Visitors from near and far flock to the Canadian Rockies for its mountains and the plethora of outdoor activities that spring from them. But stop short of the vacation towns, in Cochrane, and you’ll find a whole different culture and vista.
Via Taste of the South, an event produced by the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies (AAAS), Alberta Open Farm Days gives you a glimpse into today’s farms, ranches and other food producing operations within rural communities in the province. It’s not just about taking in information, but rather, the spirit of the West and the hospitality that you might assume is long gone.
Our day began at the picturesque LJ Ranch, where the cows, horses, farmhouse and the lush panorama are exactly what you would expect, but the information you get on its ranching practices exceeds all expectations.
Greeted by owner Lindsay Eklund and then later joined by his wife Joy and his son Travis, we were shown and explained the various aspects of the ranch’s operation, from the number of cows it has, their feed and finishing practices, to the tack room and the barn where horses are kept.
After a long walk around the property, from the hub of the farmhouse to the hills overlooking the bulls, we were graciously invited back to the house where Joy and Lindsay served us lemonade and answered any additions we may have about their life on the ranch and their business.
What better way to continue on with the immersion into the Western culture than spending time at a fair full of rides, animals and local arts?
We stopped at the Cochrane Fair by the Cochrane & District Agricultural Society for some more fun in the sun. You could grab a tasty on-the-go meal from the food trucks, pet and play with baby goats and miniature horses, or spend an afternoon just on midway rides and games. And did we mention there was a karaoke competition? For the cowboys and cowgirls, there were chuckwagon races and roping competitions in the arena.
When the heat got too hot, we ducked into the marketplace that showcased everything from a rabbit agility contest (yes, rabbits, displaying their agility with an obstacle course) to local arts and jewellery. We also took a stroll through the bench exhibition, which showed paintings, crops, textiles and many facets of home life and customs in the community.
What is the best way to wrap up a gorgeous day outside? An al fresco dinner with a side of the most breathtaking view, of course.
After a short wagon ride, we arrive at the top of the hill near the fair, where a long table with white tablecloth and flowers were set under a tent for our dinner, prepared by the chefs J.P. Gerritsen and Ryan Roque from the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen.
The meal consisted of local meats and produce, and furthered our day’s cultural experience. We were joined by Ilse and Hugo Bonjean of Spirit Hills honey winery for a tasting and chat about their bees and honey wines before diving into the first course, the beet and carrot composition with Fairwinds Farm goat cheese. Next up, we had a sweet and zesty roasted corn veloute. For the main, a perfectly pink sous vide Alberta beef accompanied by Poplar Bluff potatoes pave. To top off the meal, we were served a Chinook honey and Saskatoon berry tart.
Where else could you have gotten this kind of meal at an exclusive location like that? Clearly, Alberta Open Farm Days so much more than superficial farm visits. It’s about seeing, touching and tasting Alberta.