Vegetable farmers share passion for rocks

Betty Ann, Jentre and Francois Brault of Wetaskiwin, Alta., stand in front of their gift shop home. The house was built in 1914 and was where Betty Ann was raised and where she and Francois lived when they were first married. | Mary MacArthur photo

On the Farm: A seven-acre market garden business grew out of excess produce the family grew in their home garden

WETASKIWIN, Alta. — The directions to Franbeta Farms are clear. It’s the place with the rocks and trees.

Massive rocks the size of vehicles act as sentries along the driveway. Rows of towering pine and spruce line the curved driveway directing traffic into the farm.

In the yard, hundreds of rocks create boundaries around the house, gardens and a 100-year-old maple tree. Dozens more rocks are piled behind a shed waiting for their new home somewhere in the yard.

Francois Brault can trace his love of rocks back to his home in Laval, Que., when he began doing odd jobs for a stonemason at 10. Brault worked as tree planter in the cut-blocks of northern Alberta and hasn’t quit planting trees yet.

When Francois and Betty-Ann moved to the farm, where her great grandparents homestead in 1892, they planted 3,000 trees to sell as they grew. Another 500 trees were planted along the driveway. The rocks are collected from Francois’ job across the province when he builds water and sewer pipelines.

“Any job I’ve been to it’s most likely I’ve brought a rock back,” said Francois.

“I’ve got the stone bug.”

Franbeta Farms has more than rocks and trees. The family grows seven acres of vegetables to sell at the farmers market in Red Deer.

Like other gardeners, in the beginning they had a small home garden and canned, froze and ate as much of their garden produce as possible.

In 1991, they began selling their excess vegetables at the local farmers market in Wetaskiwin. As their garden grew in size, they outgrew the local farmers market and now travel to the large outdoor farmers market in Red Deer with thousands of customers.

Each spring the family cuts willows and plants from ditches and under power lines to turn into crafts to sell at early farmers markets. | Mary MacArthur photo

“With the volume of vegetables we have, it just makes sense to go to the larger market,” said Jentre, who has joined her mother in the market garden business.

During the busy growing season, they pick, wash and pack vegetables for the Saturday market. It takes time to pick the acres of peas, corn, carrots, beans, lettuce, radish, squash and most other kinds of vegetables to get ready for the weekly market.

“The peas and corn are the first thing that is gone,” said Jentre.

Francois pulls the cover off the radishes. The family supplies vegetables to the farmers market in Red Deer from the May long weekend to Thanksgiving. The cover helps give the vegetables a jump on the season and protects them from bugs. | Mary MacArthur photo

Last year, Jentre also sold sunflowers at the market. She originally planted the flowers as a windbreak for the garden, but they have become a popular item.

“People get a little bit of joy out of a flower,” said Jentre.

To ensure a regular table at the markets, vendors must come every week from Mother’s Day to Thanksgiving to get the best spots.

With few vegetables besides radish and chives to sell during the early weeks, the family makes and sells willow and birch decorations, barn wood signs, teas and salad dressings made from dried flowers and vegetables from the garden.

Betty-Ann grew up in the house that is now their occasional gift shop and storage.

Trees and rocks are two of Francois’s favourite things. He finds large rocks as part of his job digging in water and sewer lines and brings them home to add to his farm decoration. He has brought home thousands of rocks and planted thousands of trees on their farm west of Wetaskiwin. | Mary MacArthur photo

The family never planned to turn the old 1914 house into a gift shop, but one year they needed extra storage for their crafts and thought the old house may be a unique shop.

“It’s mostly weather tight,” said Jentre.

Added Betty Ann: “For 1914, it’s in pretty good shape.”

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