Eric and his wife Ruby, along with their extended family, have been growing mixed vegetables in northern Alberta for nearly 35 years. The Chen family has seen it all over the past several decades, dealing with weeds, pests, and extreme climactic events. They have a deep passion for growing organic food and feeding communities in the Edmonton and surrounding area.
“Farming was always a calling for us,” explains Eric. “It really helped us grow as a family.”
Eric was born in Laos and spent part of his childhood in Thailand. His grandmother, originally from China, had farming roots, but his parents only kept a hobby garden and a few livestock. In 1979, when Eric was thirteen years old, he and his family immigrated to Westlock, Alberta. Two years later, he took a summer job working on a vegetable farm in Westlock. “That’s how it all started,” he laughs. “The farmer said to me, ‘Maybe you should start a farm’ – and eventually – I did!”
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Brenda Bohmer, a grain farmer at Brenlea Farm in central Alberta, realized she’d been draining sloughs for years in an attempt to farm more acres. She would seed around duck nests, but in order to deal with weeds, she’d farm right up to the edges of the wetland. “It’s a mindset you get locked into,” she admits. Bohmer’s goal? Create a year-round wetland and invite nature to help rehabilitate the natural wetland ecosystem and water cycle.
Several years ago, Bohmer partnered with Cows and Fish – Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society. Within a year, nature took over the wetland and Bohmer was amazed to see the transformation of the riparian habitat. “I can still grow crops between the wetlands,” explains Bohmer. “But now I have a buffer which provides a separation between farming operations and the natural habitat. Bohmer points out that 80 percent of all types of wildlife in Alberta spend all, or part of their lives in a riparian area. “We can co-exist,” she says. “I like to think of this as farming as though the earth really matters.”
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