I had the opportunity recently to visit Edmonton. In fact, I’d never even been that far west in Canada before. Terrible, I know. I flew out of Toronto at about 7:30 in the evening. It was the strangest sensation. The sun was just beginning to set, sitting low on the horizon when we took off. And that’s where it stayed for most of the trip until we were about half an hour from Edmonton. To see the sun stand perfectly still in the sky throughout almost the entire four hour trip was phenomenal. It felt like I was not only travelling through space, but also backwards in time. Technically, I was, of course, because Edmonton is two hours behind Toronto.
Slow Food Canada was having its national convention, and that was the primary reason for me to be there. I was invited to attend the gala and participate in a few of their scheduled activities along with bloggers Maia Filar and Carolyn Heller. The best part was the grand tour of the beautiful city of Edmonton we enjoyed over the course of three days. It turned out to be three days of total fun and frolic.
On our first day, we were lucky enough to have Mary Bailey, creator and editor of the Tomato – Food and Drink, chauffeur us around Edmonton. We were scheduled to visit a series of farms that morning, but after taking a few wrong turns, we ended up postponing the farm tour until after lunch. We met up with the Slow Food representatives, among them was author Jennifer Cockrall-King, at the Muttart Conservatory for lunch. Located just inside the main lobby is Maverick Chef Brad Lazarenko’s Culina restaurant. There, as well as in Culina’s other locations around Edmonton (including the Culina Cantina at the local police station), Lazarenko’s focus is on creating delicious fare using local and sustainable cuisine. Lunch was a series of dishes served family-style.
Gull Valley tomatoe with basil, blue cheese, pickled onion, Muttart grown greens and sherry vinaigrette. This salad was so flavourful – crunchy, nutty and spicy. It had the feel of a meatier salad without the meat and without the heaviness.
Marina’s perogies with beets, pickled onion, arugula and dill sour cream. Of course, we couldn’t spend time in Edmonton without indulging in some scrumptious peroies.
Surgeon Valley pork crepinette, Gull Valley tomato-butter sauce, greens and in-house baguette. Enough to feed a small army, and so tasty. These palm-sized burgers were complemented by a spicy-sweet sauce that included chili, paprika and parsley.
The sky threatened rain (and it did while we were inside), but the Muttart, itself, was awesome. “Designed by award-winning Canadian architect Peter Hemingway”, it’s made up of impressive glass and steel pyramids showcasing the variety of growing zones found around the world. I could easily spend the entire day surrounded by the flora in each of the zones.
Following lunch, we headed to Riverbend Gardens Farm and Nursery. Owners Janelle and Aaron are dynamic individuals completely dedicated to their land, the history of their family on the farm and its important place in the future of farming in and around Edmonton. The farm lies on prime agricultural land. “It has a unique microclimate that enables us to harvest vegetables much earlier than the norm,” reports Janelle. The farm’s website reiterates that fact. Unfortunately, the city of Edmonton, like so many cities around the country, is weighing the cost of urban sprawl. House construction is swallowing up land that would be perfect for agriculture. Janelle, her fellow farmers, chefs and foodies alike are fighting back, arguing that functioning farms located on soil perfect for growing food cannot simply be uprooted and moved to some other location. It’s unfortunate that living in a home and farming – these two necessary aspects of human existence – must be pitted against each other. Imagine how great it would be to have development grow up around farms, to be able to see first hand where your food comes from.
The North Saskatchewan River bordering Janelle and Aaron’s farm.
Tractor pull. Aaron’s driving; Janelle (front, right) explaining the highlights.
And that was just the morning! Stay tuned … I will be posting lots of photos and news from the remainder of the first day and the two days that followed.
My three days in Edmonton was sponsored by Edmonton Tourism.