Fresh From Farm and Forest: Media Visits Producers

May 16, 2006

Organic food production of today and long ago was the focus of a familiarization tour which visited Elk Point, Stony Lake and Lac Sante areas last week. 

Food and travel writers from as far away as Saskatoon, SK, and Calgary, AB, were joined by those involved in tourism on a provincial and regional basis for the tour, hosted by Fort George and Buckingham House Provincial Historic Site, JVM Farm [...and] Orchard Palace/En Santé Winery. 

..."The food of the fur trade was all organic," program coordinator Ross Stromberg said as he welcomed the tour to the [Fort George] interpretive center...."The buffalo was their Wal-Mart and their Costco. No part of it was wasted"....while a bag like those used to hold pemmican was their "1790's Ziploc"....[The] fur trade diet of eight to 10 pounds of bison per day resulted in "a few nutritional diseases but few complaints from the men." Berries and spruce needles were used to supplement the diet of "bison, bison or bison,"...and the saskatoon was "one of the main sources of sweet things." 


After a lunch featuring organic chicken and bison...everyone climbed back on the bus and headed west [to] Walter and Cecilia DeSilva's farm [which] is nestled in the rolling hills south of Stony Lake, and is home to certified organic rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, and native saskatoons, which provide the ingredients for homemade jellies, jams and fruit pies....Warm-from-the-oven pie baked by Cecilia and her partner in "Two Grannies Pies," Elizabeth Chrapko, from 100% organic ingredients awaited the visitors.... [The pies are] sold at trade shows, the Ukrainian Village and at the farm [and at the next stop, the En Santé Winery].

 The final stop of the day was at Victor and Elizabeth Chrapko's organic orchard and cottage winery near Lac Santé, established on a site that evolved from a 1927 homestead to a thriving livestock and grain operation where low-impact, environmentally aware farming practices have always been in use.


In 1993, the same year the Chrapkos were officially honoured as one of Alberta's top farm families, they planted the first apple trees in an orchard which now contains 65 varieties of apples, 13 other fruits [with 8 more on the way, so soon to be a total of 21 fruits] and a total of approximately 1,500 fruit trees. The orchard [now known as Orchard Palace] was certified organic in 1999.


 "Going organic is easier than you might think," Victor said. "You test the soil and find out what it needs. A healthy soil will feed the plants." He pointed out the grass and wild growth between his rows of orchard trees and said it was left there to use up excess nitrogen [and retain both moisture and a healthy eco-system of complementary insects, all of which ensure optimal growth and which encourages the apple trees to "shut down" at the proper time in advance of winter.] 


Touring the orchard, Victor pointed out his favorite apple varieties, including Prairie Sun and Goodland, a row of cherry seedlings grown from seeds, stands of saskatoon berries and sea buckthorn bushes, and one of his latest additions, a row of the increasingly popular honeyberry bushes. 


Apples are still his main crop, Victor said. "It looks like 18-10-32, Prairie Sun and another numbered variety will take the abuse [delivered by our climate and growing season.]" 


The Chrapkos started experimenting with wine-making in 1997, and nine years later, their hobby has evolved into Alberta's first and only organic-fruit, provincially licensed cottage winery, En Santé Winery. They offer six varieties of fruit wines, made from apples, rhubarb, raspberries, wild cherries, saskatoons and also different blends of the above, as well as a wine made from honey from their own hives. 


The tour ended with an opportunity to view En Santé's small but impressive production area and to sample the finished products. It was a fitting end to a daylong journey through the world of northeast Alberta's Lakeland tourist district. 

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