Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from sunny Mexico!

Doesn't feel a whole lot like Christmas where we are right now. As I type, my wife is reading in a lounge chair near the pool and I sit under a thatched roof poolside. Not a sign of Christmas anywhere other than large Poinsettias on the patio. Still, it is indeed December 24th and we are thinking of Christmas wishes for our friends and family back home.

There are a few new plans for the farm for 2012. We will have an on-farm store where folks can come and pick up their orders at their convenience. This makes things easier for everyone and will allow us some cost savings instead of making extra trips to deliver smaller orders.

We also have some additional storage bins on the farm this year, that will allow us to control a larger amount of grain products. That means that we will run out of products far less often.

There is still a lot of work to do around the farm and our business but we are devoted to making things work better and more profitably in 2012. Stay tuned and please be sure to visit us at Old Strathcona Farmers Market and Wild Earth Foods. New customers will also be announced in 2012!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you! Thank you for supporting our little farm in 2011.


Thursday, December 01, 2011

kutya (kutia) traditional Ukrainian Christmas dish

For all my Ukrainian heritage friends out there we are making it easier to enjoy a holiday favorite by providing wheat berries at the Strathcona Farmers Market every Saturday from 8-3. 1kg bags to 22.7kg
Traditional Ukrainian sweet grain pudding...a Christmas tradition!
Picture from

Of course many people are now interested in achieving a local rice substitute...wheat berries may be the ticket. Enjoy this easy to prepare dish at any time of the year. The variations on this dish are endless, so use your imagination. The Recipe

Perhaps instead of a sweet grain pudding it is savory...cumin, garlic, roasted onions. Develop your own favorite way to enjoy wheat as a rice replacement and support your local farmers!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

a great food blog

The Laughing Gastronome

I got tuned in to this blog through my friend Kevin's Blog. The particular post regarding pain a l’ancienne has me excited to try something new with my bread. I have not had the time to really sink my teeth into truly good bread building, but it is something that has always intrigued me. As always, it will be with our own fresh milled flour so I trust that I will have to adjust for the healthful benefits of a true "entire grain" flour. The extra germ and bran will be dealt with accordingly, possibly through sifting. I can then use the sifted germ/bran in my oatmeal or a nice batch of raisin bran muffins perhaps.

Anyways, I thought I would share a new blog discovery with you and thank Kevin for inspiring me to bake some bread again!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

hand powered flour mill - Nov. 29 2011

The most popular post on our blog is this one from March 16, 2009. It is a simple little post about hand powered flour mills. I am not sure why I never followed up on this, but it is certainly about time. @cinnymom (twitter friend) pointed out to me that the Bosch Kitchen Centre, which I guess is actually Barb's Kitchen Centre, has hand powered mills here in Edmonton. They are on 9766-51 avenue and their number is 780-437-3134.

I am not sure what brand they carry or the quality of the mill so check it out and comment if you can. I am almost never in that end of town and can't make a special trip at this point in time so I'll rely on somebody to post a comment if they can here on the blog.

If you know of other hand powered mills like the ones sold here in Armstrong, BC please share your comments with everyone. Apparently its a popular topic...since 2009!

Monday, November 28, 2011

playing with tractors

Cold start of the 3788 2+2 tractor on Sunday.

By the way, the old Pontiac is for sale if anyone is interested. I was told by the owner that it is a 1970 model with the GTO engine. So that would be the 400? I am not sure. Other cool old vehicles to follow.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

gluten free crazy

Here is the definitive article on the subject of the consumption of wheat and the "gluten free" fab dieters who have it all wrong.

Read the whole article through. Anyone who has ever talked to me at my table will have heard the same speech and long before I ever came across this article (5 mins ago).

McLeans Article on Wheat

Modern wheat varieties are bad. They are indeed killing us. Modern flour production practices are bad and again, are slowly killing us.

"It could turn out that if we wind back the clock 100 or 1,000 years, and resurrect einkorn or some of the heritage forms of wheat, maybe that would be a solution."
Dr. William Davis

Eat whole, raw, unprocessed "entire grain" flour. Buy it from local producers who are growing heritage varieties of wheat and your gluten concerns go away. There is a lot of research that shows eating all of the raw bran and germ from a wheat kernal will in fact lower the glycemic index and HELP with weight control.

Don't be a sheep. Look for good quality food and follow your common sense. People have not de-evolved from eating wheat over the past 20 years when we've been eating it for 10 of thousands of years. What's changed then? The wheat.

what comes around...

We just got an amazing phone call today from some friends from our old neighborhood. They are bringing us a load of firewood this morning! We didn't ask for the wood and we were certainly not expecting it, but nonetheless here it comes. What a wonderful surprise.

It just got me to thinking about things a bit. Lately I have been on a bit of a good deed splurge. Not for the sake of getting something in return, just because I haven't done enough of that sort of thing lately. I certainly had no intentions of telling anyone about these deeds...I didn't even tell my wife. I just wanted to do something nice for people, have a good feeling about myself, and know that I've helped out just a little bit in this world.

Then comes today's little surprise and it gets me thinking about cosmic banking. How many credits do we put in the bank before an automatic withdrawal is made? Go ahead and drop a 20 in the Salvation Army bubble and don't take a tax receipt. Stop along the side of the road to help somebody change a tire. Even something as simple as shoveling the extra sidewalk length for a neighbour.

I remain of the opinion that we should do nice things for strangers for the sheer joy of doing so, but it doesn't go unnoticed that when we do nice things, we achieve nice things. I guess it really doesn't get much more simple than that does it?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beef Update

I spoke with my butcher Tony yesterday. He is feeling a little better and is at least mobile with a cane. He is scheduled to process the beef on Dec. 4th. It will hang for more than a week and then be cut and wrapped. All of our beef should be ready to go around the middle of December! Yaay! We are eating the only beef we have left...burger. Getting anxious for a steak!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

straw bale house performance

Thought I would post again about our little strawbale house on the prairie. It got down to minus 26 last night and sits right around minus 20 today. But, the sun is shining here in Sunny Alberta! What that means is that our passive solar design is busily heating our home...for free...without petroleum...without any cost or extra energy whatsoever.

We have not had the propane fueled in-floor heating run since at least two days ago. When it runs so seldom it is hard sometimes to remember when it last worked. Usually though, we turn that heat on only when we decide that we would like the comfort of hot floors on a cloudy, cold winter day. Luckily that seldom happens here in Alberta. Our winters are noted for their cold, but cloudless days. The sun blasts through our south facing windows, its radiant warmth soaking into our concrete floors, granite counters and various furniture. Once the sun sets, that stored heat is slowly released into the home. Actually, even on the coldest of days it sometimes gets too warm in our house and we are forced to crack open the window in the kitchen to let in some cold.

Besides the passive solar heating, our main source of heat is the little wood stove in the living room. It is one of the smallest stoves on the market, but once it is hot we have to turn all the settings as low as they will go to avoid sauna-like temps in the main living space. A heat-powered fan sitting on the stove pushes some warm air down the hallway to the back bedrooms...everyone is comfy cozy.

As I type, watching football on a Sunday afternoon, we have not had any fuel-based heat source in our house since before bedtime last night. The stove has been cold since sometime in the middle of the night and it has been a t-shirt temperature ever since. At some point later this afternoon, probably around suppertime, I will start the woodstove again. I really love this house.

p.s. The power went out earlier this morning and I started thinking about our neighbour's houses. How long can the power stay out before an ordinary house starts getting uncomfortably cool...or cold...or water lines start to freeze? Especially when it is minus 30 or 40 degrees in the middle of January.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

xplornet fail

Because so many people that read our blog are rural residents I feel a need to warn people about xplornet. This is a rural internet provider based out of the maritimes. Please check out references prior to subscribing with this company! We didn't and now are regretting that decision.

The performance of this internet provider is abysmal. We have finally given up phoning in our complaints. In fairness to the company they have made considerable efforts to fix our problems...all to no avail. Our internet service is spotty, slow, or non-existent so often that it is a serious source of stress for our family.

We also use them for our phone service and the phone will cut off part way through 98% of our phone conversations...short or long. So much so that we start off each conversation with strangers by saying "if I cut out, I'll call you right back". Our friends and family are so familiar with this that it is a joke amongst us.

Watching family movies via netflix is usually unbearable with pauses sometimes as often as every 16 seconds.

Please, check out other xplornet customers in your area prior to subscribing! The thing that is most alarming about this is that our signal is extremely strong we are told. Our local tower is within viewing distance. For whatever reason though (I suspect it is over-subscription) the performance is awful. We signed a three year contract...sigh. As long as I can warn others.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Beef Processing

I jsut got off the phone with our processor Tony over at Cardiff Meat and Sausage. He has just gotten back from the hospital after being throw out of the back of a cattle trailer while loading cattle over the weekend! Ouch. I guess Tony has injured his knee quite badly. So, this means that I will need to source another guy we've used in the past. I will call him to see what his availability is and then call Tony in another week to see if he is any more mobile by then...doubtful.

That is too bad for Tony to get injured at such an important time of year. Please be patient with me while I make other arrangements for beef processing.


OK...phoned a guy we have used in the past before we moved. He gets busy at this time of year with wild game...he hunts too! So I have asked him to book the day, but he won't be available until later this month. That means beef will be ready (after hang time) sometime in early to mid December. I'll keep posted.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Farm Update - Market Update - Oct. 28

Done with harvest for the year which is a relief. Now though we are busy trying to get some fall tillage done along with baling up the flax straw. I have had to go back to work with my off-farm job so getting all of this done before it snows is going to be touch and go. Today I was busy milling and packaging for Old Strathcona Farmers Market tomorrow and I replaced a bearing on the baler and started baling the flax straw. One problem though, forgot to tighten the bolts on the scraper bar. It came loose and wrecked a bunch of belts. Its tough enough to farm when things go right...doubly tough when you do stupid things. Now I have to spend money on new baler belts and lose a few days baling time. Grrrr. Got a call today from a potential customer wanting pancake mix for Christmas gift baskets. They wanted them in 500g size so that gave me the idea to package smaller bags of pancake mix for the Christmas season. I need to design some new labels for the smaller bags, but that should be easy. I should have the smaller sized pancake mixes sometime in early November. If anyone out there is in the Gift Basket business here is a good item for you. 500g bags of Organic, fresh milled grains, organic baking powder and sugar and sea salt!

Friday, September 02, 2011

what's different about our flour?

I just wanted to take a moment to briefly discuss our flour products. We are asked often about why our flours taste so wonderful. What do we do differently?

Well, the only thing we do is mill our grains fresh. All other flour products that we are aware of have been processed prior to packaging and shipping. The germ is removed, as that is the part of the grain that spoils quickly once the oils are exposed to the air and a lot of the bran is also removed. Our flour products are 'entire grain' products. Whatever comes out the bottom of the stone mill is what we package. For this reason Gold Forest Grain flours are best kept refrigerated. We mill 'on order' for our customers. This way, the flour is the freshest flour possible. No other flour products in the Edmonton market are as fresh or complete as ours...this is what makes our flour the best in town!

One other factor about us is our grains and the way they are grown. Organic. Heritage species.

How to use our flour products? Because all of our flours are 'entire grain' they will require slightly altered recipes. All of the germ and bran is present in the flour...of course this also means that ALL of the taste is there too! Most professional and experienced bakers tell me that slightly more moisture and a slightly longer kneading time is required when making bread. If you require your flour to be lighter in texture...something that most North Americans are used to you can simply sift our flour. It wasn't long ago that every kitchen had a sifter. Of course, don't throw away all that goodness you've sifted out, use it in another recipe or sprinkle the fresh bran over your cereal. 

Local. Heritage. Fresh. Whole. Good! Simple.

Dear John and Cindy Schneider, 

"I have recently bought a bag of your whole wheat berries, and am very satisfied. When I bought them, I was asked what I would do with them, since I wasn't planning on making flour, and there's lots you can do! If you soak the berries overnight in cool water, they go great in salads, stews, soups, or by themselves as a snack. I haven't tried it yet, but mixing them with fruit and yogurt for breakfast also seems like a great idea. Since I am a recently converted vegetarian, it's great to discover new foods to incorporate in my diet, especially since whole grains have a decent amount of protein in them. Thank you for a great product!"

Kira Dlusskaya

Friday, August 05, 2011

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

flax is blooming

Here is a picture of part of our field of Organic Golden Flax. Flax is my favourite crop in the summer when it is blooming. This is an ok crop of flax. When it is a great crop, the fields are solid blue for days on end...lovely.

Friday, July 29, 2011

July 2011 crop tour

Just finished with the little patch of summerfallow...trying to get rid of thistle and wild buckwheat. Up on the tractor tire for a better view of the field of organic wheat. This, as usual, is Park Wheat. Park is the main wheat we grow for high protein baking.

This is the view down the driveway of our home property. A pretty nice crop of organic Gold Flax considering the abysmal weather we've had all year long. Drought in April and May without a drop of rain meant that the seed sat in the ground for weeks trying to germinate, followed by unrelenting rain in June and July which has now drowned large patches of crop.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Spelt Flour

We now have organic Spelt Flour for sale! This is the only grain that we are currently not growing ourselves. Spelt is an ancient grain that has a slightly longer growing season. We have secured some seed from a southern Alberta farmer and we are hoping that within a few generations we will be able to grow our own local Spelt. In the meantime, due to strong demand we are milling spelt flour from the grains we have purchased off-farm. It is a wonderful looking flour...bright white with a red bran. Beautiful. I haven't had a chance to bake with it yet, but I am looking forward to having some time to do something with it soon. 

Today's sales at Old Strathcona Farmers Market were strong for the Spelt. Folks are certainly eager for Organic Spelt flour! Every week at market is better than the last and the feedback we are getting from our customers is glowing. I know we are on the right track with what we are doing and it inspires me to continue. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

farm update - june 24

Finally got around to getting some farmyard work done yesterday. I made a few dump runs with all of the construction garbage that we've had stored in mini-bulk totes since last fall. Dad brought the 766 home yesterday so I was able to put the loader on and use it to load the totes of garbage, move some boulders around and haul some dirt out to our 'island' on the turnaround driveway. There is still loads of work to do as far as landscaping goes, but I got started...and that is good. 

Crops are finally sprouted and slowly growing. Many weeds in the fields though because the weather was so incredibly dry at seeding. Now with all this rain the seeds are sprouting and having to compete with taller grasses and alfalfa weeds. The crops are so late though...really hoping for a late fall. An early killing frost in early September will heavily damage our crops I am afraid. 

I found some time to write this post as the mill is milling some buckwheat. We enjoyed Buckwheat Pancakes this morning...excellent taste! I am almost ready for market tomorrow at Old Strathcona Farmers Market. I just need to mill and mix some pancake mix and finish up the Buckwheat Flour this afternoon and I'm golden. 

Sure hope to see more customers at market tomorrow. It is supposed to be a little miserable outside so it is the perfect day to spend inside this bright and cheery indoor market. I simply love the atmosphere at Old Strathcona...see you there!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

a nice email

I just got this wonderful email from Ruth. I can't tell you how much I love getting messages like this! It really makes me want to work harder around the farm to make sure we are able to continue doing what we do. Thank you for your kind words and taking the time to let us know Ruth!

"Hello John & Cindy,Just had a meal of your pancakes and so enjoyed.I've tried to put a message on your blog but can't figure out how to do that so will just tell you why this is special and maybe you can put it on.     For a long time it has been difficult for me to swallow pancakes and believe me I've tried many different brands.They seem to stick and go down very slowly,sometimes with discomfort.But!!Big BUT!!your mix goes down smooth as honey.I can't eat the whole batch so the remaining pancakes are bagged then used as the bread for a sandwich.Also must add that the wheat berries are excellent in place of rice in stir fries and such or just as a side dish.Your grains have added a whole new twist to my healthy cooking. Many thanks from a senior who really tries to eat right and eat local."      Ruth

Thursday, June 16, 2011

busy busy

Gosh...been so busy lately trying to get caught up financially. I have found work again off-farm with a friend's company in Edmonton. I've been working there long hours for the past couple weeks and by the time I get home and get some farm work done, I am too bushed to write on the blog. 

Working again and making sure that I have a steady income is good for sure, but a large part of me wishes that the farm would hurry up and accomplish the same thing. I would much rather be working for myself given the choice. It is a catch-22 too...the more I work off-farm, the less I can get done around here and the less income the farm produces. We have made the decision, for the time-being, to reduce our work load with the farmers markets to just one market. Of course we chose Old Strathcona Farmers Market. It is Edmonton's best market and runs year round. It is a difficult market to get in to and we are very fortunate to be there. I want to grow the flour business, but everyone has to take into account that I also need to finish our house, get the landscaping done, work on farm equipment and build some out-buildings this summer. No easy feat even if I didn't have farmers markets and an off-farm job! 

I am contemplating the St. Albert Farmers Market right now though. It is our home town market so to speak and would be much handier for the family to help out with as opposed to the downtown market. I think we will be attending that market within the next week or two. If I am prepping for one market, it is only a little more work to prep for two. We'll see.

If it appears that I am all over the map it is probably true, but there are a lot of external pressures to deal with along with the all important issue of growing the business. I am assuming that next summer will be a steady focus on the big three farmers markets in the area and we'll go hard to make hay while the sun shines. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

market update June 11

I have a little 'man'power shortage this weekend as Brittany will be recovering from a stint in the dentist's chair. So, I will not be at City Market on 104th this coming Saturday. I will however, be at Old Strathcona Farmers Market! Yaaay! I really miss being at this market so this is my chance. Hopefully though, Brittany will be back the next Saturday and I can return downtown.

Seeding is complete by the way. I finished seeding my barley last night. Spring work its time to focus on the house and yard completion and fall equipment repairs and maintenance.

a guest post! Maria Rainier

A Look at the Global Organic Market

In recent years, the global organic market has been booming thanks to more and more considered citizens wanting to lead healthier lives and putting more thought and consideration into the environment.

But due to the economic crash of 2008, statistics have shown that the global organic market, specifically in relation to organic food and beverages, has slightly declined due to the fact that the current state of the economy has put a damper in people’s wallets.

Between 2000 and 2009, global revenue in the global organic market increased dramatically from 18 billion to 54.9 billion USD. But between 2008 and 2009, statistics proved that organic sales grew a mere 5% due to a reduction in investments as well as “consumer spending power.” But in the past year or so it seems as though the economy has been recovering, (although at a snail’s-like pace), and now experts are predicting that more and more people will start spending money on the global organic market thus the numbers are expected to rise once again.

A growth in organic produce
Despite the fact that the global organic market has not been growing as fast as it has been in previous years, many regions in the U.S. as well as other countries are still experiencing organic produce supply shortages. This is because more and more citizens are turning to local farmers to purchase duty-free organic food and produce, and they’re also hoping to grow their own fruits and vegetables in their yards as well to avoid expensive food prices altogether.

The future of the global organic market
Experts are predicting that there will be a growing demand for global organic produce in emerging economies as well as a rise in private organic labels as well. This could be due to the fact that although the growth in the global organic market has actually slowed down, there has been a rise in the variety of different organic products on the market, which now range from organic clothing, make-up, furniture, vehicles and much more. 
Furthermore, more and more companies are now tapping into the “green” market by including many eco-friendly practices in how they grow and produce their products, as well as the various services that they offer as well.

Even though growth statistics have been looking grim over the past few years, the continuing global organic growth is living proof that not only can it survive an economic recession, it may even become the norm in consumer spending as well.


Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she’s written on farm management careers along with a piece on business administration degree programs. In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, playing piano, and working with origami.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Buckwheat Flour

Is tomorrow the first time in Edmonton's history that locally produced Buckwheat Flour will be offered for sale? Was it offered decades ago in a time when it would have been common? We've grown buckwheat for a few years now and this is the first time we've milled it into flour...tomorrow it will be for sale at our booths at Old Strathcona Farmers Market and City Market on 104th. 

It mills wonderfully but we do have to sift it to remove the hulls. This adds a fair amount more work to the process, but it's worth it. What an intense flavour! We made a Rhubarb Pie with Buckwheat crust and it was awesome. 

The two G's in a field of Buckwheat
There have been a few people asking for Buckwheat Flour at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market lately so now they can go home with a bag of their own. It is, of course, organic. 

Buckwheat was once very popular in North America and has been grown since colonial days. It was a valued cash crop for early new world farmers because it was the only flour that could be seeded and harvested within the 90 limit of most notes of the time. You could borrow the money for seed and pay it back with the harvest...the only crop capable of that kind of quick performance. 

Additionally, Buckwheat was a household item used in all kinds of baking projects. Buckwheat is ground as a flour and used for noodles, pancakes and breads. It should be noted that Buckwheat is a seed or nut as opposed to a contains no gluten.

Hopefully we will see you tomorrow at market. Brittany will be at Old Strathcona and I will be at City! Should be a great day. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

flax quenelles recipe!

This is a nice email I received from a customer of ours that I met at market last weekend...Sorry Angel, but I don't know much about egg substitutions...perhaps somebody out there has a suggestion?

Thanks for the recipe Angel!

Hi John & Cindy, makers of amazing grains!!!!
I was just at the market telling John about an amazing recipe I recently discovered.
This recipe was found at a Vipassana meditation retreat, of all places.
The recipe was called Flax Seed Balls, but being a foodie, I prefer to make quenelles!
The measurements are for raisins, Gold Forest Grains Organic Golden Flax seeds and sunflower seeds, measured at a ratio of 1-2-3 respectively.
(I ended up with about 6 cups, which made a HUGE lot of 'em!)
Put these in a bowl with just enough water to cover. Cover bowl and leave on the counter overnight.
The next day you can add cinnamon, vanilla, carob, etc. and then blend until smooth. )I used an immersion blender, worked great.)
Some folks might like to add some maple syrup or other sweetener, as they are mildly sweet.
Roll into balls or make quenelles, roll in flaked  coconut. EAT! (You probably already know this, but, organic flaked coconut is insanely inexpensive at Earth's General Store!)
You can also freeze them, which is what I did, I eat them semi-frozen. SO delicious AND healthy!
Unfrozen they are very soft which may not be a desirable texture to some.
I am going to experiment more with the recipe, I think there are endless possiblilities,  these would make an elegant dessert if they were plated with some berry coulis, whipped cream and a smash of shaved chocolate!
While I have your attention; I went to your blog, but didn't know how to comment there, not too computer savvy moi!
It looks very interesting, will visit more often and check out fellow foodie Kevin Kossowan, as reccomended by John.
FINALLY!- As I mentioned today, I am currently lacto vegetarian, and wonder if you can reccomend a way to make your wonderful pancake mix sans eggs? Do you think I could use coconut or almond milk?
Grazie mille!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

market update May 19

Starting this weekend we will be outdoors at City Market on 104th Street as well as our usual, albeit temporary, spot at Old Strathcona Farmers Market. This will be our first weekend with two major markets on the same day so I have a lot of milling and packaging to take care of today and tomorrow.
Gretta and I at Old Strathcona Farmers Market

The Old Strathcona Market continues to amaze me with activity and the excitement of the customers. I love this market! Lots of great people with great discussions. We are doing very well at this market and I am enjoying being there very much. The atmosphere of the market every Saturday is contagious.

This Saturday, City Market is outdoors on 104th Street for the first time this year. I have been told how busy this market is and I will get to experience it first hand in two days. I need to go get our new market tent today!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

spring work

Very busy trying to get caught up with the spring tillage. Most of the fields were tilled last fall so they are pretty much ready to go for seeding after a quick shallow till with the disc or vibra-chisel and harrows. The home piece though was pasture until yesterday so I spent the entire day breaking the pasture trying to get it ready for seeding. The front part of the pasture was broke several days ago and I've been over it a few passes with the chisel plow and harrows. It takes a lot of work to get sod into seed bed. 

With spring tillage comes break downs. Nothing awful so far this year but the inside dual on the 2+2 developed a leak and I needed Kenny's Tire from Morinville to come out to the farm to help switch some tires around to get me going again. I don't have the $700 to spend on a new tire right now so I just went with a tire swap on the rims and now have single wheels on the front and duals on the back. As I write this though I know that the front tire on the 766 is flat...another few hours getting that fixed...

On a fun note, my son Garreth had his first solo run with the tractor and cultivator! He is 13 now and I was driving tractors and equipment on a limited basis by his age. He did really really well and after some training was doing everything just right. So I had him stop and let me out and he spent the next hour on his own with my close supervision. I trust him in emergency situations, he has a very level head and doesn't seem to ever get flustered. He'll be a great help around the farm in the few years to follow until he heads out to start his own life. I will enjoy our time farming together while it lasts.

Friday, May 13, 2011

sold the cows

This spring has been a very trying time for us. Having just built and relocated our home and farm...starting our flour business...being laid off from the off-farm job...jeesh what else can I pile on? One of the things that we have been half-heartedly kicking around is the idea of selling off all the cows (as opposed to expanding the herd). I adore my cows. The thought of selling them killed me inside and I wouldn't have anything to do with it. However...sitting on my tractor this spring for hours on end has given me the chance I needed to really think about it objectively. The return per acre of our little herd is about $70/acre when we sell the beef. The return on grain is approximately $250/acre. So, it came down to a simple question of how much am I willing to pay to have cows around the farm? The answer, once I thought about it seriously, was obvious and with one phone call to our neighbour our cows were sold. He had been admiring them all winter and it was an easy sell.

We will keep the two steers that we have already sold via the csa. But come November when they are processed that will be the last bovines on our farm for the time being.

I will miss them surely...but, grains are our focus around here and grains is what we are going to do. No more baling feed. No more winter days of fixing frozen stock waterers. No more stuck tractors in the snow and fretting about whether or not I secured enough hay for the winter. No more holidays cut short by the thoughts of poor relatives at home feeding and watering our animals. But, also, no more Missy and Miley, Henny and Hanna, Skipper and the little ones each spring. I guess I'll have to look at them from across the fence at the neighbours place. Every now and then I can walk over and give out some neck scratches.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

focaccia bread with our Soft White Wheat Flour!

Blogger and cook extraordinaire Get Cooking's Kathryn made a wonderful looking Focaccia Bread with our white wheat flour. This is not white flour, but a flour milled from Soft White Wheat. Extremely tasty, especially when milled fresh...this variety of whole wheat flour is definitely our most flavourful flour. It is not as high in protein as our Hard Red Spring Wheat flour so is probably not your best bet for traditional loaves of bread, but it makes wonderful cakes, cookies, muffins and obviously....Focaccia!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

crepes with strawberry maple sauce

I made some lovely crepes this morning with our Soft White Wheat flour. It was a little trickier to make crepes using an entire grain flour, but I got it working and they tasted amazing if I do say so myself.

Here's what I did:
Crepe Recipe:
1 cup soft white wheat flour (you can sift it if you prefer)
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup melted butter or less if you prefer

Just mix all the ingredients. It should be a runny consistency, unlike pancake batter which is thick. Heat the frying pan to medium low and add some butter. When the griddle is hot apply the batter and then tilt the frying pan around to spread the batter thinly. Let the crepe cook until the edges appear cooked and then flip it and brown the other side. Easy!

Strawberry Maple Sauce
3 cups frozen organic strawberries
1/2 - 1 cup organic maple syrup
Sugar to taste (if you like)
1/2 cup water

Boil the strawberries, water and sugar until the berries are soft. Mash them with a fork and reduce the sauce until you get the thickness you prefer. Add the Maple Syrup. Done. Easy!

We filled the crepes with a spoon full of organic Strawberry Yogurt and rolled the crepes on the plates and then drizzled (ok, poured) the strawberry maple sauce over the top. You could also add some icing sugar for fancy decoration, but we couldn't wait to do that. We also cooked up some Side Pork from Irvings Farm Fresh...yummm!


Why do so many people look at me as though I am crazy or some sort of conspiracy theorist when I mention the fact that so many crops are now desiccated with herbicide immediately prior to harvest? I actually got in a bit of an argument with a person yesterday who didn't believe me? Albeit, I had another lady bring up the fact herself...whew...ok, I am not crazy. Glad to hear it.

For all those who do not believe me that is just too bad. It is a fact. It is not an urban legend. Instead of swathing wheat, most conventional farmers now spray their wheat crops several days prior to combining. In this way the wheat can dry down all at once and still stay standing to avoid any moisture damage that can occur in a swath.

In the states and drier, warmer climates, desiccation is not necessary. The growing season is long enough to simply allow the wheat to die off and dry naturally. Up here in Canada, that is not practical so you see tracks in the nearly mature wheat that indicate a sprayer has been in action.

You don't often actually see the farmer spraying. I can't help but think that this is on purpose. I have seen the spraying many times though and I know for a fact that it is now an extremely common practice. I challenge all of you to observe for yourself this fall. When I see it again next fall I will video it for you all to see for yourself. In the meantime, have a look at Kevin's video interview of our farm from last summer where he shows some of the tracks.

FROM LOCAL FARMS - Gold Forest Grains from Kevin Kossowan on Vimeo.

Friday, April 29, 2011

market update

I just thought I would post a bit of an update here on the blog. We have been tweeting and facebooking a bit more lately and the blog has been suffering a bit of neglect I am afraid. 

Tomorrow is the first day for us at The Old Strathcona Farmers Market! For those who don't know, this market is huge in Edmonton and is our only large, year-round market. St. Albert and City Market are perhaps bigger in the summer months. So, now we are marketing our flour products at Old Strathcona and City Market on 104th on Saturdays. This should keep us busy milling and packaging flour for a day or two during the week on top of our other customers' orders. 

Currently at market we are carrying: Hard Red Spring Wheat flour, Soft White Wheat Flour, Golden Flax, Rye flour, Wheat/Rye Pancake Mix and Wheat Berries.

At any rate, we really appreciate feedback from our customers. Please log in and comment with your recipes and comments if you have had the chance to purchase flour from us or if you have any questions about our farm or our flour! 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

girls! girls! girls!

Meet the girls. My favorite bovine girls...Missy and Miley. These are our two purebred Galloway cows. Actually, Miley is a heifer...a girl cow who hasn't had a calf yet. She will this year though. Miley is on the left.

Missy has had three calves now. She always throws docile calves that gain well and are healthy. Miley is Missy's second calf. Her calf last year is a steer that we will process this coming fall.

As you can see, Galloways are quite hairy. This sure helps in our climate where the extra insulation allows them to eat far less and still gain weight. Cindy came across some publication just the other night that she read out loud to me. It said that in coat density, the Galloway finished second only to Bison. Galloway are an ancient breed that originated in the highlands of Great Britain/Scotland. There are references to the sweetness of the meat from the 1500's.

They are so gentle and friendly. Always welcoming a neck scratch from their favorite local farmer.

Miley flashing us her 'good side'. What a cutie.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

farmer cable tv

I built myself a digital antenna recently. Actually, I built it right around Christmas. I found the recipe on Youtube and built it in an afternoon with wire coat hangers and a piece of lumber. I just wanted to see if it would work at picking up HDtv from the stations in Edmonton that broadcast digitally in HD. It worked! At first we could only get CityTV in HD, but it was amazing. For those who get to watch tv in HD you will know how amazing the picture quality truly is striking to watch HD programming.

You can see in the picture how easy it is to build.

Now these type of antennas work with line-of-sight broadcast signals so it is best to get them up on a tower of some sort and definitely outdoors. Our antenna is simply propped up in the living room window and we still get two digitial hd channels...for free. Here is a link to tv stations and their digital status in Alberta. 

Anyways, this is the television package that we choose to afford. It isn't much, but we get the news and Funniest Home Videos, etc. and now we get to watch Hockey Night in Canada in HD. Just curious about how many people who say that they cannot afford our flour (which is still priced below grocery store prices) manage to afford a satellite/cable bill of around $60+ a month? Just curious.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

odd jobs

Lately, since being laid off from my off-farm job I have had to look for work elsewhere. It has been an adventure to say the least. Not many people want to hire someone who needs to be able to leave work for days on end to seed, or mill flour, or haul grain or whatever else is occurring on the farm. I need a job with flexibility and part-time hours that pays well. I have taken a couple consulting jobs helping other companies to achieve their own safety program. I have also offered to help my brother-in-law Darel with his screw pile business. In the spare time, I have spent a few hours here and there trying to get the interior of the house finished. Cindy has taken a full-time job in the city for the first time since we've been together.

Of course, more important than all of the above has been the efforts to grow the flour business. That is where my passion lies...the farm. Last night I had a meeting to present my flour and grain products to The Old Strathcona Farmers Market jurors. That was interesting, but no indication whatsoever if I was successful in getting into the grand ole market. We'll see.

While none of this crap is terribly bad, we are not in danger of losing our home for instance, it has given me the opportunity to realize the importance of making the farm work financially or simply getting out of it altogether at some point in the future. Trust me, getting out of farming is the last thing I will contemplate. Still, it has crossed our minds that if our farm venture doesn't work it will mean downsizing to hobby farm status at best while I get permanent full-time work off-farm.

Of course, all of this thinking gets me thinking about food and prices and sustainable agriculture. Driving through St. Albert today I saw a sign in front of the McGavins Bakery that said in big bold lettering CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP BREAD 10 for $12. That sign is the exact reason that agriculture and especially family-farm type agriculture is in serious trouble in North America. I would venture a guess that nowhere in Europe would a sign like this exist...I could be wrong. If you haven't had a chance, watch the Movie "Broken Limbs". It is a documentary on apple farming in Washington state. Incredibly inspiring to watch, cleverly portrayed and completely insightful. I am embarrassed by that sign in St. Albert. I continue to feel badly that we live in a place where people in general look for the cheapest food as opposed to the best food. I am so glad for the customers that chose to support our little farm at City Market and Alberta Avenue Market and the bakeries that buy from us.

In the meantime, we happily struggle ahead with our plan to provide incredibly fresh flour at a reasonable price to as many people as possible. I hope that it is a win-win proposition.

Friday, April 08, 2011

yorkshire pudding recipes baby!

My absolute favorite baking project...even better than pancakes, is yorkshire's from a smoky hot oven. Crisp, golden brown and savory I can't think of anything that tastes better when drizzled with a nice roast gravy. But...don't forget to keep some extras in the fridge and then in the morning cut them open, fill with whipped cream and then sprinkle with powdered sugar....oh my.

Here is where I got my recipe for yorkshires. I have been using this recipe for a couple years now. It is the first one...Maggie's. Yorkshire Pudding Recipe 
It is from the Canada B&B Hosts website.

I have found that the key to puffy Yorkshire's is to make sure that the ingredients are indeed room temperature. Really get that muffin tin hot too. So hot that it is smoky and the batter sizzles and spatters as you pour it in. Get the batter in the tins as quick as you can and shut the oven door...don't peek until they're done...keep the oven hot.

Ok, so here's the plan...go to City Market or Strathcona Market on Saturday. Buy a nice pork roast from Serben's Free Range or First Nature Farms and some Flour from us. Then go get some potatoes. Oh yes, if you need some really fresh and completely flavourful cooking oil, go see Mighty Trio Organics. Then, after a wonderful afternoon at the farmers market you will have your Sunday roast pork dinner all lined up. I can taste it now.


slow week turnaround

It has been a rather slow week so far at the markets. Last Saturday at City Market was the slowest yet for our sales and then again this Thursday at Alberta Avenue. I figured that the warmer weather would have folks out and about, and they probably are...just not at an indoor farmers market. Can't say as I blame you guys. It sure is nice to be outside on a sunny and warm afternoon after such a brutal winter.

Anyways, we are still at the markets come hell or sunny spring afternoons so please do take some time to come indoors tomorrow at City Hall for a visit. More and more vendors every week so there is no shortage of fresh local food! Hopefully we will see you all there!

Also, you can now 'like' us on Facebook!

Friday, April 01, 2011

RIP Jedi

There is nothing worse about farming, or life in general, than the feeling of hopelessness and the realization that you need to put an animal down. I have had to do this several times throughout my life, as I am sure most people have. The difference with being on a farm is that usually the farmer is the one who has to perform the solemn act. It is almost never worth paying a vet and the rifle is much quicker and more humane than the stress of needles and strangers poking and prodding. The feeling I get before having to perform this duty is never anything that I would wish on anyone...worst enemies included. I am not ashamed to admit that it makes me cry. I suppose the fact that it makes me feel so bad is good in a way...I am not used to it and I don't do it often enough to make me callous of the responsibility.

This morning I had to euthanize our Llama, Jedi. He had been down for three days and couldn't get up. We kept him as comfortable as possible but there was something dreadfully wrong with his back or hips. He was old and I was completely confident that there was nothing more that could be done. With a mouth full of tasty grains he got to see one last glorious sunrise early this morning and then his suffering was over.

Jedi was a good llama and we have many fond memories of him. As a basically useless animal in almost all aspects of normal farm operations Jedi found his niche babysitting. We originally bought Jedi as a pack animal. Cindy and I had dreams of packing in the mountains with our string of llamas and we got fairly serious about the training and even went so far as to acquire the llama packs. Cindy would very often saddle up the llamas and go for long walks around our old property. Winding trails through the woods and hills, string of llamas behind her, Cindy has many happy memories with the 'boys'.

Sadly, we never went on our dream holiday with them. I don't know why...just didn't. We ended up selling all of them except for Jedi. He was our favorite and we thought he should hang out with us for the rest of his days.

As I mentioned earlier, Jedi's best days were spent diligently watching over the baby critters of all types. He was especially effective with the lambs when we had sheep. They would drive him nuts climbing all over him and on more than one occasion we would look out to a lamb sleeping comfortably on his back as he laid chewing his cud. Lately though Jedi's responsibility was the calves. He would pace feverishly, humming noisily whenever a calf would escape. We always knew right where to look! As the calves grew, Jedi would become their unwilling playmate. I am sure they drove him crazy, but he never complained.

He never spit on anyone. He always reluctantly put up with our petting and I will miss his worried humming this summer when a calf squeezes through the barbwire.

Jedi was a good llama and a valued animal on our farm. I will miss him.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

lessons learned?

This past winter (and I use the word 'past' with hesitation) has been very trying for Cindy and I. While there have been many positives with the farm business, there have been just as many setbacks and hardships. I certainly want to avoid complaining. Our children are healthy. We have a warm bed to sleep in and food to eat. Our entire farm has not been washed away in horrifying fashion as so many were in Japan. Those events that we watched in awe from so far away have served to remind me that things could be so much worse. 

Still though the hardships we've faced were stressful enough and have helped to remind me that I need to be more pro-active and work harder still to be prepared. The snow this year was just too much to handle and wrecked equipment and made it difficult if not impossible to perform farming business at certain times. I have not been able to get to the grain bins for most of the winter. The cost to repeatedly bring in the snow removal company would have simply been too great. The strong winds also blew in under the eaves of the steel grain bins and I had to shovel snow off the piles of grain. Of course, a lot of grain got shoveled out along with the snow. Lesson Learned...plant more fast growing trees and stuff the gaps with something that vents but keeps snow out and figure out better snow removal equipment. 

Even feeding the cattle has been hard. For most of the winter I was able to get the tractor out to the bale pile in the middle of the field. We have a rather large chore tractor with dual tires on the back, even so I had to borrow the neighbour's small tractor with attached snowblower to make a path to the bales. Of course, a week later the wind would blow for 4 days and that path would be rendered invisible. I just couldn't bring myself to keep borrowing equipment so I did my best to pack the snow with the tractor to get back and forth to the bales. Finally about a week ago the tractor became stuck and there is no way to get it out until the snow melts. So, that means feeding 9 cattle by hand from stacked round bales twice a day...not fun. Lesson Learned...stack the bales close to the house and keep the cattle close too (or get rid of the cattle).

This has been a tough winter. Our new property is so vulnerable to wind and bad weather. We need to focus on improving our land through the planting of as many trees as we can possibly handle. I am completely embarrassed for the previous generations of landowners in the area who actually went along with plans to eliminate trees from the ditches and fencerows to allow more cultivatable land. Supposedly our area was treed quite nicely prior to the 70's. I was told this by a family we know that have owned their farm for 100 years. Now I will have to try to fix that as best I can on our own property. 

We have so much work ahead of us to build proper out-buildings to shelter bags of grain and equipment. To plant trees and care for them. To gravel the yard and build or purchase proper snow removal equipment. To landscape and beautify our farm. Most of this work I look at as a challenge and I look forward to. But there is just so much to do and that is a little daunting. 

The weather now holds the promise of Spring. The snow is receding and with that comes renewed energy and optimism. We are so encouraged with all the new friends we are meeting with the flour business and that encourages us even more. See you at market tomorrow at Alberta Ave.!

Monday, March 28, 2011

wheat beer - guest post by Mark Senior

Making Wheat Malt

I recently got a 50 lb bag of wheat from John, with the idea to experiment making my own malt for use in homebrewing beer.

The short version of how this works is that you get the grain to begin sprouting, during which it produces enzymes that make the stored energy in the seeds available to the growing plant. Basically sprouting converts the starch to sugar.  Once the full amount of enzymes is produced, but before the growing seedling has had a chance to consume much of that stored energy, you stop the process by dehydrating the seeds under moderate heat (too hot and the enzymes break down).  When you're ready to brew, you'll set up conditions for the enzymes to convert the starch into sugar for the brewing yeast to consume.

The long version of how it works can be found in a few places online. I referred mainly to this page
Most of what I found online is specific to malting barley, but I found a few references to differences in approach when you're dealing with wheat (mainly, wheat sprouts quicker, and there is an extra step with malted barley - a higher temperature kilning after it's dried).

I started with a fairly small batch of grain for my initial trial, about 2.5 kg.

Step One - Soaking

The first thing you want to do is to soak the grain for a 6-8 hours, then drain it and let it breathe for about as long, and then soak it again.  As I was working around other things in my life, like work and sleep, I ended up soaking for about 8 hours, letting it breathe for about 9, then soaking for 5.

I use a lot of 20L food-grade plastic pails in brewing, and I have one that I've fitted a spigot to for sparging grain with.  I grabbed an extra pail, drilled a few dozen small holes in the bottom, and put it inside the pail with a spigot - this gave me a nice container for soaking the grain, that was easy to drain.

When I initially filled the pail with water and stirred the grain up, there was practically no chaff - the grain seems very clean.  I had thought I might have to pour out that first batch of water to get rid of chaff, and soak in a fresh batch, but I just left the first batch.

Step Two - Sprouting

The next step is to keep the grains evenly moise, and let them sprout until they are what's known as 'fully converted' - at this stage, the acrospire (the beginning sprout that will turn into a stalk of grass) is about 3/4 the length of the seed in most of the grains.  When malting barley, the acrospire is inside the hull, so you have to cut open a sample of seeds to see how it's progressing, but wheat has no hull, so you can just grab a handful of grain and look.

The goal is to get even conversion - you don't want too many of your grains to be underconverted (less than the full enzyme production) or overconverted (much of the starch used up).  So, you want to stir the grains as regularly as you can manage, to keep the temperature and
humidity that the grains are exposed to consistent.  I managed about twice a day.

By 24 hours after the final soak, most of the grains had a little
white bulge at one end, where the acrospire and roots were beginning to form.

By 36 hours, most of the grains had visible rootlets 1/4 or more the length of the grains.

At 72 hours, there were acrospires on most of the grains.  I figure about 90% had at least some acrospire, with maybe 2/3 of those (so, 60% of the total) in the neighbourhood of 2/3 the length of the grain. The grain also felt like it might be drying out a bit, so I rinsed it briefly with fresh water - letting it soak just about 10 minutes before draining it again.

Step Three - Drying

At 96 hours or so after the end of the soak, I decided it was time to stop the sprouting.

I weighed the grain at this point, and it was  around 3.75 kilos, about 1.5 times the starting weight.

I spread the grain out on cookie sheets and baking trays, and put them in the oven.  It turns out to be a good thing I only sprouted this small batch of grain for my initial test - it completely filled my
oven as it was.

The Oven Setup

At its lowest setting, my oven seems to swing between about 55 and 70 C - too hot for drying grain; the enzymes would be broken down (it might be useful for making crystal malt, but that's another experiment for another time).  I settled on turning on the oven light and putting a couple of little 25 W reading lamps in the oven.  This produced a steady temperature around 40 C, which is about right for this purpose.

The drying took around 2 1/2 days.  Ideally you want lots of air circulation, which my oven does not provide; if I had a food dehydrator, or one of those ovens with a convection fan, it probably
would have gone faster.  Next time around, I probably will see if I can borrow a dehydrator from a friend - as I keep going with this, I'll want an approach that dries the grain down quicker, and doesn't put the oven out of commission for days on end.

After drying was complete, the grain weighed around 2.2 kg, around 90% of its starting weight (that's including a bit of a fudge factor for the wheat I kept eating throughout the process to see how its taste and texture were changing).

You want to avoid brewing with grains that have the rootlets still on they apparently contain quite a bit of protein, which can cause your beer to be very cloudy, without contributing anything much to the taste.  I put the grains in a sieve, a handful at a time, and rubbed them to sift out most of the rootlets.  Even with this small amount of grain it was a pretty tedious process - next time, I will try using an old window screen for this part.

Mark...hard at work

When dealing with barley, there's another step after drying, kilning, in which the grain is heated to a higher temperature for a few hours, to give it its desired colour and flavour.  This can range from four or five hours at 70 C for a pale malt, to much higher temperatures for dark chocolate malts.  From what I found online, it seems this step is not typically used for wheat malt, and I didn't do it.

Step Four - Beer

I've made a very small test batch of all-wheat beer, which I'll write about another time - maybe once it's ready to drink.

Hopefully Mark will post some results of his beer project and perhaps a picture or two. I would love to see the finished product from another use for our wheat!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

why conventional agriculture sucks

A few examples of how conventional agriculture will not only fail to feed us all, it will contribute to our troubles. Our oceans are dying. Our pollinator populations are in desperate decline and chicken production is contributing to our inability to fight off disease illness through the use of anti-biotics. These are just snippets of information on topics that I think are most important for people to contemplate. These three subjects alone have the potential to cause a serious devastation of our own human population.

Every now and then I get tired of tweets and posts from proponents of conventional agriculture with their head in the sand. Follow the money people. Do your own research and please continue to vote with your food choices.

The Big Three arguments against conventional agriculture not in any particular order (and there's a lot more than three by the way).

1) Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico from ground water run off in the agricultural regions of the Mississippi River drainages.

From the website... "The effect of nutrient loading from the Mississippi Basin on the areal extent of the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone is investigated using a dissolved oxygen model. Results suggest that a 30% reduction in nitrogen loads may not be sufficient to reduce the average size of the hypoxia zone to 5,000 km2."

from the website... In the summer of 2010 this dead zone in the Gulf spanned over 7,000 square miles."

2) Antibiotics in chicken production to render useless the world's known anti-biotics.

According to the recent Marketplace episode "Canadians are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. As a result, people are getting sicker and are taking longer to get well. It is now not uncommon for people to be administered antibiotics through an IV because the usual drugs in pill form can't fight off their infections.
While we've all heard that over-prescription of antibiotics to people is one cause of the resistance, what many Canadians don't know is that another major cause is because the animals we eat are also given large amounts of antibiotics. And not just when they're sick: healthy animals can be fed antibiotics every day because it makes them grow bigger, faster."

From the website... "Disturbing data from the Public Health Agency of Canada reveals that antibiotics such as cephalosporin used in chicken hatcheries across the country is causing human resistance to the medicines, according to a startling report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal today.

3) New pesticides directly related to mass Bee deaths. We all know how important pollinators are to our own survival as a species.

From the website... "A new generation of pesticides is making honeybees far more susceptible to disease and may be a clue to the mysterious colony collapses that have devastated bees around the world.

Yet this discovery has remained unpublished for nearly two years since it was made by the United States Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory.""increasingly, independent research has produced strong evidence blaming neonicotinoid pesticides. France, Italy, Slovenia and even Germany, where the main manufacturer Bayer is based, have banned one of these bee killers. But, Bayer continues to export its poison across the world "

I HATE having to write these posts. I see so many other people out there fighting against conventional, unsustainable agriculture, I just can't sit back and watch. Sorry.