  Our oldest daughter along with her talented husband and little girl are living happily in Edmonton, but still desire to have a working connection to the farm.  She accomplishes this through the development of our social media marketing efforts, especially Instagram and personally connecting with our Edmonton area customers.  Our oldest son along with his wonderful wife are living on the farm.  They have been blessed with two babies that grandpa and grandma get to dote on everyday.

So looking forward brings uncertainty, but tremendous excitement.  We are committed to direct marketing to families who are searching for nutrient-dense, grassfed and pasture raised, clean food to nourish themselves and their children.  We will not be attending any farmer's markets, but will be selling direct to the end user of our farm-raised foods.  We haven't finalized all the details yet, but it is looking like we will be serving the Edmonton and Grande Prairie areas through a "metropolitan buying club" model.  We anticipate a central drop off location where you would pick up your preordered items.  As we move forward this will all fall into place.

Thanks for following us on our farm journey.  Friday blog posts will shift from our history to highlighting daily life as it unfold on the farm.  I hope you will join us on our adventures.



Why We Raise Our Animals on Grass

Thanks for dropping by for another visit.  Grab a cup of tea and come on in.  I will give you another glimpse into our life on the farm.  I will try to explain why we raise our animals on grass.  Let me start with a bit of our health journey.

In the late 1980's we started to experience varying degrees of health issues.  We sought medical help to no avail.  The doctors could not pinpoint the causes of persistent rashes, digestive problems and persistent weight gain to name a few of the difficulties we were experiencing.  It was during these challenging times that we were introduced to the concept of organic food.  Being totally human we were skeptical that making a changeover would help these issues.  A part of our skepticism was because it would require us to spend additional money on groceries.  Another issue was that we were in a community of conventional farmers who thought there was no basis to organic claims.

So, feeling like we had no alternatives left to explore, we started to make the shift to organic foods.  To help alleviate some of the out of pocket expense we started to grow a bigger garden and preserve its bounty to supply our produce.  A small improvement in our health was noticed, but the issues were not alleviated.  We then started to take some courses on raising animals organically.  We discovered the harmful affects that our conventional agricultural practices had on the animals and the people who consumed them.  In the mid 1990's we completely turned our backs on conventional agricultural practices that were dependent on the pharmaceutical companies.  (I want to add a disclaimer here:  we are not totally against the use of medications if an animal and human gets sick and would die without intervention.  We will however try every available natural alternative before resorting to pharmaceuticals)  We started to harvest meat from our own animals instead of selling them and then going to the store to purchase our meat, milk and eggs.  At this time we added pigs to our repertoire of animals that we were raising.  So now we had beef, milk, lamb, pigs, chicken and eggs that we were raising for ourselves.  Still more improvements were noticed, but there were still quite a few lingering issues.  We believe that our health has significantly improved because we changed our diet to consume "clean" meats, raw dairy, eggs from our healthy laying hens and veggies from our own gardens.

Through our connections with other organic producers we were introduced to a wonderful naturopathic doctor who did some very detailed allergy testing.  These tests finally gave us a very clear picture of what we were dealing with.  So after eliminating the myriad of foods that triggered the allergic reactions daily life became much better.  By eating home-raised, organically grown foods that didn't produce the allergic reactions the health issues just seemed to fall away.  Every once in a while when we cheat and eat away from home the symptoms manifest themselves again.  We then quickly correct the behavior and our bodies go back to what is now normal.  I am not saying that this is a cure-all to whatever ails you.  There are still days that we struggle with an issue that seems to come out of nowhere, but we just back track to see if it is something that we can correct.  It usually is.

So you may be asking yourself; what in the world does grass-fed actually mean.  In the culture we live in today there are a few definitions of what "grass-fed" means.  It can become a very confusing maze to terms to maneuver through.  To us it means that the animals have not had a diet that consists of grain.  They are strictly raised on grass for their entire life.  When we talk about grass we are referring to green growing forbs and hay that has been harvested from the excess summer growth for use during the winter months.  

Stockpiled hay for winter feeding

Stockpiled hay for winter feeding

Cows and calves on pasture

Cows and calves on pasture

Now, it is quite natural for cattle, sheep and goats to sustain themselves on grass alone.  It is the way that they were designed.   When we first started farming many years ago we did feed grain to ruminant animals because that is how we had been taught.  We slowly realized the folly of going against how God had designed animals to live.  When we removed the grain from the diets of these animals we no longer had to medicate them to keep them functioning to their optimal ability. 

Goats on lush pasture

Goats on lush pasture

We farm north of the 55th parallel.  This means that we have a short growing season of five months (three frost free months).  Our dormant season is considerably longer at seven months.  For at least five to six months we have a snow cover that varies in depth.  Throughout our winter we also experience extreme temperature fluctuations.  When a chinook comes through we can change from -30 Celius to 10 Celcius overnight.  This makes grazing all winter a rather unpredictable option.  When it warms up and starts to thaw like this in the middle of winter we know that it will no doubt go back below freezing within a few days.  When it does this the snow that remains gets a thick ice crust on it that the animals can't move with their muzzles to get at the grasses under the snow.  It is at this time that we have to start feeding hay bales.  We do stockpile some of our summer grass to use either into late fall/early winter or in very early spring.  This all depends on how cold it is and how much snow we have.  We aim to do what will keep the animals as healthy as possible.  

Pigs and chickens are another story though.   Because of the breeding practices of the past hundred years they have lost their ability to forage as efficiently as they did in the past.  There are a few heritage breeds that the large-scale commercial operations have overlooked though.  They have retained the ability to utilize pastures.  Our pigs and chickens are supplemented with grain.  In the warmer months of the year they are allowed to forage for the foods they love.  You will find the pigs happily digging up roots and grubs with their extremely powerful snouts.  They love the tender roots of wild rose bushes!  The chickens follow the cattle, sheep and goats around the farm.  They are our natural pasture sanitizers.  They love to chase bugs and grasshoppers around the pastures and clean up after the cattle all the while producing the most golden-yolked healthy eggs you can imagine.  In the winter you will find the chickens in an insulated building where they can scratch around in the bedding for bits of grain that we sprinkle around.  Their favorite this is to tear apart home raised sunflower seed heads searching to the oil rich seeds inside.  The pigs are still outside, but do have access to a straw filled hutch for cold winter nights.  During the day they can run around and feed on the bales that we set out for them.

In 1998 we became "certified organic".  This was the first step we took toward selling our "clean" meats and eggs to other people who valued them. 

We having been selling directly to people like yourselves for twenty years now.  It is our passion to raise exceptionally healthy food for our family and your families.

Join us next week to hear our farmers market story.