This summer I was invited to visit the Sunworks Organic Farm located about an hour south east of Edmonton (near Armena, Alberta) for a farm tour and dinner. For farmers market frequenters, the Sunworks name should be familiar to you.
Sunworks certified organic chicken, beef, eggs, bison, pork and lamb products can be found at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market and South West Edmonton Farmers Market in Edmonton, the St. Albert Farmers’ Market and the Market on Macleod in Calgary.
Ron and Sheila Hamilton have been raising certified organic animals on the Sunworks Farm since 1997. Isaac has been a partner with them for the last 10 years. The trio are extremely passionate about organic, humane and sustainable farming and what those practices mean for our environment and our health.
They wanted to organize this farm tour to because transparency in agriculture is important to them and giving people the opportunity to visit their farm is a way to show that transparency.
“We have a multitude of certificates and many inspections in a year but the customers that come to our farm are our ultimate inspectors. Trust is earned.” – Ron
It’s really easy to forget ingredients in food we eat have been raised by a farmer. Ron and his team wanted to show consumers how they raise their animals so we know to make the choice to support farmers who raise clean, ethical meat products – like the ones produced at Sunworks.
On this particular Sunday (just a gorgeous day!) there was a group of about 20 of us who followed and listened along as Ron, Sheila and Isaac showed us the different areas and animals of their 400-hectare farm.
Annually, Sunworks humanely raises 130,000 chickens, 3,000 turkeys, a few hundred pigs, and 150 cows.
One of our first stops on our tour was at their egg washing and grading station. Sunworks produces about 2,100 dozen eggs per week (not 2,100 eggs per week – 2,100 DOZEN eggs per week! That works out to about a million eggs per YEAR!)
It’s quite an operation.
That Sunworks is a registered egg grading station means eggs are received, washed, candled, weighed and packed in their inspected, sanitary environment that meets federal regulations.
Normally eggs would travel from farm to an egg grading station for this inspection, but the cool thing is that Sunworks eggs not only come from the hens on their farm, but are then also processed right there on the farm too. It also means they can sell their eggs right into restaurants and grocery stores.
I’ve learned that ‘candling’ is a process where the eggs are put through a bright light where a bunch of things about the egg can then be inspected including factors like condition of shell (cracks? leaking?) and yolk placement, which would then determine whether they pass Canada’s grading standards.
That all happens at Sunworks too.
Next on our tour, Ron talked to us about a grazing area of the farm where they’re attempting to nurture and grow top soil. Topsoil has a ton of nutrients and organic matter, which makes it ideal for growing plants. Sunworks controls how their cattle graze, which helps grow the topsoil.
Apparently, it takes between 50 and 100 years to grow just an inch of top soil if you work at it diligently, according to Ron. One of the goals of their farm is to make the land better than how they found it. They’ve been it for about 20 years now and say it’s been quite an adventure to see how the land has come alive with their efforts.
The chicken/hen part of our tour was really interesting to me because I wasn’t sure what a humane/organic space for chicken really looked like. To be certified humane/organic, Sunworks need to ensure a certain amount of square footage per hen in their shelter. Each animal needs its own space.
What really blew me away was learning that the shelter structures that the birds spend their days in are actually lifted and moved each and every day as they finish eating the grass within the previous day’s location. Serious effort!
“We want everyone to see that this is real.”
That’s what Ron said he was touring us through the hen and chicken shelters.
You just don’t think about all the work that goes into getting that end product into grocery stores or markets and ultimately in your kitchen and your belly at the end of the day. I certainly don’t think about it enough, so seeing these animals and meeting the people who are trying to feed us (healthily, while taking care of our land too) is such a great experience and important reminder.
You can’t really do a farm tour without a stop in their processing plant.
Sunworks Organic Farm animals lives end by hand, and as humanely as possible before going through this system.
They process about 2,500 birds a day (every Tuesday). There are 19 people who work in two rooms and then the rest of the day is spent cutting, packaging, making orders and getting shipments ready. Two trucks are loaded up and sent to Calgary and Edmonton to stock up (for the farmers markets and shops).
It’s important to note that a government inspector is on site throughout the kill, who looks at each and every bird during this process.
Ron, Sheila and Isaac hope their foodie farm tour helps spread the word about how ethical/humane farms are run, and that animals can be raised in green grass and fresh air, without compromising values. Understanding this, and remembering all the work that goes into the ingredients you’re picking up at the store or the market, makes the choice to support local that much more meaningful.
There’s probably loads of other information about the farm I haven’t included in this post, but check out a few other posts about the tour from The Globe Diary, Sugar Loves Spices and Sprout Natural Nutrition.
After our tour wrapped up, we were treated to a fantastic dinner featuring Sunworks products, prepared by Chef Kevin and Leanne Zellweger of The Quarter Section Food Co.
Our five-course meal featured a delicious charcuterie platter of Sunworks chicken salami, no preservatives bacon, pepperoni, roast beef, Montreal smoked meat, kielbasa and various sausages (which I went back for seconds… and thirds… and fourths… of). This was presented with fresh baked bread and Sylvan Star cheese (another local Alberta producer!)
Next we had a salad using local oil and vinegars from Vinesation (a family-owned shop in Camrose). Our third course was a juicy chicken leg confit over an asparagus and mushroom risotto, followed by a delicious, gluten-free beef wellington.
The table also cheered with Alberta beer throughout the farm dinner – lovely how almost everything we ate and drank that night was local.
The final course of our farm dinner was a triple chocolate mousse gataeux with macaron, which my friend Vanessa and I only got to have a bite of because we had to duck out early. It was one seriously tasty bite though and good news – Kevin and Leanne are opening up a pastry shop in Leduc, so everyone can soon have easy access to their delectable desserts.
I had a wonderful tour and dinner at Sunworks Farm. We even went home with some of their delicious sausage! I grilled them up the next day for a BBQ dinner, it was so well-seasoned and packed with flavour, and had that different, (better) ‘organic’ quality and texture to it.
I’m always excited to meet people who are excited about what they do. Ron, Sheila and Isaac are those people. Talk about understanding where your food comes from, and being passionate about food – these guys are it.
It makes picking up their food at the market that much more meaningful, when you see all the work they put into raising their animals – treating them kindly, ethically, humanely . You can’t help but get behind their simple value of growing good, healthy food.
“We continue to learn and do everything we can to better the environment, the health of our animals and the health of our customers and family.”
Thanks to Ron, Sheila and Isaac for inviting us to their farm and sharing their story so passionately with us! I had so much fun but more importantly – learned a lot and am reminded of the importance of supporting our local farmers.
Alberta Open Farm Days
If you’re looking to tour and experience a farm, you’ll have lots to choose from at the 2017 Alberta Open Farm Days taking place August 19 and 20, 2017. Last year I checked out a couple of farm day activities including horseback riding at the Flying Cross Ranch!
— Linda Hoang ? (@lindork) August 20, 2016
For 2017’s Open Farm Days, I’ll be doing the Grand Taste Tour out at Lacombe to tour the Rock Ridge Dairy Farm, visit Blindman Brewing, and check out a greenhouse tour before dinner at Doef’s Greenhouses with 124 Grand Market and Taste Alberta. Hope you join me at that one, or check out one of the other great farms in our province!
It doesn’t look like Sunworks will be participating in Open Farm Days but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about other farm operations across Alberta! Enjoy, and when you’re down at the market next – be sure to let the Sunworks team know you’ve read more about their incredible operation and you totally appreciate them.
Disclaimer: I will always provide my 100% honest opinion on this blog. I was invited to tour Sunworks Organic Farm and participate in the farm dinner as a guest. This does impact opinions stated in this post.