Trying something new today! The City Market is one of the main reasons why I decided to move to Edmonton’s downtown core. Does that sound silly? In all honesty, eating out a lot and reviewing restaurants wasn’t my main goal at all when I started the blog! I love food, and I mean all kinds of food, and to be able to cook a fantastic meal at home without breaking a sweat is my ultimate dream. I hope that one day Let’s Om Nom can reflect that! To make great food, you need great ingredients and being able to get to know a producer, farmer, or vendor and feature their products is something I hope to really get into. So here it goes, my first post (of hopefully many!) of the series, Market Feature.
I’ve been buying a lot of produce from the market and slowly incorporating it more into my overly simplified homecooking. And I never really thought about it but for some reason, I don’t buy any of proteins from the market. In fact, I don’t really cook meat very often, opting for eggs or tofu for the most part. So when Organic Alberta formally introduced me to Jered and Julia Serben from Serben’s Organic Farm near Smoky Lake and a vendor at the City Market, I figured this was the time to make the jump. Let’s cook some meat.
Jered Serben is a 4th generation farmer, picking up a farming style more similar to his grandparents’ and operating under Serben’s Free Range Farm up until this year. 2015 is the year that Serben’s Free Range Farm is really Serben’s Organic Farm, a long three year process for the family. I had a chance to talk to Jered about his farm at the City Market a few weeks ago and the challenges of transitioning to certification. After the hog market crash of the early 2000’s, Jered knew that in order to continue farming, there had to be some changes. He began to research natural, sustainable farming practices which is the key for the production of their quality pork, chicken, and turkey products. Implementing these practices and raising the animals in a humane way over the years became the standard and certification was only one step away. In all honesty, Jered mentioned that they really just had to change their organic feed to a certified organic feed to kickstart the process. This November, Serben’s Organic Farm will officially have their certification.
In addition to the challenges that other producers and farmers have to deal with, (there’s not a doubt that this summer was a dry one!), Jered’s hardest challenge to overcome is actually consumer expectations. And I would 100% agree! Working in the pharmacy at a big grocery chain, I know that the prices of pork and poultry are a lot cheaper than any vendor at the market. Consumers are use to paying low prices for everything and as prices go up every year, people start to question things. I asked Jered about his customers and how they responded to an increase in the farm’s product prices over the last three years, and surprisingly, the majority have been supportive. The odd few have turned away, claiming that the increase in prices is now unaffordable, but what the vendor has lost, has equally gained in new customers who are seeking for that Certified Organic label. In the future, Jered hopes to offer a pork CSA. Customers will be able to put down a deposit and buy a whole hog earlier in the season which enables the farm to buy feed at the cheapest time of the year (in the fall), versus throughout the year at higher prices. At the end of the day, Jered told me that they’re not just doing this for themselves. It’s not a big profit, they’re not driving fancy cars out on the farm or taking fancy vacations. It’s enough to live off of and to continue to provide quality products.
Checking out the coolers at Serben’s Organic Farm, there was an abundance of pork cuts (their mainstay) and chickens. To my surprise, they even had eggs! And for cheaper than what I buy at the grocery store. I’m such a fail at homecooking. Can you tell that I clearly don’t frequent the market for protein? Sensing my fear of cooking meat, Jered suggested I try their Rosemary & Roasted Garlic sausages instead, ground and stuffed for the farm by local shop Sangudo Custom Meats. I can do that. I can start slow.
The Rosemary & Roasted Garlic sausages were amazing in my go-to sweet potato hash. They were lean, not overly seasoned, and just a hint of rosemary and garlic so that you could actually taste the ground pork! The best way to eat them actually was just by itself with some eggs, which I ended up doing for the remainder of the package. I’ve got a thing with eggs.
Which is why I had to drop by the following Saturday and pick up some eggs! Here’s a thing: I don’t really talk to Joe about what I buy and where I get things from. What I do know though is that he’ll soft boil an egg from time to time to add to his noodle soups because the rate that we go through a dozen of eggs seems to be increasing and is a weekly grocery item. It really surprised me then that shortly after buying the eggs, Joe mentioned that they tasted different. They tasted better. They were ever so slightly smaller, but they tasted better. Mind = blown that Joe noticed the difference! I was ecstatic! The following week I made another run for eggs at Serben’s Organic Farm but the booth was sadly not there. That’s how you know you’re supporting real people… Jered was sick and was unable to come to the market!
Overall, I’m feeling pretty happy that I took a step forward towards homecooking. If I can support a local producer, and a certified organic one at that, then it makes me twice as happy! I’ve thought long and hard at what to tackle next. As you might know, ramen has been (or almost always is) on my mind. I really do need to steer away from the lovely pork belly though and cook a different cut. Perhaps ribs? Pork chops? By the end of summer, I swear I will try to cook every part of a hog! Maybe next year I can buy a whole hog! Or maybe I should start with butchering a whole chicken and incorporate that into the ramen… choices.
I’m excited to have gotten to know Jered and Serben’s Organic Farm and love how accessible they are to me! Visit them at the City Market every Saturday, or you can order from their online shop. Products are also available from Organic Box and if you’re up north, Jered also makes the drive to the Fort McMurray Urban Market! Crazy talk. For more on the family’s farming practices and pictures of the farm, visit their website!Serben’s Organic Farm
You can also read more about all things organic in Alberta and other certified organic farms and producers at www.organicalberta.org.