BASHAW, Alta. – Donna Raitt spent years cooking up diversification ideas for her farm. Last year she found the perfect ingredients right in her own pantry.
She and her husband Gordon operate a small purebred and commercial cattle herd in central Alberta on a farm that has been in Donna’s family since 1904.
Through the years, the farm has been home to a U-pick berry plot, a Border Collie kennel and breeding program, a custom hatchery for purebred chickens and ducks, an eggs and poultry operation and a crafts and jams shop. Three years ago, Donna opened a consignment craft shop on the farm. Last year the couple added a tea room.
But one thing that has taken off faster than any other enterprise is a cookbook Donna released last year.
“The craft store is seasonal; the summer season, the farming season. The cookbook goes all year long. You can do the writing in the middle of winter,” she said.
The Bear Roots Cookbook has sold more than 1,400 copies and Raitt is preparing for a third printing to supply the summer tourist and farmers’ market season.
“I realized that people were always asking me for my recipes. I thought a cookbook might not be a bad idea. And it has proved to be better than that. It has sold and sold,” she said.
Donna based her book on recipes that require no special ingredients or complex techniques. She said most people will have the ingredients handy or available at local stores.
The book also contains tables and charts including a spice guide, metric and imperial cross references, cooking terms and substitutions.
One element that attracts buyers is the price. At less than $10, the book is one of the cheapest on the shelves.
Mail order business strong
The book targets rural people and tourists, and the Raitts cart the prized recipes around the countryside to gift stores, tea houses, craft shops, book stores and rural retail outlets. A large retail chain of hardware stores has committed to several hundred copies and mail orders remain strong.
“A local farm implement dealer has always given away hats and jackets to farmers. Not many farm wives want another hat, but a cookbook with his business card in it, that will be remembered. He buys a lot of cookbooks now,” said Gordon.
“We went to Olds (Alta.) for tractor parts the other day and while Gordon was getting parts I stopped off at a tea house and a book store and sold 39 books,” said Donna, who also credits the bear theme on the cover for drawing customers.
While cookbooks are selling well, cattle continue to be the focus of the farm. The couple keeps 32 head of Salers and commercial cattle. They rent out their land because of the high costs of equipment and a desire to lessen the stress of farming.
Because their herd is small, the Raitts have more time for breeding programs. They finish the animals to higher standards to get higher returns.
Meanwhile, plans for the publishing business continue to grow. The couple has recently invested in a computer and a camper van and plan to travel to more craft sales and farmers’ markets this year to promote a new book already under way.
This latest book requires more research than the last, with plans to include gluten-free recipes and more helpful tips and tables.
The time needed to put the book together has thrown plans for the craft shop and tea room up in the air. However, the couple is hoping it’s worthwhile, since they say the cookbook offers greater rewards.