If you know me, or follow me via social media (or on the blog), you can probably tell that I’m a pretty solid city slicker, so any time I get an opportunity to check out a farm to see where my food comes from, I’m down. Several bloggers (obviously including yours truly) were invited to visit Sunworks Farm on a beautiful Sunday to see how their certified organic farm operates and as well as to partake in a dinner catered by Quarter Section Food Co. using Sunworks products.
Sunworks Farm was started in 1997 by Ron and Sheila Hamilton and they have been raising certified organic animals (chickens, beef, turkey and pigs) since day 1! If you’re a regular at some of the local farmer’s markets (Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market, Southwest Edmonton Farmer’s Market, St. Albert Farmer’s Market in the Edmonton area), then you’ve probably seen and sampled some of Sunworks’ products! Before we started on our tour, Ron, Sheila and Isaac (owners of Sunworks) gave us a quick introduction to what they do and why they do it. It was very clear that their focus is on raising animals in a humane and organic way, which is why they are both certified organic (since 1997) and humane (since 2005). The certification process is certainly rigorous and involves regular audits to ensure that animals are being treated properly. Sunworks Farm has expanded their operations since their start, but one thing that really stood out to me was when Ron and Sheila indicated that they would stop growing their operations if the next step compromised their values. This particularly resonated for me because not every organization can say that, especially when trying to balance their core values with profitability, some times profitability wins over values, which can be a sad thing.
Our first stop of the day was to peek in at some of the young chickens that are not quite ready to be moved into the outdoor shelters. All the chicks come to Sunworks Farm within hours of hatching and their first taste of food and water will be at Sunworks Farm, as this will allow them to guarantee that the feed provided is all certified organic.
After scaring all the chicks with our cameras, we wandered over to the area where the Sunworks crew prepares all those organic eggs you buy at the local markets. Despite my lack of love for eating eggs, it was pretty impressive to see the vast quantity that Sunworks sells each week!
As we made our way through the fields, we could see some cattle grazing away! It was hard to grab a good photo as they were not super close, but to be honest, I don’t love having my dinner interrupted, so I suppose it was nice of us to not disturb their meal. :p
I am not too familiar with what time controlled grazing is, so it was helpful to have Ron walk us through the process. Essentially (any mistakes here would be mine), the cattle is allowed to graze in a certain area to ensure that the grass is kept low enough for the movable chicken shelters (more to come on that). This mimics the grazing process of animals in the wild (so to speak), where they would roam and graze until the grass was low and then move onto the next area with fresh grass. The human aspect here is that Sunworks determines when to move the cattle to the next area, rather than letting them decide. This method is also great as it prevents overgrazing, which can lead to erosion (it leaves the soil unprotected from water and wind) and help create topsoil (a slow process), which is of course quite important for growing. The cattle is grass fed for most of the year, although in the winter, they are fed organic hay.
The chickens (broilers and laying hens) and turkeys are kept in these movable shelters. Each shelter houses about 500 chickens or so and each day the shelters are moved a little bit so that the chickens have access to fresh grass. Of course, these guys are moved indoors once winter hits, so Sunworks does have chickens and eggs available all year round.
After seeing the chickens and turkeys (they live in similar shelters, but the turkey ones are slightly higher to accommodate their size), we moved on to the processing facility. I don’t know that everyone would be quite so willing to walk a tour through their processing facility, let alone with the detail that Ron provided us with. The Sunworks facility is relatively small and allows them to ensure that every animal is treated humanely (even at the end) and inspected. Sunworks processes about 2,500 chickens a week and strives to use as much of the animal as possible with some parts going into sausages and other parts being composted. Their sausages are also made with organic spices and contain approximately 95% meat and 5% spice. A great thing about these sausages are that they are stuffed into collagen casings rather than pork casings, which provides those who don’t eat pork with a sausage option.
Once everything was said and done, we moved into the Sunworks lunch room for dinner catered by Kevin Zellweger of Quarter Section Food Co. using proteins from Sunworks Farm. As you can see below, it was a beautiful meal and I think that Kevin did a fantastic job showcasing the wonderful products that Sunworks produces!
I do want to thank Sunworks Farm for inviting me and my pal Teresa (aka Thankfulfoodie) to visit the farm to learn more about what they do – it was an interesting experience and I think certainly provides greater perspective on where my food comes from and the things I would want to consider now when I am out shopping. If you are interested in learning more about Sunworks Farms and their practices, especially on how they raise their organic animals, I would recommend reading through their product page – they are quite transparent on how they do it, which I really appreciate.
I did also receive some packages of Sunworks’ sausage products and so far have made my way through the chicken jumbo dogs, which I liked, although my family was not as into the collagen casing. Tip of the day – Sunworks has those jumbo dogs on sale right now for $5 a package all summer long!
Disclosure: I was invited to Sunworks Farm for the tour and dinner and received samples of their products, however, I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions on the experience remain my own.