My first visit was Stony Creek Farms near Rochester, about an hour north of the city. There was a call out to help with chores after one of the owners was injured. I carpooled with Stefan, and the two of us arrived just in time to feed and water the pigs, impressive Berkshire/Tamworth sows and cute piglets. I got the job of milling wheat and peas, then mixing that with water and some milk to create a healthy mash. It was dusty, noisy work, but I stuck Kleenex in my ears and was happy to grind away. Then I spent some time helping Stefan with building frames for a chicken coop – I love sawing and drilling to build useful stuff! Next came the sheep, as they needed some hoof trimming before being sold to a new owner. In teams of three, we managed to flip each sheep on its back and hold it while the more or less willing animal got a pedicure. Soon a few hours had slipped by and it was time for a nice roast, salad and some pasta. We were all dirty and tired, but happy to dig in and lend a helping hand.
Stony Creek Farms offers “beyond organic” meat and veggie shares, and you can learn more about the farm here: http://stoneycreekfarm.ca/
Another fascinating visit was an organized tour of Grassroots Family Farm. Takota Coen and his parents run this organic farm and CSA. Takota explained how permaculture is about creating connectivity to increase the health and productivity of people, plants and animals. We saw how the Jersey cow and her calf grazed under rows of fruit and nut trees, reducing competitive grasses and fertilizing the plants. Sophie’s milk is added to the pig mash as a pro-biotic and to pre-ferment it. The free roaming chickens get some of this healthy grain mix while cleaning up what the pigs drop or do not eat. Animal manure is composted right along with straw bedding in the spacious, wind-protected pig corral. Both pigs and chickens help this process and reduce pests with their natural tendency to dig and scratch.
Out in the fields, we also got a tour of an extensive water harvesting system and swales that provide moisture to long rows of fruit trees and berry bushes. Melt and rainwater collects at the lowest point of the farm in a dugout. Water is pumped to the highest point on the farm with a solar powered pump. A small pond at the top of the hill holds this transported water. Takota can lower a standing pipe in the pond to direct pond water into a series of swales. These are ditches that follow the contour lines on the hillsides. Water will spread out in the swales and then slowly percolate downhill, feeding the pasture grasses and growing food forest. A direct pipe from the pond also provides enough pressure for some direct irrigation of field crops and gardens closer to the farm buildings.
The Coen family has spent time learning about permaculture and from like-minded farmers, taking risks to experiment and making changes as needed. It was a pleasure learning about how they take pride in growing healthy animals, soil and plants for our benefit. You can learn more about this farm here: www.grassrootsfamilyfarm.ca
For a long list of other fabulous and fascinating Alberta farms that offer direct sales or CSA shares, you can visit http://www.csaalberta.com/