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Greens, Eggs and Ham Family Farm; It Takes a Village

This particular story that was shared with me could probably fill a book, so I will need to condense it down into a few pages and still make sure you get the whole picture.

Andreas and Mary Ellen are a wonderful pair of human beings that were living like any of the rest of us.  Andreas had a job teaching and Mary Ellen was working as an Ultrasonographer.  Andreas had a dream…  He wanted to farm.

The original farm started in 1999 located just south of Edmonton.  Andreas and Mary Ellen were both still working and then coming home and working some more.  They had 10 acres of land with a barn and a house.  The whole story started out with some hogs.

Andreas found himself out of work one day and decided that he would try this whole farming experiment full time.  He started a non-conventional farm that specialized in ducks and heritage vegetables.

Mary Ellen ended up having to end her long career in health care due to a repetitive stress injury.  While she couldn’t help Andreas with the heavy lifting, she was able to help keep things organized, develop recipes and relationships with their customers at the farmer’s markets that they sold at.  When I say “develop relationships”, I mean that this lady is one of the most caring and giving people that you will ever meet.  If there is a way that she can help you out with a holistic solution to a health problem, she will make it happen.

Duck sausages and duck breast ham were just a couple of things that they were able to develop, hence the name, “Greens, Eggs and Ham” for the business.  Recipe development included lactose free and gluten free sausages for the customers that could not tolerate those ingredients.  This led to some research and knowledge of holistic and healing foods both for themselves and their customers.

Calgary and Edmonton Farmer’s Markets got people’s attention.  Calgary Coops were looking for local producers and contacted Greens, Eggs and Ham to provide as much as possible to the stores.  The little farm was growing!  It got to the point where Andreas and Mary Ellen were getting run off of their feet and had little time to sleep and enjoy life.  Too much travel, not enough farming.  It was time to get some funding to get some equipment and some help to be more efficient and grow.

Here is the kick in the teeth;  with the laws around agriculture in Alberta, the first 10 acres of a farm are considered to be the “homestead” and are protected.  In laymen’s terms, it basically means that if the bank gave you a loan on that first 10 acres, they would not be able to touch that land or any of the buildings on it to get their money back if things did not work out.

Andreas and Mary Ellen had been looking into a concept called “Slow Money“.

Interview by CBC in 2011

“The Grueneberg’s had signed the Slow Money Principles in 2009 and were excited to attend a lecture given by Woody Tasch in March of 2011 in Calgary and decided that if Slow Money was going to come to Alberta they had to make it happen. They worked over the spring and summer of that year to form a group of committed individuals with skills to offer, launched a Facebook group and later a website.  They sought the help of securities and investment experts and finalized an investment vehicle that could deliver investors to qualifying farms.”

Slow Money is all about sustainability.  If we invest all of the money that we would spend on food locally, that helps support the local economy, but it is more than that.  If we take all of that money and spend it on a single farm, it helps that farm have a steady income.  That steady income helps support the growth of that farm and the products that they produce.  That support helps the farm maintain the health of the animals and the soil. Healthier soil and healthier animals means better food. Sustainability in this Alberta climate also means being able to produce all year.  This means heated greenhouses and barns.  All of the money invested in the farm goes back to producing more food and providing the people working on the farm with a decent living.

A sustainable food system is a collaborative network that integrates several components in order to enhance a community’s environmental, economic and social well-being. It is built on principles that further the ecological, social and economic values of a community and region. Characteristics of a sustainable food system are outline below (based on Pothukuchi and Jufman, 1999):

  1. is secure, and therefore reliable and resilient to change (including climate change, rising energy prices,etc)        and accessible and affordable to all members of society:

  2. is energy efficient’

  3. is an economic generator for farmers, whole communities and regions’

  4. is healthy and safe;

  5. is environmentally beneficial or benign’

  6. uses creative water reclamation and conservation strategies for agricultural irrigation;

  7. balances food imports with local capacity’

  8. adopts regionally-appropriate agricultural practices and crop choices’

  9. works towards organic farming;

  10. contributes to both community and ecological health;

  11. builds soil quality and farmland through the recycling of organic waste;

  12. supports multiple forms of urban as well as rural food production’

  13. ensures that food processing facilities are available to farmers and processors;

  14. is celebrated through community events, markets, restaurants,etc;

  15. preserves biodiversity inagro-ecosystems as well as in the crop selection;

  16. has a strong educational focus to create awareness of food and agricultural issues, and

  17. is fairly traded by providing a fair wage to producers and processors locally and abroad.

So when you invest in a single farm, you invest in the greater good.  When you eat out, support a restaurant that buys from that local farmer.  No matter where you eat then, you are still investing in your community.

Fast forward to spring of 2016 and now we come to the “Horror Story” portion of my article.

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Andreas has started having health issues and is not able to function on a day to day basis.  This is now his livelihood so he has to think about how he is going to survive and make things work.   They are approached by an investor.  The investor purchases 80 acres of land adjacent to the 10 acres that they already farm.  This was meant to be a partnership where Andreas and Mary Ellen are 2 of 3 on the Board of Directors.

Andreas had to go in for open heart surgery to repair an aneurysm.   In their own words:

“This spring their investor took over their business while Andreas was recovering from open heart surgery, using their staff and neighbors to execute. The investor was to rent the farm with an agreement to purchase it. The agreement was broken suddenly leaving the farm ransacked and tens of thousands of dollars of equipment and anything not nailed down removed. Andreas and Mary Ellen, who built a unique farm business from scratch, are in threat of losing everything, having no income at this time. They are living in an apartment in Calgary and need to move back to the farm, clean up the mess,  sell the farm and secure jobs. Please help them to get through this trying time before everything is lost.”

So these people that have given everything to this farm are finding themselves struggling to live day to day.  Andreas should still be spending time taking it easy and recovering, but now he is having to go back to work the farm so that his family doesn’t lose everything.

They have managed to find a bit of seed that wasn’t destroyed and start some meager crops of greens and veggies on the land that is overgrown with weeds.  There is no equipment left.  Everything is done manually.  The greenhouse crop is destroyed and will need to be completely restarted again.  There is a hole in the gas line going to the greenhouse that will need to be repaired before there will be heat.  Several of the walk in refrigeration and freezer units are no longer functioning.  The flocks of poultry no longer exist.  They have a delivery truck but don’t have legal access to use it because technically they no longer own it.  It is a bad situation for these folks.

They have enough greens and veggies to bring to the South Common Market each Saturday and Sunday.  It is helping them barely stay afloat.  They have a couple of restaurants that are buying their produce, but they could use at least 6.

Andreas’ has a current health situation where he has a hernia that needs to be operated on.  He cannot lift more than 20 pounds.  This is an added stress for them as this is currently a one-man operation.

This is what the Muse is all about; supporting local businesses, getting the word out.   I learned a lot about sustainability while interviewing and researching for this article.

So how can the Muse community help?

  1. If you are a consumer like me, go and like the Facebook page, follow them on Instagram – find out where they are selling their produce.

  2. Get your produce from them at South Common Market Edmonton on Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.

  3. They sell Heritage Mixed Greens which are delicious!  Give them a wash, put them in a salad spinner to dry, throw some raspberries on top of them, add some raspberry apple cider vinegar and some oil – so good!  And this is coming from a certified meatatarian!

  4. They also sell other delicious greens and veggies.  Get creative for dinner and add some healthy, organic veggies to your diet!

  5. If you are a Refrigeration Technician, please consider donating your time to helping them get the walk in freezers working again.

  6. If you are a Pipefitter/Plumber, please consider donating your time to help repair the gasline going to the greenhouse.

  7. When you eat out, support the restaurants that serve their produce:

  8. High Level Diner

  9. If you own a restaurant, get your greens from Greens, Eggs and Ham!

  10. Come out to the Harvest Bee Potluck date TBA; find it on FACEBOOK

  11. Come out to the Greenhouse Cleanup Project Potluck

  12. Contribute or share the Go Fund Me page

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