Organically grown chicken a must’
Strict diets led local family to organic foods
Wednesday, Jul 03, 2013 06:00 am
Most everyone who comes to St. Albert Farmers’ Market marvels at the cornucopia of locally grown products – baskets of juicy strawberries, bags of plump tomatoes, bundles of crunchy rhubarb and baskets of sweet-smelling, freshly baked breads.
More and more people, and not just chefs, are conscious of eating healthy and mingle over booths selling fresh eggs, chicken, bison, beef and fish.
And while part of the fun of shopping is sensory, drinking in the wafting scent of grilled chicken or sticking your nose in a bouquet of herbs, the 250 plus vendors cater to an extraordinary number of lifestyle choices.
Parked at U-shaped St. Anne-Perron streets junction, the market traditionally draws the tourist crowd with an abundance of handmade products ranging from moccasins, pottery and jewelry to garden decorations, metal works and dog cakes.
Starting today, the St. Albert Gazette will print Market Place, a summer long series every Wednesday that introduces many of the growers, producers, artisans, and all-around vendors to the community.
A bell clangs at 10 a.m. marking the Saturday start for the St. Albert Farmers’ Market. Early morning shoppers arrived an hour ago and have already scouted their favourite booths.
Some booths are just warming up with barely a shopper or two. Instead Ron Hamilton’s stall from Sunworks Farm is flooded with a non-stop lineup. He is grilling organically grown chicken sausage and the gentle wind carries the spicy perfume of Moroccan Chicken part way down the street.
Waving a fork and knife, he rolls the frozen lengths along the grill until they are a juicy golden brown. Slicing the sausage, he pokes a toothpick into each chunk. Courting the crowd, he urges them to sample it. No one needs to be asked twice.
While everyone watches his cooking demo, Hamilton, who is reminiscent of a persuasive and mesmerizing circus ringmaster, tells jokes and delivers his spiel.
Predictably he says, “Our products have no pesticides, no herbicides, no animal-bi-products and no nitrates. We don’t use antibiotics or chemicals in our products. And they are only raised with certified organic grain.”
Unlike producers jumping on the trendy organic bandwagon, Hamilton had some very serious health reasons for going green.
He spent 27 years as a surveyor before buying a half section at Armena, a hamlet located about 21 km northwest of Camrose.
His two daughters, Erin and Shae, had suffered from life-threatening allergies to wheat, nuts, dairy products, nitrates and red food colouring since birth.
“We wanted to grow some of our own food and I wanted to spend more time with my daughters and live in a rural atmosphere.”
It was the mid-nineties and the idyllic country life was at their fingertips until Sheila, his wife, developed fibromyalgia. After numerous visits to physicians, it was a naturopath’s advice on developing a holistic lifestyle that resuscitated Sheila’s health.
It was a wake-up call. The couple had been reading food labels since their eldest daughter was diagnosed. It was time to go whole hog (no pun intended).
“We started to clean our diet up into an organic, holistic, natural way of eating. At the same time we moved to producing organically, we looked at a more conscientious way to raise animals.”
For instance the family raises 150,000 chickens. Whenever possible, from May to October, the poultry is housed in moveable, portable chicken shelters. About 480 chickens live in a 48-foot long by 15-foot wide by six-foot high shelter.
It is half-sheltered, half free-range and is pulled on skids every morning to a fresh pasture. It allows chickens to peck away at the soil and supplement their organic grain diet with worms, grasshoppers and bugs.
“This way you can raise birds in a commercial organic situation with fresh air and sunshine.”
The chickens are sent to an abattoir and the sausages are produced in a modern production facility, Armena Meat Processing, also owned by the Hamiltons. Every sausage combines only ground boneless chicken breasts and thighs with spices and flavourings.
The facility supervisor, Carlos Lopez, holds a diploma in meat processing from Olds College and creates many of the 20 different chicken sausage recipes. Two of the most widely sought creations are garlic and rosemary, and chicken cranberry.
“He has a very active mind and he knows how the flavours work together. He can put together flavours and tweak them, and they’ve gotten better and better over the years.”
Another distinctive feature are the casings. Most sausage makers use pork casings. The Hamiltons have opted to use collagen casings imported from Japan. The collagen casings are a natural bi-product from beef hide and joints.
“A lot of folks will eat chicken sausage but won’t eat pork for religious or health reasons,” Hamilton explains.
In their long haul to spread the word, they now sell their products at numerous farmers’ markets throughout Alberta and operate a year-round Sunworks products store in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona area. At the store, they also sell meat products from beef, pork, lamb, turkey and bison.
“The opportunities were presented and as they became available, we had a hard time saying no. We moved forward, and our focus is to have the best, purest food in the world for the most people in the world at the fairest prices.”
For more information check out a comprehensive website at www.sunworksfarm.com.