The St. Albert Farmers’ Market was and still is a favoured adventure destination for many.
Sponsored by the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce, it hosts more than 250 vendors from across the province. Every Saturday until Oct. 9, St. Anne and Thomas streets morph into an outdoor horseshoe-shaped arena packed with vibrant colours, varied textures, pungent smells and sweet sounds.
It’s a great place to watch people and spend a blissful day. No one seems in a rush and everyone is smiling. And if you don’t have a list or personal fortitude, it’s so easy to get lost snacking on designer cupcakes, sampling mouth-watering sausage or stopping to buy that sparkler you swore off last year.
In its 28th season, the chamber has introduced a variety of new foodstuffs from seafood and granola to cheese and organic baby food.
Although Albertans have a reputation for chowing down on beef, Hank Strokappe’s lamb booth is attracting its share of line-ups. “I used to hear about the ethnic market. But very diverse groups enjoy it and that really surprised me. It wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s a lesson in not stereotyping your clientele,” says Strokappe.
Alongside his father and brother, Strokappe farms fewer than 5,000 acres of grain-producing land near Fahler. The flock of 550 ewes and 650 lambs are a complementary diversification.
His stall carries a full line of fresh and frozen meat – ground lamb, steaks, roasts, shanks, liver and organs. But it’s the lamb chops that are usually snapped up before noon.
Strokappe used to operate a pig farm out of Lacombe. But in July 2007 he shut down the operation. “It was a combination of high feed prices and the high Canadian dollar. It didn’t look like there was much of a future in it.”
A few months before the shutdown, his insurance company insisted he keep the grass mowed around the pig barn. It was deemed a fire hazard. Strokappe bought a flock of 50 ewes to keep the area clean.
After the shutdown, he moved to Fahler at his father’s operation and gradually increased the size of his flock using four different breeds: Dorset, Suffolk, Canadian Arcott and Rideau. “I use a four way rotation to maintain hybrid vigour. They grow a little stronger and they are more genetically fit.”
Conscious of bio-security, he has worked to maintain a disease-free environment and never introduces questionable livestock. “Even the boots I wear in the sheep yard are not the boots I wear in town.”
Throughout the summer the flock spends time outdoors in a pasture or one of eight corrals with a shelter. Although the code of practice recommends providing 70 sq. ft. of living space per ewe, Strokappe has upped it to 120. “I want our lambs to be treated with dignity and in a humane way from birth to slaughter.”
The area has seen a drought three years in a row and seeding pasture for green grass has become difficult. “They eat alfalfa hay all year round and I supplement with oats and peas. A tub hangs off the gate with a premix of vitamins, minerals and salt in granular form. They can help themselves and they seem to regulate themselves pretty well.”
Once the lambs are six months old, they are shipped to Heart Valley Processors where they are rendered completely unconscious before slaughter. Strokappe, a 2005 graduate of the NAIT meat cutting program, then cuts and wraps the meat in a brown wax paper.
At his booth, Strokappe has a poster board that displays pictures of his farm’s operation and provides information about his sheep. “It helps to give people a visual of what the farm is like. A lot of people tell me the sheep look content. When I get comments like that, then I know I’m doing my job properly.”
The market’s hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.