Sunworks Farm Tour. Certified Organic. Getting to know the people behind the farm, and the passion they have to drive their dream to fruition.
Song of the day: "Coming Home" by City and Color.
Sunworks Farm Certified Organic, a day in the life of three main owners, wanting to make a difference in the farming industries using incredible practices to produce high-quality product, that is taken from beginning to end in the most humane and loving way possible. Sheila, Isaac, and of course the frontman Ron, are dedicated to making sure their chickens, hens, turkeys, cattle, and pigs have a great life, with amazing fields to graze on, loving care, and innovative ways of housing the birds to ensure their safety and also to give them fresh grass to graze on everyday. This Sunworks Farm is definitely in my eyes a labor of love! I first met Ron at The Old Strathcona Farmers market. I was intrigued by his passion. He spoke of these happy chickens as he grilled up some of these wonderfully aromatic chicken sausages, of course I had to try one and it was delicious. Lineups of people always waiting to try Ron's wares. I was so curious to find out more about these happy free running chickens. I didn't know then, but a tour of the farm was in the works and Nicoletta and I would be a part of that tour.
These days seeing organic has become the norm. The abundance of farmers markets and organic stores gives us the consumer lots of choices, and the opportunity to really taste the difference from run of the mill products, to certified organic products. I can speak for myself that I truly taste the difference and feel the difference between the two. One of many things that I buy organic is milk, I cannot go back to regular milk anymore, and will travel the distance to get the organic milk I so enjoy. I find the taste incredibly fresh and rich in a good way, along with the aroma that is always fresh even days after. We have switched in so many ways from butter, to flours, creams, yogurt, produce, and I have to tell you we are really enjoying the evolution and rise of organic foods, and even more the experience of strolling through the farmers markets witnessing owners, farmers, gardeners and inventors with that spark in their eyes excited to reveal their product to us!
Sunworks Farm, Certified Organic. A day in the life of a passionate farm.
It's Sunday afternoon and we have been invited to a Sunworks Farm for a tour, then later a dinner hosted by Chef Kevin Zellweger, from Quarter Section food co. I love that smell in the air as you come out of your vehicle. The smell of grass and grains, and of farm life. The fields at Sunworks are beautiful golden and green. On this particular day a bit of wind, and Nicoletta wasted no time capturing that dance of the wind and earth dancing together in a wonderful waltz called life.
Ron leads the show giving us a bit about who owns the farm and what they started with. Shiela, Ron, and Isaac, are the primary owners of the farm, they purchased this farm years ago, and Ron stressed that is was at the point of deterioration. Slowly they demolished old barns and even the farm house, and passionately begin to build their dream. To date, it is incredible to see what they have done from the chick barn which has a lot of windows and air flow, plus a dedication to clean shavings and clean buildings, to the state of the art processing plant.
This is one of the chicks that is definately not shy and poses for pictures as if the star of the show. You can see that it is just starting to get feathers, and in a week or so, these chicks will be transfered to the grazing pens where they are free to range and graze on good cultivated grass. The chick barns are cleaned and washed ready for the next generation of chicks to come. I have to say this one thing, that Sunworks Farm follows the 'waste not want not' way. The old shavings from the chick barns are sold as compost and natural fertilizer.
Ron expains to us the process of egg collection and the incredible amounts of eggs they pick, wash, and package. A staggering 2,100 eggs a week that usually sell out by the week's end. Isaac is behind many of the operations and Ron would fequently ask him for some of the farms facts. Isaac is originally from Mexico, more specific Puerto Vallarta. I asked him as we walked along one of the paths if he liked it here in Canada with the incredibly cold winters, and he smiled wide and said he liked it very much.
The egg wash area was very clean, and housed a 1970's egg washer machine, that Isaac said was becoming difficult to find parts for, but managed to find a place in the U.S. that has parts, and so like they say if it works and does the job, why not use it, and not waste it. The amazing thing is that the eggs are still collected by hand and that each egg is inspected. One thing I realized is that the farm is inspected frequently and Sheila, Ron, and Isaac along with the workers at Sunworks, work very hard to keep things running smooth and well maintained to keep their good standing with the BCSPCA certified by their government inspection agency since 2005. It is not an easy thing to be rated certified organic. It takes diligence and hard work, along with not ever wavering or letting things slide in the standards. If you want to know a good egg, just crack it, and if that yolk is a deep orange golden color, that's a happy hen egg and will taste fabulous.
Every weekend we head to the market to get eggs from Ron, Shiela, and Isaac. I will have to let you know, go early because they sell out fast, hang around a bit and Ron will serve you some good sausages, and a great happy chicken story. One of my favorites, Rosemary Garlic Chicken sausage. Get those on a grill, heat not so high, and slowly you will see these babies caramelize and that aroma of the garlic and rosemary gracing the backyard. Surely will peak the interest of any walker by. As I am writing this post I am enjoying a breakfast sandwich featuring Sunworks eggs, honey chicken breakfast sausages, some sourdough bread from the downtown market, a nice sriracha ailoli and some fresh salad greens from my parent's and our garden. Want to really immerse myself into the experience.
Look at all these wonderful eggs. Before we hit the wash station we saw the coolers that keep the eggs before transport. There was an echo, and just a few dozen left in there. A good sign, end of the week and not very many eggs left, a great accomplishment Sunworks! Like they say, if it's good, they will come!
The sun is shining and the tour continues. Thanks to the wind for a bit of a breeze to keep the heat at a very desirable temperature. We are off to the chicken shelters. Amazing to see these large shelters all in a row in a display of organization and poise. I love when we are driving in the country and you see these farms, almost ornate, well taken care of and systematic looks very professional. I am biased because I love organization, I function best when things are in their place and there is a rhyme and reason for where they are. In my other job, I take care of some facilities and order is a must for me. It is not a neurotic thing but just feels like a place is cared for and a sense of professionality. This is what Sunworks Farm epitomizes to me.
Ron is a great tour guide, he is so passionate and a great story teller. He educates us in the natural cycles of the prairie land and the correct ways to care for it, and time to let it cycle again, left alone to do its thing. I love the interaction between Sheila, Ron, and Isaac as they share trade secrets and information of different aspects of the farm.
Happy chickens are not only the prize possession of Sunworks Farm, there are cattle of diverse breeds and the loving treatment of these animals is still top notch. The land is rich and the soil after much hard labor and patience on Sunworks part, delivers great nutrients and sustenance throughout the year, and in the winter harvested and bailed so the animals still feed on the land. Ron and Sheila tell us the story of when they first obtained the farm and the soil would not absorb any water. Huge rainfall would produce large amounts of water at the surface, a very undesirable condition to harvest rich crops. Through diligence and knowledge of old traditional prairie land care, they have managed to create more top soil than can be imaginable, thanks to the animals and their hard work too. The cattle are quite curious and one, in particular, keeps watching us with a great curiosity. This is a good sign. If an animal is curious and wants to come close that means to me they are not afraid of us and reassuring us that they love people which can be a bonus for us.
I am always grateful for these experiences of learning and discovery. It is nice to know where your food comes from and how the animals are treated and the passion behind the people inventing it. I can say from my perspective that if an animal is not treated well and has not been given the proper environment to grow in, it will be reflected in the flavor of the food. I am a firm believer of what you put in is what you get out. If you ever had a chance to see some movies, try "Like Water for Chocolate" or even "The scent of Green Papaya". You will see why I am so passionate about this theory. These two movies are great for the foodies to see, I warn you, you may get hungry, and get ready for great food preparation.
Here is a picture of the chicken sheds. These sheds are moved every day to ensure that the chickens are eating fresh grass and also clean soil to move around in. I look into the shed and it is like a chicken spa. They are so relaxed and calm, unusual for me as I have seen places for when you get close, the chickens are running frantic. The sheds are pulled forward by tractors, but the part I love the best is that owner, and animals, are equal partners in the success of the products. The cattle come in first and graze the top of the grass. The chickens, hens, and turkeys come in next to graze the next level. Then the land is left to recycle and replenish thanks to the manure and environmental conditions. The cows also make it easier for the hands to move these shelters. If the grass is too long it would be very difficult to move the sheds across. The cows cut it at just the right level and work becomes a partnership and easier. Wow, another great positive energy to be put into this farm.
These turkeys were quite funny, singing to us as we moved to see them. We moved to the left and they followed. We moved to the right and so did they. Not an ounce of timidness, just sheer joy and happiness.
The hens were the same, all gathering right in front of us, it was like a rock concert. Hens were falling over one another to come the front to be seen and acknowledged. I spoke with Sheila a bit and she shared some of the hen house rules. I saw this one hen was out of the shelter and looked a little battered and bruised, and Shiela said, that if the hen does not do her share in the laying of eggs, they let her know quite quickly by pecking at her. Some old traditions still resonate in the cell memory of these hens I believe, but Sheila, Ron, Isaac or one of the farm hand comes to the rescue to separate the hen from the bunch to recover and get her eggs all in one basket, let's say. It astonishes me, the social status in the hen house. I guess we can call it natural science.
We are off to the processing plant which was their latest addition to the farm. Sunworks more specifically Ron and Sheila realized that they didn't have full control of their process. The mantra was humane and loving, but the processing part was done off farm, where they soon realized it did not fit their beliefs or practices. Passion comes into play again and a processing plant is built so that they could oversee things, making sure the chickens are treated lovingly for the end of life process. It is still hard for me to feel that, as I am a bit sensitive, but my inner voice takes me back to traditions that celebrated in the animals that provided for them, and that not one part was wasted. Sunworks has done just that. Right down to the bones, which are sold to companies making broth and the rest ground to make compost.
This facility is so clean and well cared for, thanks to the facility manager Carlos. I know how much work it takes to keep a facility, but add in the food handling aspect, and it is a job that demands great attention and vigilance. I also heard that Ron is a stickler for perfection and is very picky, this point reassured by Isaac. This is a great attribute for someone who has this type of facility. Sheila is the one who is in charge of the final stage of processing. I know she would do it with utmost respect and kindness and awareness. Just sharing some conversation with her made me feel her compassion and kindness, and also her generosity.
The plant also has a butcher area which was also impeccably clean, The machinery, state of the art, impeccably well kept to ensure proper handling and quality of care to the preparation and packaging of the meats. Also, a good division between the different proteins to ensure no cross contamination. We walked through where they make the sausages and the amount of spices was staggering. Ron tells us that they use nothing but certified organic spices in their sausages. He does not have to convince me. I have had them and really enjoy the great flavors and spice combinations. They had a contest a few weeks ago. Wanting to come up with a new flavor, asked patrons and sample testers to come up with a new name. I submitted my idea, but was shut down by a nine-year-old and his idea: "Ginger Sunrise", great name, great idea. I have some courtesy of Sunworks Farm. Can't wait to try them.
The best part was the ending. Sitting down at a beautifully set long table, where we enjoyed an amazing meal prepared by The Quarter Section Food Co, and Chef Kevin Zellweger and his wife, using the Sunworks Farm products along with Sylvan cheeses, and with the aid of Isaac, Carlos, and many staff delivering us a meal fit for a king.
The starter, some meats and sausages from Sunworks, and a new sliced ham that was so delicious and subtly flavored that tantalized your taste buds. Alongside cheeses from SylvanStar Cheeses. One of our favorites to shop at The Old Strathcona Farmers market. Nicoletta was quite pleased to see blue cheese, one of her all time favorites. The sausages delicious as usual and the bread served was rustic and perfect accompaniment to the platter.
Second course a fresh light salad featuring Sunworks bacon cooked nice and crispy then crumbled, and some beautiful organic greens and goat cheese, with a wonderfull vinaigrette. Just the perfect thing to set the stage for the next dishes.
One of the latest crazes is the cooking style confit. This is where the protein, in this case a nice chicken thigh and leg cooked in a low heated fat over a long period of time. I have to tell you the chicken just fell off the bone. This was served on an asparagus risotto, creamy and rich with the crispness of the asparagus cooked lightly, flavor preserved with just a touch of olive oil.
Fourth course, which I don't have a picture of because I was too excited to eat it and realized when I was almost done that I had no picture. It was a beef Wellington served on a bed of rustic mashed potato. The crust on the Wellington crisp and flavorful, not to mention gluten-free, which is a huge bonus this day and age where celiac and gluten intolerances are on the rise. The beef delicious with that grassiness so well preserved and not masked by too much flavoring, and very tender and moist. Just the way you want it, medium and juicy.
The final course: a Triple Chocolate Mousse, decadent and rich. I was quite full and could not finish it, but what the spoons that I had, I quite enjoyed. It was smooth and velvety, just melting on your tongue, and the crystallized sugar and macaron just took it to another level. A beautiful end to a great day sitting with people and a passion for food bar none.
It was such an amazing experience to tour this farm, and a big thank you to Sunworks, Ron, Sheila, Isaac, and the staff, for allowing us to experience their passion and labor of love, plus Quarter Section Food Co, Chef Kevin Zellweger and his wife, for the lovely meal, great job preserving and keeping the true nature of the Sunworks Products and in using seasonal ingredients. A big thank you to Jacquie for including us in this tour.
Song of the Day: "Coming Home" by City and Color.
P.S. I was telling you that I was enjoying the Sunworks products and more specific a breakfast sandwich, as I was writing this, and I thought it would be a shame if I didn't share a picture. So here it is below. It was absolutely delicious!