Forget the notion of a traditional 9-5. For most farmers and agriculture producers in Alberta, work is life. From early mornings tending to crops to late nights staring at spreadsheets to finally prepping for the next day and begin it all over again. The weekends don’t let up either; oftentimes farms, ranches and greenhouses offer up tours or open their doors to travellers and tourists. This keeps farmers and producers busy in the warmer months and families get the pick of the crop and in some cases, can directly purchase from farmers themselves. Everyone loves getting a peek behind the curtain – especially if they can take a little piece of it home with them!
Ranch It Up
These hot stops offer more than what you’d expect at a farm. Some places take the tourism angle and embrace it wholeheartedly, adding on retail operations or activities to keep families busy during their visit. Some places use it to show off just how niche they can get. Take Rancho Relaxo in Mountain View, for instance. It’s a resort that combines the best of permaculture – that is the art of agriculture and self-sustainable practices like renewable energy, organic food production, water harvest, off-grid log cabins and more – with scenic mountain views. How many places have you stayed at that had their own compost heaps?
The idea for a permaculture resort came about after Julilynn and Jeff Gillies, both avid travellers, returned from a long trip and thought about what they could do to bring people over to spend time on their land. After all, they had five acres of land. They had the Rocky Mountains and plenty of scenery to chew on.
“We have the best landscapes [in Central Alberta], especially where we are cause we’re on the edge of the foothills. You can get a little bit of everything…a little bit of mountains, cows, horses, prairie, just enough trees.” Julilynn says.
The two then discovered the world of permaculture and became fast obsessed, incorporating as much of it as they could into their daily lives; rainwater harvesting, food production, composting and more. Then they realized showing others just how to walk the permaculture walk was the key to bring in guests. Since then, Rancho Relaxo has been on a quest to quietly perfect their offerings while remaining compelling for fans of both sustainability and the Rockies.
One of the challenges of creating an agri-tourism related business is attracting the right people and making sure they’re enjoying themselves. With the Gillies being particular about what they want with Rancho Relaxo, the hope is people aren’t shocked by what they find.
“Someone who comes for the weekend might choose to hang with us, possibly do a tour. We would take them around different things we have to do in our immediate area if they’re staying for a longer period of time.” Julilynn says. “Ideally, the people we would be attracting would be interested in permaculture-related things, renewable energy, food production, but want to learn while they’re living there.”
Taking A Bite Of Travel Home With You
Out in Red Deer County, there are more thrilling examples of agri-tourism waiting to be explored. Places such as The Farm With The Good Food combines the thrill of finding great produce with vintage antiques. That’s no laughing matter either; HolmeHus Antiques, the farm’s 1600 square foot showroom, is a cornucopia of Scandinavian and other European treasures. Afterwards, head over to the farm for some free-range excellence. We’re talking eggs, chicken, beef and pork, staples for any fridge. During the warmer months, you can tour the gardens and let the kids gawk at the birds and animals while you put together a picnic fit for a family.
If you’re looking for the ultimate farm food adventure, there’s Innisfail Growers. It’s a collective of farms banded together for the common good of providing the freshest of produce to Central Alberta and beyond. Comprised of Edgar Farms, Beck Farms, Upper Green and The Jungle Farm, and Hillside Greenhouses. Innisfail Growers is a lot like the Avengers – stronger when combined and all the better for it, according to Elna Edgar of Edgar Farms.
“We all specialize in a few things so we can do a really good job at a few things, have a few specialized pieces of equipment and whatnot, rather than if we were trying to do a little bit of everything.” she says.
Their collective strength means each farm has the freedom to follow their produce-related desire. Whether it be asparagus at Edgar Farms, lettuce at the Jungle Farm or greenhouse crops at the aptly-named Hillside Greenhouses, there’s a little something for everyone. It also means they can’t drop the ball when it comes to their wares at markets or tours.
“We’re held accountable for our product as well. If we have a bad product, it’s not going to sell as well, the customer is not gonna come back and buy it next week.” Elna says. “So it’s on us to grow amazing stuff.”
So with that said, round up the troops and head out to Central Alberta while the warm weather persists! Let us know what adventures you get up to!
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