While Ian Griebel grew up on his family’s mixed farm south of Castor, Alberta, he never thought he’d one day become a farmer. Griebel studied carpentry and pursued his journeyman certificate, and envisioned a life away from the farm. But in his late twenties, he and his wife, Dana, realized they wanted “to get back to the land”, and that his family’s farm in Castor presented an opportunity.
Sustainability is a shared family value at Valley View Ranch and Flying Heart Meats, a fifth generation family ranch located east of the town of Strathmore, a short drive from Calgary, Alberta.
Rod and Beth Vergouwen’s agricultural roots in Strathmore stem back to the early 1900s when Beth’s great-grandfather emigrated from Illinois with the vision to farm and ranch in southern Alberta. In 1909, he named the land “Valley View Ranch” — a name that Rod and Beth, along with their children, who represent the next generation of farmers on the family ranch, have preserved and continued to date. “We have a long, deep rooted connection with agriculture on both sides of the family farm,” explains Rod, whose own grandfather emigrated to southern Alberta from Holland in the 1920s.
Today, Jenna and Thomas are in the process of rebuilding the market vegetable and herb garden, while focusing on restoring health and vitality back into the compacted hayfield. Their goal is to expand into an heirloom flower farm to offer a CSA program to the community (with organic, unsprayed flowers), while providing food for their honeybees and the native bees. They also want to create access for community members to grow their own food and forage for wild foods. “Everything works together,” explains Jenna, “And we’re building on this already incredibly resilient ecosystem.”
If you’re enjoying a bag of potato chips in Western Canada, there’s a 1 in 5 chance the potatoes were grown by Harold Perry and his family at the Perry Family Farm, a fourth-generation operation located in Lethbridge County in southern Alberta.
Together, Harold and his brother, Chris, and his father, Gerald, work collaboratively as partners to manage 5000 acres of irrigated land producing potatoes—varieties of chippers, russets, and red Mozart potatoes—along with other field crops, including hard red spring wheat, winter wheat, barley, sunflowers, green peas, seed canola. The Perry family prioritizes environmental stewardship through their approach to soil management and a number of exciting renewable energy projects that they’re implementing on the farm.
Jenny Berkenbosch and James Vriend manage Sundog Organic Farm, a 14-acre certified organic vegetable and herb operation, located north of Edmonton in Sturgeon County. They grow a wide range of field and greenhouse vegetables and herbs, and sell their organic produce to customers through a summer and fall Farm Share program, and as well, at Edmonton’s Strathcona Farmer’s Market.
Ryan Mason, owner of Reclaimed Organics, a certified organic vegetable and herb farm in Leduc County, spent most of his twenties traveling the world studying agriculture and food systems. He travelled across several continents, working alongside campesinos in Mexico and wakulimu (small farmers) in Tanzania.
But Ryan’s roots on the Canadian prairies travel even deeper. He spent the first eighteen years of his life on his family’s farm — a small-scale chicken operation — in Pigeon Lake, Alberta. Ryan has fond memories of growing up on the farm, helping feed the chickens, and picking raspberries with his brother. After graduating from high school, Ryan pursued an undergraduate degree in global development studies at Augustana University in Camrose. “It was there where I rediscovered my passion for food and food studies,” he says.
Tim Wray grew up on his family’s cattle ranch in Irricana, a small town located 50 kilometres northeast of Calgary in southern Alberta. As a child, he always dreamed of following in his parent’s footsteps and one day becoming a farmer, but first he pursued post-secondary education and later studied at a seminary to become a pastor. His first parish was located in a small agricultural community, which put him back in touch with his childhood dream.
“I lived around farmland and was surrounded by farmers,” says Tim. “I was really in tune with the movement of the seasons and the farm cycle—and I enjoyed that.”
For Ward and Joanne Middleton, organic grain and oilseed farmers, planning for environmental and financial resiliency has become critical to adapting to extreme weather events on the farm. Over the past 27-years, the couple has managed Midmore Farms, an 850-acre certified organic farming operation, located northwest of Edmonton in Sturgeon County.
Today, Ward and Joanne are practicing with a wide variety of climate solutions, including intercropping to reduce soil tillage and integrating livestock on the land through custom grazing. They’re also investing in renewable energy technology and participating in seed saving initiatives. But these solutions haven’t happened overnight. Farming, says Ward, has been a dynamic, evolving process in observing interactions between soil, environment, climate, animal and plant vitality. “We’re always striving for continuous improvement,” he says. “There’s always room for improvement.”
As a fourth generation grain and pulse farmer in Strathcona County, Colin Jackson has seen many changes to the way food is grown on the Canadian prairies. He grew up on the very land he stewards today with his wife, Laura, and their family. They run Jackson Homesteaders Farms Ltd., a multi-enterprise farm that resides on 180-acres of land, located north of Sherwood Park, Alberta. The Jacksons farm around 5000 acres (owned and rented) of grain and pulse production, manage a horse boarding operation, tend honeybee hives, run a community garden and care for a huge flock of ‘rescued’ chickens and ducks.
Tracey Smith grew up near North Cooking Lake in Strathcona County and in Edmonton. During her undergrad degree in conservation biology at the University of Alberta, she became intrigued by questions of food security in the North. After graduating, Tracey moved to Fairbanks, Alaska to pursue a Master’s of Arts at the University of Fairbanks. Her research on the North compared the carbon footprint of raising backyard laying hens compared to that of importing eggs from the lower 48 states. Around the same time, Tracey began volunteering on a vegetable farm near the university. The farmer also kept a few hives for pollinating the vegetables. At the time, Tracey was living in a rustic cabin – no running water – and becoming disenchanted with academia. She wondered what kind of career to pursue.