Friday, September 22, 2017
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Start in Sturgeon Blog

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Welcome to the Start in Sturgeon Blog. Check here often for great articles about the County's Economic Development and other relevant issues.


New Prairie Farmer Generation Leanne

In Gibbons, Alberta, you’ll find a unique family who has converted the family hog business into a successful major grain operation called Kalco Farms.

Mike Kalisvaart is the son of a Dutch immigrant, Jack Kalisvaart, who came to Canada in 1969. With training as a dairy farmer in the Netherlands, he started a pig farm in Canada due to the capital requirements and the family started officially farming in 1979.  Fast forward to today, and Mike works with his brother, sister, and brother-in-law to produce canola, wheat, oats, yellow peas and barley. Interestingly, their grain operation in Gibbons is one of the highest rated area in Western Canada for canola yields.

The main farm site, 10 km from his family home, operates a large grain handling facility with 16 hopper bins that hold 350 tonnes each. Eight additional bins hold another 2,400 tonnes. An addition of 10,000 sq. feet of shop space includes room for their office and boardroom, which employs 20 full-time and part-time staff. 

In the early 2000’s, the County classified the area as part of the Heartland Industrial zone which has ensued in major energy companies purchasing hundreds of acres east of their farm. This changing landscape did not affect their business and they even rented land from those companies to continue farming them. Their expansion plans came into focus and today they plant on 13,000 acres with 25,000 tonnes of product being harvested each year. Mike stated that, “Soil conditions are very healthy in the County. A sufficient nutrient supply and small population of insects has definitely created favorable conditions.”

Technology Adoption

A GPS system enables them to focus on a precision farming plan to take advantage of fertilizer placement and variable rate seeding. In addition, the use of tablets with specialized software collects data from the field during spraying, seeding and harvesting. These processes result in the ability to analyze data such as field application records, weather, fertilizer use, production analysis for areas of continued improvement, and planning that begins a year in advance.

Easy Access to Amenities and Infrastructure

Easy access to amenities and infrastructure in Sturgeon County has offered Kalco Farms strength in its central access. In the last fiscal year, with a 70-80 per cent exportation rate to grain terminals, Kalco Farms shipped out 25,000 tonnes of grain. Their peas are utilized in China and India, and their wheat is utilized in Japan, China and the U.S.

Mike said, “I am proud of our family’s farming traditions for nearly 50 years in Sturgeon County. My father took a big chance when he started, but his strength imparted an entrepreneurial spirit for our family that will continue to instill growth and success for our business for many years to come.”


Place for your stuff Leanne

I remember when I got my first job as an Economic Development Officer in a small town in Saskatchewan a few years back, I managed to pack all my belongings into little Toyota Echo as a minimalist bachelor and made it all the way to Regina.

Fast forward to 2014, after being married with two children, we needed two trips with a 14-foot U-Haul cargo truck to get all our belongings to the home we presently live in – a stark contrast to my moving days while I was a bachelor. Feeling the burden of being saddled with “stuff”, my wife and I switched to purge mode. We got rid of unneeded items on Kijiji, at Goodwill and the Edmonton Recycling Depot. It really made a difference - uncluttering our home, freeing up more space and reducing the amount of cleaning. Purging can indeed simplify ones’ lifestyle but sometimes there are legitimate reasons to invest in storage.

The self storage industry in one of the fastest growing industries in North America. It’s no surprise because we have a lot of stuff, and we like to keep it. Self-storage can be a wise financial and personal move when:

  • Moving, buying, or selling a home (e.g. If you’re moving for your job and don’t yet have a place to live.)
  • Paying for a bit of extra space (if you have trouble fitting into your space and it doesn’t make sense to upgrade your home.)
  • Protecting an investment (antique cars, collections etc.)
  • For business purposes (i.e. small business owners such as contractors and lawn care companies)

Place For Your Stuff is a locally owned self storage facility in Pro North Industrial Park I visited early this year. The facility is located 5 minutes north of St. Albert, 10 minutes south of Morinville, or 15 minutes west of the Garrison Military Base. 

Place For Your Stuff has 854 storage units in 5, 10 or 20 feet sizes with interior LED lighting at lower rates compared to similar units in Morinville, St. Albert and Edmonton – check out their website for current deals. One unique aspect of this facility is the convenience it provides customers – online registration and payments, and 24/7 gates access to your personal belongings. Take a video tour of the facility below.

Jakub, the onsite manager gave me a brief tour and I must say I was very impressed – the site was clear of snow, clean and visibly well maintained. It was also secured with motion sensors, cameras and a computer controlled gate access for additional security. Place for your stuff provides 5, and 10-foot storage units for your contents. 

Standard 5' Unit (5.0x8.0x9.0)  Standard 10' Unit (10.0x8.0x9.0) 
   
 This sized unit 360 cu/ft will fit appliances, furniture, boxes, bed set, clothes, lawn equipment. Similar to the contents that would fit a 8 foot moving truck.
 This sized unit 720 cu/ft will fit appliances, furniture, boxes, a snowblower or motorbike. Similar to the contents of what would fit in a 10-foot moving truck.

You’ll also be glad to know that they are a member of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce in 2017. If you have an M2M discount card, you could get 10 percent off your storage fee! For more information on storage availability, contact Yakub at (587) 764-0119.

Place for your stuff makes us #SturgeonProud



From the farm to your plate Leanne

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of consumer interest in local food – it’s fair to say that today, an increasing number of consumers think that local is the way to go whenever possible. If you ask people why they shop local, many reply that it’s fresher, has a smaller environmental footprint, supports the economy and creates jobs all along the food chain that links farm to fork.

I cannot deny the influence of the growing local food movement on my grocery shopping habits today – my eggs, meat, honey and some vegetables are all purchased from local producers in Sturgeon County. The difference in quality of produce from a local farm relative to a big chain store can be quite stark in some cases. Apart from taste, I enjoy the personal connection to the farms where crops and animals are produced. I certainly felt that way when I visited Cardiff Meat and Sausage early this October.

Located near Morinville, Cardiff Meat and Sausage is a licensed and inspected butcher shop owned and operated by Tony and Brenda Rustemeier; third generation livestock producers that specialize in all aspects of the beef industry from cow-calf and seed stock production to feedlot finishing and custom processing. Twenty-six years ago, the butcher shop began doing custom cutting and wrapping for local farmers and hunters and in recent years they have expanded their mandate to provide affordable, naturally raised, high quality beef direct  from their farm to local consumers.

Tony and Brenda note that they’ve seen a rise in demand from people looking for an alternative to mass-produced meat. The couple forms a growing number of livestock farmers across Canada who are breaking from the status quo and raising fewer animals, typically letting them graze on pasture. They tend to slaughter their animals in smaller abattoirs, and then sell the meat through a growing network of independent butchers or directly to consumers. 

Butchers have always been an important resource to any civilization from the humblest of villages to the most urban of cities. The art of the butcher has steadily evolved to become one of the world’s oldest and most respected professions. The local butcher was a major neighborhood fixture by the dawn of the 20th century. Today, most of them employ their trade at food processing companies and large supermarkets.

However, there remains a small pocket of neighborhood artisans that help us relive that nostalgia of simple times and a sense of connectedness with the food we eat. I admired them both as they worked in their little shop. Tony is a true artisan - with careful hands and a calm demeanor while Brenda pays keen attention to quality and customer service. With high standards for themselves as far as meat products go, the couple has grown a successful business with confidence in their craft developed over years of dedication.

Working in a custom shop where meat is often cut to customers’ orders means the workload varies from day to day and week to week. There are always new challenges, and frustrations, and yet as they cut different parts of different animals, the couple takes time to do it right.

                                                          

The animals are fed naturally

Though I didn’t visit the Rustemeier farm in the summer, I managed to get a picture of their animals grazing on the rolling grasslands of the County.

Their calves are born on pasture in April and May and then in the fall, they are weaned and fed through the winter on hay and oats green feed. When they mature to yearlings, they are moved back to pasture with a supplementary self-feed ration of grain. This results in a beef product that is rose colored, well marbled and intensely flavorful.

The Rustemeiers additionally use selective breeding to attain specific traits in their beef cattle. An example of a desired trait could be leaner meat or resistance to illness. To achieve the standard of “naturally raised beef”, the animals are raised without the consumption of growth hormones or antibiotics. That’s as close as one can get to the stringent standards of organic meat.

Great meat cuts for a variety of cooking

The animals are processed in a federally licensed abattoir before the Rustemeiers receive them for cutting and wrapping. Tony starts the process of dividing the carcass into sides, or quarters from which steaks and other subdivisions are derived. The beef products are generally classified AA to AAA grade, which is a very high quality category that is a juicy, tender cut of beef resilient in a variety of cooking methods; though, it should be noted that the cooking methods used for tender cuts of beef typically involve dry heat or direct flame, while tougher cuts of beef use moist heat cooking (e.g. slow cooking). 

The chart above shows the types of cuts you can get from a steer and the best cooking method type for each cut.

I would highly recommend Cardiff Meat and Sausage for their locally produced beef – the quality of their product is simply outstanding!

 If you’re interested in dropping off game animals (elk, deer etc.) as well, call the Rustemeiers at 780-973-5998 or 780-908-5998. The butcher shop is located on 24512 Township Rd 554 (Cardiff Road) Sturgeon County.

Cardiff Meat and Sausage makes us #SturgeonProud



Turning waste into value Leanne

Tires that are no longer suitable for use on vehicles due to wear or irreparable damage are among the largest and most problematic sources of waste, due to the large volume produced, their durability, and the fact that they contain a number of components that are ecologically problematic. Approximately six million tires are recycled per year in Alberta and a Sturgeon company called Eco-Flex Rubber Solutions is an important link in the recycled rubber manufacturing chain.

Eco-flex Rubber Solutions is a company founded by CEO, Alan Champagne in 1992. The 24 year old company is an industry leader in manufacturing high value end use recycled rubber products that are used for industrial, municipal, commercial, agricultural and residential applications.







Eco-flex manufacturers a range of products within a 35,000 square feet manufacturing facility situated 30 minutes north of Edmonton. The company was featured on Today in America by Terry Bradshaw. This short clip will give you a great overview of the business.







Recycled rubber products have a range of advantages that makes it a popular choice for high traffic environments. Now with a selection of colors, patterns and textures, these products are also finding their way into residential interior and exterior applications.

There are three main lines of product that Eco-flex Rubber Solutions manufactures and sells:



• Automotive products which include parking stops, speed bumps, rumble mats and sound barriers. See list of products



• Commercial and residential products include rubber flooring, yard tiles, stair treads and landscaping edging. See list of products

• Industrial products include rig and floor mats, safety walkways and ramps. See list of products

So what makes rubber a superior choice for each of these applications?

Durability is often mentioned as a major advantage of rubber - it’s strong, tough and resilient in a variety of conditions. They do not crumb or flake apart over time and so they tend to have better longevity.



 



Low Maintenance: Rubber can be very easy to take care of and is generally stain resistant.



Water resistant: Rubber is nonporous, meaning it is resilient against mildew and mold. This makes rubber ideal for wet environments or areas prone to moisture.



 



Soft and pliable: Rubber is a comfortable surface for areas where people must stand for long periods of time. The cushioning reduces the occurrence of fatigue and foot injury. Rubber parking stops for example, are more forgiving when you misjudge and drive over them.

Sound properties: Rubber can minimize sound between floors in a building. Because of its elasticity, it can reduce noise from walking to moving heavy loads.

Fire and burn resistance: Rubber is resistant to burns left from cigarette butts and other small heat sources.

Range of colors: There are five colors and a variety of patterns available. The growing popularity of rubber flooring for example, is inspiring new designs by architects.

Choice of textures: The surface of rubber mats can be manufactured with raised dimples, studs, and other complex textures that enhance traction and minimize slips in wet areas.

So, before you spend your money on new flooring, take a look at these advantages again and see the products for yourself. If you’re interested in learning more about the Eco-flex product lines for a specific application or require a quote for a project, contact them by phone at 780 961 3229 or by email projects@eco-flex.com. You may also visit them at 57425 RR253, Sturgeon County, AB or purchase their products from Burnco Landscape Centers in Alberta.

Eco-Flex makes us #SturgeonProud


Home is where the ♥ is Leanne

The appeal of a log home is a combination of common sense and nostalgia, which lets one live comfortably, even luxuriously in a work of art, while keeping a traditional craft alive.

The history of log homes

Log homes are often associated with pioneer settlement, but did you know that West Coast Indians used log frames for their large plank houses long before the arrival of European settlers? Immigrants to the prairie west patterned their first log houses after customary forms of their homelands (e.g., Ukraine). In the subarctic forests, log houses provided comfortable shelter for trappers and woodsmen. Their attractive appearance and thermal efficiency still make them popular not only with summer cottagers across Canada, but among many people with a renewed interest in traditional housing.

The log home builder in Sturgeon County



M&H Wood Specialties has been in the log home building and renovation business in the Edmonton area for over 34 years. They specialize in exterior finishing, structural and aesthetic restoration and new builds. I went on a tour of the company’s building construction site with owner, Paul Murray, who explained the various aspects of the operation and the growing desire for natural homes.



I learned that beyond the rustic ambiance and the strong connection to nature, there are other several advantages for owning a log home.



1. They are long lasting – long homes still in use today date back hundreds of years.

2. Tree are a renewable resource – logs are often sourced from forests that are certifies as sustainable and some builders such as M & H can construct home to green building standards

3. Log homes naturally fit the landscape they are built within.

4. Thick logs make the walls warm to touch. If the home is sealed properly, you could have a home is 20 to 30 percent more energy efficient than a conventional home.

5. Your home can be framed onsite faster than a conventional build, which will reduce the likelihood of weather related damages.

6. Rustic does not mean no technology – log home builders are able add communication technologies and other automated features.

7. If you’re concerned about mold or insect infestation, log homes offer a clear advantage of giving you the ability to notice the issue faster than a conventional home with sealed wall cavities that offer hiding areas.

8. Furthermore whole wood products are less likely to affect people with environmental sensitivities.

9. Logs and lumber used in homes sequester considerable carbon; there is less energy required to turn a log into a finished housing component as compared to drywall, vinyl etc.

10. The lifecycle of log homes that may be centuries are much greater than the typical 75 year lifecycle expectancy of most mainstream construction systems.

A few of many eclectic homes built by M & H – take a tour of their building exteriors

…and their building interiors

How log homes are built

I really appreciate the the work of log builders because – log homes are works of art that require immense patience and physical labor. Although M & H uses more intricate construction processes, log homes are typically constructed in ten steps. First, the logs are individually selected to ensure that they are free of dry rot, cracking, splitting and bug infestation. M&H uses hand peeled, air-dried, Eastern slope, slow growth Alberta White Spruce. The logs can be dried from one to two years.

A proper foundation may be constructed with traditional stone or concrete blocks. Creating a basement involves excavating and creating foundation walls, which is much more work. The foundation pictured above shows an example of what a simplified one may look like.

The logs are then put together using a technique known as scribe, fit, round-notch method. This features semi-circular notches cut in the bottom of the logs to fit over adjacent ones to ensure proper water drainage when it rains. Grooves are also cut down the entire length of the log to eliminate air drafts.

Alignment pegs are then installed at each corner of the structure and around every window and door opening to maintain the stability of the log home. When the logs reach the top of the planned window and door openings, the walls are braced and openings are cut out all at once.

The roof on the cabin shown is a combination of purlin and rafter construction. A purlin is a horizontal beam or bar used for structural support in a roof. Purlins are supported by rafters which are a series of sloped beams that extend from the peak of the roof all the way to the outside walls. Once purlins and rafters are installed, roofing boards are put in place and then either asphalt or cedar shingles are used to complete the roof. The doors and windows are then installed to complete the home.

There is a lot of planning that goes into log home construction to ensure safety and longevity and this is where M & H excels. Besides engineering your tastes and preferences to building code, M & H helps you maximize the energy conservation of your new home by placing it properly onsite. They take the extra step in examining the building envelope through modern energy testing.

One thing I admire about the company is their focus on sustainable forestry. M & H harvests timber from designated forestry areas in Alberta and British Columbia, which are then replanted with five saplings for every harvested tree. So essentially, the company not only provides a lasting product for their customer; they are also in the business of rebuilding our future one tree at a time.

If you’re interested to learn more, check out their office at Pro North Industrial Park - 27 Kuryluk Blvd or their website at: www.mhwood.com.

M&H Specialties makes us #SturgeonProud!








Soaring through economic turbulence Leanne

My four year old son Sam, has an unusual fascination with aircraft and counts them as they are flying by. I know that Sam would’ve loved to join me on a visit to a helicopter maintenance company at Villeneuve Airport but he would’ve been quite interruptive with requests for a ride, so Sam had to wait for an appropriate opportunity to see a helicopter up-close.

Avialta Helicopter Maintenance introduced me to a whole new industry that I didn’t know much about. When I think of helicopters, the obvious activities come to mind - site seeing, heli-skiing, firefighting and search and rescue operations. But I wasn’t aware of some of the specialized uses for them. Helicopter are involved in new and expansion projects within several business industries across Western Canada such as mining exploration, logging, equipment moves, aerial construction and power line construction. These are lucrative markets that companies like Avialta have targeted since they came into existence 26 years ago.

Avialta Helicopter Maintenance is a Transport Canada approved helicopter repair and overhaul maintenance shop, performing routine and major maintenance and aircraft customizations including, interior, paint, avionics, optional equipment installations and maintenance level composite repairs.The company also leases a fleet of over 30 aircraft to various industries across Canada for specialized applications such as those I previously mentioned.

The helicopter industry around Avialta

The helicopter industry has historically been built on providing access to remote areas and is sustained by clients that work in the field. In Alberta, helicopters plays an essential role in the natural resource based economy and so the slowdown in exploration and delays on major capital projects caused by low energy prices has increased competition within the helicopter industry to a significant level. While lower profit margins are squeezing some operators out of the business, Avialta has developed well-honed survival skills to navigate their businesses through seasonal and cyclical upsets. Even though some aircraft owners and airlines perform maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services in-house, many more prefer outsourcing them because they have chosen to focus their attention on core business operations, as opposed to MRO. This area of opportunity has expanded over the years and contributed to Avialta’s success.


The helicopter industry around Avialta

The helicopter industry has historically been built on providing access to remote areas and is sustained by clients that work in the field. In Alberta, helicopters plays an essential role in the natural resource based economy and so the slowdown in exploration and delays on major capital projects caused by low energy prices has increased competition within the helicopter industry to a significant level. While lower profit margins are squeezing some operators out of the business, Avialta has developed well-honed survival skills to navigate their businesses through seasonal and cyclical upsets. Even though some aircraft owners and airlines perform maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services in-house, many more prefer outsourcing them because they have chosen to focus their attention on core business operations, as opposed to MRO. This area of opportunity has expanded over the years and contributed to Avialta’s success.

Avialta Helicopter Maintenance was purchased by Rod Wood in 1985 when it was a small two-person operation located at the tiny St. Albert airfield just north of Edmonton at ProNorth Industrial Park. While he may not have ever anticipated challenging the giants of aviation maintenance, Rod had a desire to grow his small firm quickly but steadily.

Today, the company consists of 18 employees that range from aircraft maintenance engineers, office staff and support workers at their maintenance facility within Villeneuve Airport. This facility is 19,000 sq. ft. comprising a hangar space, paint shop, part sales area, and component shop with an adjoining office structure.

Although current economic conditions continue to challenge the survival skills of many helicopter companies, Avialta is well-diversified and specialized enough to weather the slowdown across the energy industry. With the province kicking off its forest fire season earlier than it traditionally has, Avialta could have a busy helicopter leasing season ahead. I’d like to thank Paul Horvartis and Avialta for giving me a tour of their facility – Avialta is definitely an important contributor to the economy of Sturgeon County and they certainly make us all #SturgeonProud!

Contact Avialta Helicopter Maintenance at 780.460.1800 or check out their website at www.avialta.com



Fancy flying over Edmonton for a weekend date?

I’ve always had the dream of becoming a pilot since I was a child. That desire drove me to a point of exploring that opportunity at age of 25 when I was at a career crossroad. Private school for pilot training was going to be an expensive route, so I signed up to go through the Canadian Air Force to achieve my dream. I recall paying $50 for an intro flight lesson to determine if flying was for me – simply put, I felt in love. I flew with an instructor in a Cessna 172 for half an hour and my favorite part was learning how to climb and do 90 degree banking turns. Although I wasn’t successful in pursing flying as a career, I’ve never forgotten how exhilarating it felt to be in control of an aircraft.

My visit to the Namao Flying Club at the Villeneuve Airport brought back these pleasant memories. Founded in 1972, the flying club is located at Edmonton's primary training airport and just 20 minutes from the city. Namao Flying Club is a not-for-profit organization that offers attractive savings over other local flying schools and aircraft rentals.

I met Bob Smits, the Chief Flight Instructor of the Club who gave me a tour of their facility located in the east hangar of the Villeneuve Aviation Centre. The club offers a number of different license programs for novices ranging from recreational, private pilot and commercial to night and instructor ratings. Licensed pilots also enjoy access to their aircraft fleet that include:

A Cessna

A Mooney (smaller aircraft)

A Citabria

A Piper Twin Comanche

The flying club also has a Precision Flight Controls Simulator that simulates the Cessna and Piper aircrafts.

It has a spacious apron and hangar that offers ample maneuvering space, along with on-site fueling. Members participate in the positioning of aircraft around the facility, which gives them an added experience not available elsewhere.

Out of curiosity, I researched the training costs at the flying club for a recreational or private pilot license and I was pleasantly surprised. The estimated cost of a Recreational Pilot License Training program is $5,445 and you can start as young as 16 years of age! This program includes a minimum of 25 hours of flying and 40 hours of ground school. Although you are restricted to day flights and one passenger only, in a single engine, non-high-performance aeroplane, it’s quite an exciting perk that one could fly solo for five hours in this program!

If you want to go for private pilot license, you have even more ability to take those family trips, get to your business meeting in less time or set yourself up to for other flying career opportunities. You will need to be at least 17 years of age and you’ll enjoy a minimum of 45 hours of flying time with 40 hours of ground school for a total of $8,745. The training fees are based on Transport Canada's minimum requirements.

The ability to fly a plane opens up incredible new doors to travel and see the world as you never have before and I think Namao Flying Club has quality programs at affordable rates for flying enthusiasts.  

I couldn’t think of a more ideal environment to learn to fly - reduced air traffic, minimum transit time to the practice area and a friendly community. If you have ever had an interest in flying, I highly recommend that you go out and spend the $60 to take an intro flight. You could even take your spouse or date on the extended one hour tour which allows you to fly over the Edmonton cityscape for only $175. It’ll be worth the time and money and you will not regret it!

Visit www.namaoflyingclub.com or call 780.419.6777 for more information.


SOIL + FAMILY FARMERS + YOU = NOURISHED PLANET
With the summer season coming to an end, I took my last visit to Peas on Earth organic farm in the Sturgeon Valley area. I’ve driven by the farm a few times on my way to work, wondering what vegetables make up the perfect rows of yellow, purple and different shades of green that dot the landscape. It’s quite a fascinating to see these colors change with the season. Each row is a different colour, and combined they create a beautiful patchwork quilt. I wish I could use time lapse photography to capture what I’m trying to describe. Peas on Earth is simply a terrific place to be…close your eyes, enjoy the calmness and gentle breeze around you…open your eyes and feast them on the vivid colors of peas, spinach, squash, zucchini, greens, corn, beets, carrots – yum!

Photos taken by Margaret Bose –Johnson of Kitchen Frau

The Farm

Peas on Earth Organic Farm is nestled in the plains of Sturgeon County, a 65 acre certified organic market garden, owned and operated by Eric and Ruby Chen. Before establishing Peas on Earth in 2000, Eric operated a small farm around north Edmonton. Eric comes from an agricultural family while Ruby has a background in business – these two couldn’t be better suited for running this successful venture together. When the couple initially bought the land from its previous owners, it was an empty field with no trees. Eric and Ruby saw a ripe opportunity for investment, starting with a green house and then expanding into acres of organic crops. The couple are looking to expand the farm and exploring the idea of using the log building on their farm for business retreats and weddings – not a far stretch, considering that they hosted local chef, Blair Lebsack at an outdoor, farm to table dinner. This event included a five course dinner and wine pairings....oooh, I’m getting the cravings!

So why organic?

It is not just about better flavour and nutrition. It is about being part of a food cycle that cares for people and the environment. Price comparisons are often made between conventional and organic food items. The price of food is directly correlated to the number of labour hours spent on production.  Organic food is much more labour intensive because farmers do not rely on mechanical and chemical inputs at the same level as some conventional production. The Chens practice crop rotation and use green manure crops, grown as ground covers or plowed down, to build fertility and improve the soil. Eric admits that one of the biggest challenges of farming can be finding a healthy work/life balance. Because farmers love their work, it can be hard to remember to make time to do things not necessarily farm-related. Eric and Ruby find satisfaction in providing their customers with organically grown, healthy, nutritious, and most importantly, delicious produce.


Is organic labelling a gimmick?

No, organic food is the most highly regulated food in Canada. There is an extensive regulatory framework that ensures every farm, producer, processor and distributor is inspected at least once per year. Every producer pays for its own certification and inspection costs and works in partnership with the Canada Food Inspection Agency to ensure food labelled organic is truly organic.

Visiting the farm was such a refreshing treat! Eric and Ruby were so hospitable and generous. I left with samples from their farm and a big smile! J. Peas on Earth has established itself at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market, the St. Albert Outdoor Farmers’ Market, the Callingwood Farmers’ Market, and the Organic Box home delivery program. The farm is located at 24527 Sturgeon Road, Sturgeon County. Check out their website at peasonearth.ca or call 780-973-6680.


Oh honey!

When I heard of an apiary just on the outskirts of Morinville, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit it. I called the owner of Greidanus Apiaries, Paul Greidanus, to schedule a visit. During our conversation about the visit, Paul asked if I was allergic to bees. I thought “uh oh” as I responded no. I was stung by a wasp last summer and that wasn’t fun, so evidently, I felt a tiny bit of uneasiness.

I drove east of Morinville and 2km north of Highway 642 and Range Road 245 to the honey processing facility. When I got to the parking lot next to the facility, there were some bees flying around my car – a little concerning but I took some courage, opened my car door and remained calm – no stings….phew!  I met Paul working busily on an extractor among some other coworkers. He gave me a tour of the facility and gave a little bit of history on how he became a bee farmer.

The Company

Greidanus Apiaries is a honey processing plant that has been operating in the County for 27 years and Paul Greidanus is a co-owner of the plant. The plant was started by Paul’s father but is currently run by him and his brother, Henry. Honey and bees wax are the two main product lines the apiary offers from 7,000 bee hives at 215 sites across Lac Ste. Anne, Thorhild, Sturgeon County, Westlock and Parkland County. Greidanus currently exports to brokers and wholesale distributors in the U.S., Japan and Germany.

The company’s hives are placed on farms to pollinate crops such as alfalfa and canola – think of interdependence between crop and bee farmers. Crop farmers get pollinators which allow plants to produce seeds and fruit while the bees use plant nectar to make honey. Paul employs seasonal workers, mostly from Nicaragua to harvest the honey because it’s difficult to find local people who are willing to work on the bee farm.

Greidanus produces about 110 drums of honey per day and this year has been an exceptionally good one for them. The dry climate causes field crops to germinate and bud flowers at different points in the summer season. When that happens, bees are able to obtain nectar over a longer period of the season. This period is also extended when farmers delay swathing until their crops have flowered. This means more nectar for producing honey at each bee hive. Honey production per hive can range from 150 to 200 pounds, which works out to about 50-60 pounds of honey per box.

How the bees are kept?

A standard beehive has a bottom board and a hive cover with five supers in between. A honey super consists of a box in which 8–10 frames are hung. Each super contains bees that rear their young and store honey and pollen. Normally, the bottom two supers are brood supers used for rearing the young and storing honey and pollen for short-term and winter use. The top three supers are used to hold the honey crop.

Springtime

Whether bees come from packages or have been kept over the winter, the bee colony is inspected to ensure that the queen is present and laying eggs; that there is no sign of disease and that the colony has sufficient stores to last until the first nectar.

Summer

As July approaches, frames are put in place to hold the honey. When all the frames in a super are filled with honey and one-half of the cells are capped with wax, the frames are removed from the hive and the honey is extracted. Normally honey flows in Alberta slow down in August and the amount of space given to the bees can be reduced somewhat.

Fall

Once the honey supers have been removed, the bees are fed sugar and water to ensure that they will have enough food to survive the winter. Greidanus purchases 300,000 pounds of Rogers sugar per year to keep the bees fed during the winter. This feeding is done before the end of September. Towards the end of October the bee colony is wrapped with a tarp to protect the bees from the elements.

Winter

If the bees are outside, there is little that can be done to assist them. They will survive even if they are completely covered by snow for a while.

How the honey is harvested?

Harvesting the honey crop involves several steps, all of which require some equipment. The first step involves separating the combs of honey from the bees (pulling the honey). Using chemicals requires a number of special covers (acid boards). The chemical is placed on the underside of the cover and the smell drives the bees out of the honey super. A bee blower is then used to blow the bees right off the frames.

The left picture shows a device with an electrically heated knife that is used to remove the wax cappings from the honey comb. This honey extractor is a motor-driven machine that can handle 100 or more frames. You can also see Paul loading the frames into the honey extractor which spins the frames around in a centrifuge.

Once the honey is extracted, it is strained and then stored in a warm place in a tall tank to allow the fine impurities to rise to the top. At the bottom of the tank is an outlet that the clean, warm honey can be drawn from directly into the honey containers. During peak times, the company can produce 110 drums of honey in excess of its usual 80 drums per day. 

The drums are then kept in a storage warehouse until they are ready to be transported to market. Paul was very thorough in explaining how the business works, so I ended this visit very educated about bees and bee farming. If you’re interested in getting some tips on starting a hobby as a bee farmer or want to buy some honey in bulk, give them a call at 780.220.6712. They’re such a happy and friendly bunch at the facility.


The Heart Smart Red Meat!

I heard about Smokin Elk Ranch from a co-worker in a conversation about a herd of elk I noticed roaming a field while driving down Highway 2 past Morinville. I assumed that the herd had strayed from the Rockies while searching for food. Since this was my first time hearing about the ranch, I was naturally curious to buy a package of elk meat and try it out.

Smokin Elk Ranch is a family owned business that was started in 2003 by Bill Vischer, and his wife, Caroline. The farm occupies 280 acres and contains 210 free range elk - 82 bulls, 85 cows and 43 calves. Bill started his career in livestock as a dairy farmer after he took over a farm with his brothers from his father. He got out of the dairy business and moved with his family to Carbondale where his elk business started on a 77 acre farm. Building on the success of that ranch, he purchased a larger plot of land at his current location around Township Road 554 and Range Road 254. With product lines that include meat, processed elk antler and bulls with good genetics, the farm has operated successfully for twelve years.









Great meat!

Health-conscious eaters will appreciate that elk meat is very high in protein and is more richly flavoured than beef.  Elk meat, or venison, has fewer calories, less fat, and less cholesterol than beef, chicken, lamb and turkey. It is also rich in minerals particularly iron and phosphorus, which shows in its rich dark colouring.

Elk are raised with no growth hormones or chemicals. They are predominantly grazers and eat most upland grasses such as broom and legumes like alfalfa.  The lean nature of elk meats means it needs less time on lower heat. Customers stop in at the ranch for their supply of elk roasts, steaks, smokies, sausage rolls and other meat products. Since the animals are slaughtered and processed at a federal inspected facility in Barrhead, the meat is perfectly safe to eat.

http://biologyclass101.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Anatomy_and_physiology_of_animals_Deer_antler.jpg

Good supplements

Velvet antler is effective as an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, immune stimulant, and pro-grown agent. Antlers are said to be the fastest growing membrane known, and it is this rapidly growing tissue that contains nutrients needed to improve some human health deficiencies. Did you know that bulls grow antlers back in 90 days and can grow upwards of 2 inches a day during peak times?  If a human could grow bone that quickly, a broken leg would heal in one day!

Since elk grow and shed antlers every year, the cutting of the velvet antlers does not harm the animal. Typically, the antler is cut off near the base after it reaches about two-thirds of its potential full size before any significant calcification occurs. Harvesting the antler at the right time is crucial as it holds the most active ingredients within it at that time. The velvet covering is scraped off during processing and the rest of the antler is ground up into powder and packaged at a local processing facility in Sagundo. Royal Elk Products is a well-established local manufacturer of elk velvet antler capsules and bulk powder sold at the Smokin Elk Ranch.

and Excellent Genetics

There is significantly more profit generated from selling elk with good genetics. The animals are carefully selected to produce better elk to meet the needs of the velvet, hard antler and meat market. The size of a bull elk's antlers is an indication of his health and strength, and of his capacity to breed similarly hardy offspring. A large number of antler points and antler mass on a bull are usually indicative of superior genetics, good feed and maturity. Smokin Elk Ranch has achieved high standings in trophy elk competitions and with that; the ranch has increased its status among top breeders looking for excellent genetics. The ranch sells genetically superior elk to farms in the U.S. looking to improve the quality of their breeding herd, looking to grow heavier velvet or searching for trophy hunting stock.

Smokin Elk Ranch is a fun place to visit in the summer for your elk meat and to learn about elk. The Vischers host field trips from nearby schools, giving kids an insight into livestock farming. Stop by the ranch and try some elk meat – you’ll love it!

Smokin Elk can be reached at (780) 939-5659.

Did you know? Elk easily adapt to a wide range of temperatures by growing two entirely different coats.  The summer coat is a thin, sleek layer of short hair that is the colour of copper.  It is entirely replaced by the light brown and tan winter coat, which consists of two layers – thick, long guard hairs and a dense, wooly undercoat.


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