Alberta farm raises produce for food banks

A decline in business prompted the initiative, and more than 31,000 pounds of root vegetables were delivered last year

WESTEROSE, Alta. — Steve and Nicky Breum’s 320-acre Gone Green Farms sits in a long lush valley in central Alberta not far from Pigeon Lake, one of the busiest recreation areas in the province.

The couple raise livestock including Highland cattle, pigs, geese and ducks, but it’s their five acres of vegetable gardens that keep them especially busy through summer attracting locals and vacationers for the fresh produce.

The couple also grow and supply root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, turnips, beets, and onions, to Edmonton Food Bank and Calgary Food Bank through Alberta Farm to Food Bank.

“It’s the kind of food that Grandma and Grandpa grew”, says Steve. “Nutrient-dense root vegetables carried them through the winter.”

For every dollar donated to a food bank, Gone Green Farms supplies a pound of vegetables.

“If you pay for a pound of food, they get a pound of food,” says Nicky.

Gone Green Farms delivered more than 31,000 pounds of root vegetables to food banks last year Steve said.

The food bank collects donations and then it buys the vegetables at a cost of $1 per lb. from Gone Green Farms. Donations to the food banks are solicited through the Alberta Farm to Food Bank website.

The couple started the initiative after they experienced a decline in business three years ago. Steve says the slowdown was a result of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire coupled with the overall downturn in the oil and gas industry.

“When the economy took a hit, we really felt it.”

After a period of brainstorming they created Alberta Farm To Food Bank as a way to feed hungry people nutritious foods while supporting local farmers. The couple hope that in time other market gardeners will get involved.

“We like growing food,” says Steve. “We can take a handful of seeds and put them in the ground and end up with food you can wash off and eat.”

As well as the cattle, pigs, ducks and geese, the Breums keep several horses, including one miniature, grazing the abundant grass. A ewe lamb keeps the miniature company.

The couple market the beef and pork privately but are open to supplying meat to the food banks as well.

The Breums hire a couple students through the summer to help with weeding the vegetable gardens and they solicit volunteer help to harvest the food bank root vegetables.

They bought the small farm from Steve’s uncle in 2009 and live in the 1950s house. They rent out a newer home on the property.

“I’m the third generation at this place,” says Steve about this specific quarter.

He was raised about two kilometres away. Three of his siblings and parents live close by.

“My great-grandmother came from southern Alberta in the mid-30s. Her parents came to the quarter right next to this one.”

Evidence of those predecessors includes a hand pump water well, weathered sheds and a large collection of tools and implements from days gone by.

The couple still use a decades-old potato planter and have designed other equipment as needed.

“You can’t get an onion planter easily in central Alberta,” says Steve, “So we sorted through our junk pile and built one.”

One of their main pieces of equipment is their year old Oggun tractor.

“It’s perfect for market gardening because you can see your rows,” says Steve.

Nicky adds: “The farmer can get parts anywhere and fix it quick.”

Oggun parts are not brand specific but available off the shelf from farm supply stores, auto parts retailers and online.

The couple have one son, Max, who is six years old.

“His little project this spring was selling ducklings,” says Steve.

With some input from his parents, Max will decide what to do with the money he earned.

As an important part of their farm, the Breums consider the future of the land.

“We’re just the current caretakers,” says Steve.

That care includes growing chemical-free produce. “But we don’t pay for the right to use the word ‘organic.’ ”

Nicky adds: “People that have gone (certified) organic say that the paperwork eats up the profit.”

The farm name, Gone Green Farms, references a change of careers for Steve. For close to a decade until 2009 he flew spray planes.

“It got to be very controversial. There were drift concerns and insurance issues. And I got to where I didn’t want to be around the chemicals anymore.”

The Breums appreciate their rural lifestyle.

“I want to live a simple life,” says Steve. “I want to be able to make my own decisions. Hopefully, we can carve out a niche doing this”.

Nicky agrees. She left her native South Africa in 2005 due to the violence against white farmers there.

“I like that it’s so safe here.”

Her family still lives in South Africa, although they no longer farm.

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