Lois and Wayne Hazell use community shared agriculture to make a connection with the consumers buying their food
LESLIEVILLE, Alta. — People who farm in west-central Alberta become slaves to the weather.
Frost or snow can come at anytime, hail is a constant summer threat and dryness, which stunted this year’s crop, can also be a problem.
Wayne and Lois Hazell were up against these challenges when they decided to start a market garden near Rocky Mountain House, Alta.
“You can plan, plan, plan and then you have to adjust, adjust, adjust,” Lois told a tour group to Last Hill Creek Gardens Aug. 20.
They inherited a quarter section of land in 1994 and decided to convert the former feedlot into a market garden with about 65 subscribers. The gardens cover two acres.
In the Hazells’ version of community shared agriculture, customers can buy three vegetable packages of five, 10 or 15 pounds of freshly harvested vegetables for 11 weeks. They drop off vegetables weekly in Rocky Mountain House or Red Deer, but clients also pick up their bags of vegetables from the farm. The bags can include lettuce, potatoes, carrots, zucchini or asparagus.
“The first few bags are little bit lighter, but as the season goes on it changes. We are more concerned about the variety. We try to get six to eight things a week,” said Wayne.
“It is all about the weather as to how much variety we get.”
They advertise shares in mid-February so that they know by May 1 how many customers to expect.
Many of the plants are started indoors to get a head start and are then transplanted.
They are chemical free and don’t need chemical fertilizer because the gardens are located in part of the former feedlot corral.
Lois has taken prairie horticulture courses, and have made adjustments after years of experimenting and learning from their mistakes.
“It is not gardening anymore. It is vegetable field production,” she said.
Added Wayne: “In order to have 350 pounds of vegetables in one day, you have to plant differently than a regular garden.”
They use row covers to keep insects away from cauliflower and cabbage. As well, they recently added hail nets from British Columbia that are suspended over large patches of delicate plants.
They were hailed out last year, which meant that by week six of the season could offer only root crops to customers.
They have learned what grows well in their area and plant more than 22 vegetables. They have staff to help with planting, weeding, harvesting and cleaning vegetables.
“You learn fast. The big thing is, plant lots because you don’t really know what you are going to get,” Lois said.