Every day is Agriculture Day for these hard-working Alberta farmers
Andre Poulin with his family at Greenbelt Farms near Wainwright. The farm is a real family affair, as Poulin works with four uncles and other family members to raise 160,000 chickens every eight weeks. Photo supplied by Alberta Chicken Producers
By: Shelley Boettcher
Postmedia Content Works
Many of us take our food for granted. Go to the grocery store and you’ll find chicken, eggs, steak, you name it. We don’t consider where those kitchen staples come from.
But this month, give a thought to the farmers who helped to get it there.
On Feb. 16, Canadians are invited to celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day, a celebration of our country’s farms and food producers.
“Agriculture Day is really about bringing everybody who is a part of the agriculture industry together to talk about all of the great things that are happening in the industry, from innovation on the farm to advancements in food processing and manufacturing,” says Debbie Bailey, spokeswoman for the industry initiative Agriculture More Than Ever.
“We’re part of a vibrant, forward-thinking industry that contributes significantly to our economy.”
This Agriculture Day and beyond, Taste Alberta encourages everyone to support their local farming communities by buying food grown and raised in Canada.
With that in mind, meet four Alberta farmers who are helping to feed Canadians every day of the year.
Scott Olson, Garry Olson Farms, Wetaskiwin
After graduating from high school, Scott Olson worked in the oilpatch. But it didn’t take long before he realized he missed life at home on the farm.
“I like working with my hands,” Olson says. “And I like being outside.”
Life at his family’s farm, Garry Olson Farms near Wetaskiwin, allows him the freedom to be his own boss and to get outdoors. He and his family raise turkeys — around 10,000 birds at a time, or 400,000 kilograms of meat each year — for grocery stores throughout Alberta.
His favourite way to eat them? “Deep-fried,” he says with a laugh, although he also likes his wife’s turkey chili, too.
For Olson and his family, eating locally raised food is about knowing exactly where it comes from; knowing the farmers who make it happen; and the fact it is raised humanely and with pride.
“It’s nice to eat local,” he says. “There are lots of family farms out there, doing all they can to grow these healthy products.”
Support them, and you’ll eat healthier, he says.
“The closer you can get it, the better it is for you, and the fresher.”
Best Ever Turkey Chili
Recipe by: Alberta Turkey Producers
1 lb. (500 g) Canadian ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup (125 mL) chopped celery
1 can (28 oz./796mL) tomatoes
1 can (5 ½ oz./156 mL) tomato paste
1 tbsp (15 mL ) Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp (15 mL) chili powder
1 tsp (5 mL) each of paprika and cumin
1 can (19 oz./540 mL) red kidney beans, drained
In a large non-stick skillet, combine turkey, onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring and separating turkey as it cooks.
Add celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, Worchestershire sauce, chili powder, paprika and cumin.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up tomatoes. Add kidney beans, cook 5 minutes longer to heat through.
Nutritional Information (Per serving): Calories: 234; Protein: 24.3 g; Fat: 3.4 g; Carbohydrates: 26.5 g.
Andre Poulin, Greenbelt Farms, Wainwright
Andre Poulin, his four uncles and family operate Greenbelt Farms near Wainwright. They raise chickens — 160,000 birds every eight weeks — which are then marketed to Lilydale. They’re just one of 250 farms in Alberta.
They work hard to ensure Albertans are getting “high-quality local food, produced and processed in Alberta,” he says. “The majority of our chicken stays within the province and is locally consumed.”
“We follow really high standards of care for our animals in Alberta,” Poulin says. “In fact, Alberta’s chicken producers led the way in creating the first on-farm animal care and food-safety programs that are now a national standard.” It’s not surprising, then, to hear that Poulin and his family eat plenty of chicken. “It’s a good, high-quality, high-protein meal that you can prepare fairly quickly,” he says.
“And there are so many different things you can do with it.”
Lee Markert, Markert Seeds Ltd., Vulcan
Fourth-generation farmer Lee Markert, 31, doesn’t hesitate when he’s asked why he has stayed farming in the same area his great-grandfather settled, near Vulcan, in southern Alberta. It’s all about having a lifestyle that’s right for him and his young family, he says.
“I have the opportunity to be my own boss,” Markert says. “And I can raise my family in a safe, educational space where they can learn about the world around them.”
At the same time, he and his family can be an integral part of their community, too. They grow canola, wheat, barley and peas that are sold to markets in the United States, Mexico, Japan and here in Alberta.
When it comes to purchases, they like to go local. “We get locally raised meat, farm-raised meat,” says Markert, adding they also purchase vegetables in season. “The closer things are to home, the fresher they are.” And, of course, when they cook, they use canola oil at every opportunity.
“Canola oil is one of the healthiest oils out there. We know where it comes from and we know how it’s produced,” he says. “Combined with the fact we’re supporting our own industry, it’s obviously a win-win situation.”
Jake Vermeer, Vermeer’s Dairy, Camrose
About a year ago, Jake Vermeer finished college and returned to the family farm. There was never any doubt, says the 21-year-old, that one day he’d go back to his parents’ dairy farm and, eventually, take it over. “I grew up on the farm and I love the lifestyle,” he says.
Plus, he notes, he comes from a long line of dairy farmers. His parents moved to Canada from the Netherlands in 1991 to set up their own farm and generations of Vermeers before them were in the business in Europe. “It runs in my blood, you could say,” Vermeer says. “It’s definitely a multigenerational career choice.”
Every day, three times a day, Vermeer and his family milk about 420 Holstein cows. He’s busy, but he loves what he does, and what his fellow farmers are doing, too. “We as Canadian farmers hold ourselves to really high standards,” he says.
That’s why he believes in supporting Canadian dairy producers — not just his own family business. He’s a big fan of yogurt from Bles-Wold Dairy near Lacombe, as well as Sylvan Star Cheese near Red Deer, too.
“If you support a local farmer, you’re supporting the local economy,” he says. “And you know where your food is coming from.”
Shelley Boettcher is a writer for Postmedia Content Works, a custom content studio that creates, deploys and measures programs for brands.