What’s not to love about Ron and Sheila’s natural friendliness and customer service every time you exchange with them at the market? It was at the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market the first time my husband and I had the pleasure of meeting them and trying their products. We became instant fans. When Southwest Edmonton Farmers' Market opened within walking distance of our house, we were happy to learn that they were – and still are – one of the market vendors. For years we’ve been wanting to visit their well-attended farm day in September but it never worked out. When we received an invitation to attend #sunworkstour17 and we were going to make the date work!
Ah, the fresh country air... we enjoyed a beautiful drive with views of rolling hills to Ron and Sheila's farm, just past Hay Lakes near Armena. They greeted us and we chatted for a while until all guests arrived. After introductions, including Isaac who props up the three-some management team, the tour commenced in the farm yard.
It was interesting to learn that Sunworks Farm began after Ron and Sheila took a holistic management course in 1995/1996 that inspired them to explore lots of possibilities. Back then, it was a new concept of non-traditional farming stressing the importance of animal care. They began with 80 chicks and 1 chicken shelter, focusing from the outset on animal welfare. Core values not to be compromised! The onsite processing plant was built for convenience but most importantly, to provide priority animal treatment right to the end. It is important to note that Sunworks Farm has been certified organic for 20 years, and they have been BCSPCA certified through that animal welfare program since 2005. Clearly, many parties recognize their outstanding work and animal husbandry.
After a peek at weeks old chicks we filed into a building where the fresh eggs are stored. Did you know that Sunworks hand-picks and hand-washes approximately 2,100 eggs per week, thanks to their brood of 5,000 hens? It is no surprise that they constantly get requests for more eggs; there is a huge demand for these nutritiously delicious eggs! They are always looking at ways to streamline and improve the process, but, never at the animal's expense. Annually, Sunworks processes around 130,000 chickens, 3,000 turkeys, 200 pigs, and 300 to 350 beef that are destined for farmer’s markets and wholesale markets across Alberta.
Our tour continued to the grassy fields where bison herds used to roam. When Ron and Sheila first farmed here, rains would literally run off the land due to inherent poor soil conditions. After years of implementing natural prairie cycling and farming practices, this farmland now has a well-conditioned level of top soil because of abundant humus and plentiful earthworms with their natural-occurring manure. To aid in mixing of the soil, the cattle graze on and push down the grass. Timing is important: the cattle are moved fast around the land when the grass is growing fast. When the grass growth slows down, so does the positioning of the cattle. The idea is that the grass is kept low enough so that the chicken shelters can be pulled across the fields. A perfect system of feeding off the land with the animal manure giving back to it. This is how prairie farming was always meant to be done.
Here's one of the most exciting things to report as a holistic nutritional consultant: grass-fed animals and their products fare much greater in healthy omega fats. Sunworks ratio of Omega 6: Omega 3, is optimally balanced in their animals products which is around 2: 1 instead of the highly inflammatory feedlot ratio of 20+:1. If the scale tips too far towards Omega 6's in the ratio, it can put immense pressure on the cardiovascular system. You can be sure that Sunworks Farm's animals are grass-fed with supplemental organic feed given during various stages of animal development as well as during specific seasons. It is one of the many reasons why I choose to buy their nutrient-strong products for our family. There is naturally organic grass-fed nutrition in every bite.
Our tour continued to the poultry area to look at their flocks of chickens, in various age stages, laying hens, and Bronze turkeys (that are more vigilant than the white). They are housed in moveable shelters that ensure the birds receive fresh grass every day. Daily, these structures are dragged about ¾ of the way to make sure no birds in the back get run over. These are some happy birds! We enjoyed the clucking of the hens and chickens to the in-unison hilarious turkey gobbling. I would describe their "speak" as music to my ears. :)
For summer production, the animals receive water from a water line coming from a 4 million gallon dugout. You'll also want to know that is not even a trace of salmonella from regularly tested samples. Clean. Clean. Clean.
Our last stop was at the plant; this mega clean building is the final stage of the process. Sheila personally ensures that every bird is dispatched as quickly as possible. On processing day, on average, 2,500 birds are dispatched in a 2.5-hour time slot. Every bit that can be processed is used for some purpose! On storage shelves, we could also see the organic spices they use in some of their products. It all was quite impressive; I appreciated the transparency too.
After the 2-hour walking tour, we were hungry! It was time to eat the feast that was prepared by The Quarter Section Food Company! We relished the five courses: charcuterie boards with Sunworks products, Sylvan Star cheeses, and assorted bread; seasonal salad with oil and vinegar from Vinesation; chicken leg on barley risotto with asparagus; Beef Wellington; and, triple chocolate mousse gateaux. It was a perfect way to end a perfect day out on the farm.
Don't you just love this picture of Ron and Sheila relaxing (for a bit!) in between also helping serve us our meal?
After the dinner on our way out we were pleasantly surprised to be each gifted a generous "goodie bag" filled with their popular chicken sausages including their newest, "Chicken Ginger Sunrise." I couldn't wait to cook it up and did so the following day. The meal is all local that includes market potatoes and my garden greens, chives, and herbs in a salad topped with my buttermilk dressing. (If you go to my Instagram account, you'll see the recipe!) While browsing, you'll see I've used all kinds of Sunworks products (eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, bones for broth, and pork.) You can be sure I will continue to create meals featuring their fine food. After our experience on the farm, I am more certain than ever we are getting top quality products because of their dedication to animal healthcare.
Thank you again, Ron, Sheila, Isaac, and other team members, for opening up your farm to us. We appreciate your willingness to share, and your industry-leading expertise. Our family will continue to support you. Here's to continued success! #farmtofork #eatalberta #supportlocal #organic #farming