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AFWA Farm Tour 2013

  Mary MacArthur, reporter for Western Producer (Camrose) was our intrepid tour guide. First stop was the Calgary Stampede Ranch. Located  in Click here for more

Depth of Field — Elk Velvet, Sheep Cheese and a Brew

This post by was originally published on RealAgriculture following the 2014 AFWA tour through east-central Alberta. It is part of AFWA member Debra Murphy’s Depth of Field series.

Waking to the clatter of wind against the house, a dark sky and a still-sleeping sun never feels like a good omen. On June 5th, the early morning grey was entirely worth the effort, as I joined the Alberta Farm Writers’ Association on their annual tour.

1st Stop: Lakeland College

Our first stop continued the northward journey, into the heart of Vermillion: Lakeland College. The campus was beautiful: well-maintained, glowing from recent rains and entirely inviting.

We were joined by the agriculture department, who showed us the ropes, highlighting the Student Managed Farm, the Centre for Sustainable Information and some of their recent research projects.

The Student Managed Farm runs some of the latest and greatest New Holland equipment on roughly 1700 acres of land. It began over 20 years ago, and besides increasing enrolment in agriculture, has proven its success by its growth; roughly five years ago, the college introduced a livestock component, developed using much of the crop technology model. It offers managerial roles to second-year students keen to try their hand at leadership, through an elaborate and formal interview process and encourages students to step out of their comfort zones.

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Feeling sheepish? These critters are part of a GrowSafe study which records individuals’ daily consumption. The sheep are then weighed weekly.

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The Alberta Farm Writers with summer employees and Blair Dow, instructor at Lakeland College, on GrowSafe.

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Meeting the sheep — Allison Ammeter of the board of Alberta Pulse Growers.

The Centre for Sustainable Information was opened in May of 2012 and celebrates a net-zero energy use. It’s powered, heated and cooled by an assortment of renewable energy technologies, including: 6 geothermal boreholes, fixed and tracking solar array systems, a wind turbine and solar hot water collectors. Besides 10-.5″ walls it totes superinsulation, heat recovery ventilation, energy efficient windows and energy efficient lights.

The Centre for Sustainable Innovation.

The Centre for Sustainable Innovation.

Biochar and biogas resulting from waste agriculture are currently hot on Lakeland’s radar. Plots at Lakeland now are looking at the overall impact of biochar on soil and with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, the college is working with two portable biochar units.

Pulp sludge and biochar.

Pulp sludge and biochar.

Another example of research is the looking at cropping Jerusalum artichokes, which are valuable in the production of inulin. Inulin is a carbohydrate made up of fructose polymers. When consumed, inulin is not digested in the stomach, but the intestines, making it valuable to the bacteria there.

Jerusalem Artichoke tubers.

Jerusalem Artichoke tubers.

2nd Stop: The Cheesiry

Back onto the bus and onward! We were met at The Cheesiry by Rhonda Headon, who first learned to make cheese in Italy and though she joked about making it in Canada, had no idea she’d make her dream a reality. Today, the operation uses milk from 100 sheep, resulting in high quality cheeses like pecorino, fresco and la bianca, as well as yogurt and feta.

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The Cheesiry, located between Lloydminster and Kitscoty, is open Thu – Fri: 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm and Sat: 9:00 am – 12:00 pm.

Post_Cheesiry Sheep Ramp

The ramp leading up to the milking machines in the barn.

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The milking barn — much smaller than its cow dairy counterparts.

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This is a curd cutter, which — as the name suggests — cuts cheese curds, a crucial part of the labor-intensive cheese-making process.

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Here, future not-yet-cheese begins the draining process, separating whey from curd.

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Raw milk cheese must age at least two months before sale in Canada.

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Rhonda Headon preparing cheese for sampling.

A taste of Italia in the heart of Alberta.

A taste of Italia in the heart of Alberta.

3rd Stop: Elk Valley Ranches

Elk Valley Ranches, located south of Kitscoty, Alberta, was established in 1985 with 15 elk and 10 bison. The farm has evolved incredibly quickly, now with roughly 400 bison females, a custom-feeding lot, trophy elk for contract and elk velvet for market.

Frank McAllister, one of the the farm’s founders was on hand to tell us about his about his operation. We stepped into the shop, with the smell of recently-cut metal lingering in the air, the tools neatly arranged on shelves and organized in boxes and three enormous trophy racks on display.

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It takes 7-8 years to raise a trophy elk, says McCallister; a small, but lucrative business with steady market demand.

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Elk will produce high-quality velvet for up to 10 years. It is harvested by McAllister annually in a form just as he shows here.

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Elk velvet is used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine and as a herb and ingredient in Asian cooking. It is also used as a dietary supplement in dried/capsulated form, primarily in North America.

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McAllister often keeps bison and elk together, saying they tend to remain segregated but tolerant.

4th Stop: Ribstone Creek Brewery

Take a seat on a saddle, at Edgerton’s Ribstone Creek Brewery, and try not to adore the simple arrangement of keg-made-tables, old-fashioned jugs and art with gentle humor. It’s a great local story, of a group of men who decided to try making beer, and in 2012, after re-modelling the building they now occupy, doing extensive market research and developing a recipe, they began full-scale production of craft ale and lager.

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The brewery selects it malt type based on the final product it intends to make.

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It takes roughly four weeks for malt barley to become lager and two weeks for it to become ale.

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Employees of Ribstone Creek Brewery can beer with this machine. It’s a small station with many tasks, but we were assured it’s fun (because it doesn’t happen every day).

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Modern and a little rustic. The ale and lager at the brewery can be purchased in cans or jugs.

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Final Stop: The Wainwright Hotel

A delicate meal amongst a sea of construction, our last stop was perhaps my favourite. Built in 1929 after a massive fire destroyed its predecessor, the Wainwright Hotel is currently undergoing massive renovations to become Buffalo Park Centre. The renovation will expand the building’s lifespan and provide the public with the opportunity to learn of its history with a heritage gallery, enrichment centre, exhibit, archives and a reading room.

An elegant setting in Alberta's first cement-poured building, long known as The Wainwright Hotel.

An elegant setting in Alberta’s first cement-poured building, long known as The Wainwright Hotel

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The group, learning some of the history of the building from Keith Brower.

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Exposed walls and floors freed of carpet, unearthing the hardwood below.

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It’s a process. The schematics were completed in May of 2012v, and the final phase — Phase 5 — is planned for a 2016 completion.

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The Wainwright Hotel.

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