City Palate had the awesome opportunity to tour four farming operations in central Alberta as guests of the Stettler Board of Trade and the Canadian Badlands. It was clearly a case of a fish out of water (a cow out of pasture?) as I navigated the area known as the Heart of Alberta. But the hospitality was excellent, the farmers patient with my city slicker questions and the long-table dinner was beautifully prepared with fresh, local ingredients. Here are the Top 10 Things I Learned on a Farm Tour:

  1. There’s more than meets the eye here. When you’re blasting down the QEII with the Bon Jovi cranked (just me?), its easy to forget that there is a whole world beyond those bright and beautiful canola fields. There are bird sanctuaries, rail tours, honey farms, campgrounds, hiking trails and more. And it’s pretty. Really pretty.
  2. Alberta is known for its honey. With sites all over Alberta, Gredainus Honey Farm accounts for ¼ to 1/3 of the honey produced in Alberta. On a slightly grosser but equally educational note, bees vomit honey and sweat wax. So, there’s that.
  3. A beehive starts the spring with 5,000 bees. By the end of the summer, more than 80,000 bees are out collecting pollen and sweating wax. Bees: rabbits of the sky.
  4. Rhodiola rosea, also known as golden root, is endangered in parts of Europe due to indiscriminate harvesting. While it’s a super hardy plant that can survive anything winter throws at it, it’s extremely slow to grow and can take five years to mature to harvest. Much of Alberta’s rhodiola ends up in France for pharmaceutical products.
  5. Rhodiola boosts energy and eases anxiety. No wonder farmer Craig Parks didn’t seem too stressed about all of the weeds he has to pull by hand as an organic producer.
  6. Stettler is known as the Heart of Alberta as its main industries are oil and gas as well as agriculture – just like the heart of the province’s economy. Geographically speaking, however, Stettler is more like the stomach of Alberta. Coincidence? Maybe.
  7. One of Canada’s largest and most lauded dairies is Mars Dairy just outside of Stettler. With 300 holstein cows, the dairy produces 11,000 litres of milk per day! Holsteins are from Holland. So are proprietors Gert and Sonja Schrijver. Come to think of it, so is Ron Gredainus. What are the Dutch up to in the stomach of Alberta, exactly?
  8. Corn is an unmotivated plant. Kind of a pushover, really. Rancher Rick Kudras says that if a small corn plant comes in contact with another plant, even another corn plant, it just gives up on life and withers. This of course, begs the question, what is the most badass plant? If I had to guess, I’d say thistle. Thistles are real jerks.
  9. Lorna Lansard or Twilight Herbs and Garlic near Stettler says Albertans notoriously shy away from using fresh herbs because our five-second summers limit availability and our opportunity to experiment with them. And we’re intimidated by things we don’t understand. Instead of running to the shaker of Italian seasoning this summer, head to the farmer’s market and pick up some green gold. Lansard says the conversion is about 3:1 in recipes. So, if your recipe calls for a tablespoon of dried basil, use three tablespoons of chopped fresh. Mmmmm…..basil….
  10. Rumour has it that there’s a mythical pastry treat called a cream john hidden away in the unassuming Bloke’s Bakery in Stettler. It’s only open on weekdays, so we didn’t get to try it. The locals say it’s worth the 2.5-hour drive from Calgary to come back for one. Let’s face it, people fly to Paris for a good pastry, so beautiful road trip through Alberta’s rolling hills of the Canadian Badlands region is hardly a chore. Who’s up for a cream john run!?