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Foothills farms opening their gates to the public

Alberta Open Farm Days is Aug. 15-16.
Hartell Homestead
A Highland calf at Hartell Homestead, which is taking part in Alberta Open Farm Days Aug. 15-16. (Photo courtesy Nick Shipley)

Some local farms are gearing up for what they hope will be a busy weekend of tours and agricultural education.

Alberta Open Farm Days takes place Aug. 15-16 at various locations across the province, including four Foothills site: Hartell Homestead, Sydewynder Hops, Spirit Hills Winery and Eau Claire Distillery.

Nick Shipley, proprietor at Hartell Homestead, is excited to welcome visitors in his farm’s inaugural year. The farm features Highland cattle, free-range chickens, ducks and fresh veggies, and plans to open an on-site store next year.

“For Open Farm Days we’ll be talking about sustainability and how we run the cows, chickens, the garden, all working together to kind of make the farm work,” said Shipley.

He said they will also have a gate sale, offering up fresh produce and farm eggs to visitors over the weekend.

Participating in Open Farm Days allows the public to access the farm and see how it operates. Being the only location listed in the Foothills region with livestock is a bonus for visitors, he said.

Hartell Homestead is located at the corner of Highway 22 and Highway 543, beside the old Hartell store – hence the name of the operation.

Shipley didn’t fall into the business by accident.

“I’ve been in agricultural education for about 10 years doing lots of museums, working with children, teaching them about where their food came from, and it’s quite important to me,” he said. “When I found this place last December and was able to take it over it was very near and dear to my heart to make sure I could help bring the public a little closer to their food and help educate them to where it comes from and also showing them just that you can do it on a small scale and still make it work.”

Shipley isn’t the only new farm operation taking part in Open Farm Days this year.

Ty Hinton, owner of Sydewynder Hops, is offering the public tours of his farm at Gladys Ridge, on Highway 547. He’s in his third year of operating what he calls “a very new venture.”

“We grow hops strictly for the local craft beer scene,” said Hinton.

It’s an industry that’s grown rapidly in Alberta in recent years, he said, with about seven breweries in the province in 2013 and now well over 100.

Likewise, hops farms are a recent addition to the Alberta landscape because they go hand-in-hand with the surge in breweries.

“Hops are a huge part of their business and it’s something they’ve never been able to get locally before, something completely different for them,” said Hinton.

He started out by growing the flowers, primarily used as a bittering, flavouring and stability agent in beer, in his backyard – a hobby that led him to dream bigger and open farm dedicated to their production, even without prior farm experience.

Being part of Alberta Open Farm Days will allow Sydewynder to show off what they’ve been growing the past three years while raising awareness in the province that this crop can do well here and support breweries on a local level.

“We want to get the word out this is a crop that can grow very well in our climate and does very well, and we have a market for it,” said Hinton. “It’s actually prime here – it’s a great area for this to grow, but we’ve just never had the need for it prior to the last few years.”

Over the weekend, Sydewynder will be open for tours and information sessions, and Common Crown Brewing Co., out of Calgary, will be on-hand to provide free craft beer samples.

Spirit Hills is an avid participant in Alberta Open Farm Days, providing tours and tastings of its flower wines and opening up trails on its property to the public.

“We will also have homestead tours for people that basically will show them the garden and the chickens and how we basically live off these lands,” said owner Hugo Bonjean.

He has been on the list of farms open to the public for the last several years and said it’s a “fantastic initiative.”

“It brings farms in contact with people in the city,” said Bonjean. “I think it’s a very good thing. People see how their food is grown and get to know the producers that produce their food.”

For more information on Alberta Open Farm Days, including a full list of participating locations, times, and registration details visit www.albertafarmdays.ca.

Krista Conrad, OkotoksToday.ca

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Krista Conrad

About the Author: Krista Conrad

Krista Conrad is the news reporter for Okotokstoday.ca and the Western Wheel newspaper covering Okotoks and Foothills County. For story tips contact kconrad@okotoks.greatwest.ca
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