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OPEN KITCHEN: REDEFINED

Author: Mhairri Woodhal

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver, Mhairri now lives in Calgary with her husband and young daughter. Specializing in family, luxury and culinary focused travel, Mhairri loves exploring her new province, nourishing her wanderlust and writing about her adventures.

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Gazing beyond the magnificent feast before me, I take a moment with the view. The late summer evening sun warms my back and shines a soft golden hue across the field of knee high wheat that dances in the gentle breeze. Our long table stretches across the edge of a grass hill, angled to take advantage of the rolling farmland and sweeping big sky views.

Alberta Open Farm Days

There are 65 of us dining in this picturesque farmer’s field, just north of Edmonton. It’s the largest Field to Fork Dinner that Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farm owner Tam Andersen has ever hosted. The dinner series is held in partnership with the award winning Edmonton based restaurant, RGE RD. The restaurant’s owner Chef Blair Lebsack and Tam share a common goal – creating a food-conscious community that connects people back to the farm. Their mission is a movement that’s gaining momentum. This evening’s event is part of Alberta Open Farm Days – a province wide open house inviting the community out to participating farms and ranches.

A Dream Realized

I arrived early to explore. There are more than 50 adventure activities sprinkled throughout Prairie Gardens’ 35 acres. I sensed immediately that there was never a master plan. Rather, the farm grew organically over time. Each element dreamed up with a sense of childlike wonder and imagination. There are wagon rides, a petting farm, puppet shows, duck races, an ice cream shop and a market garden u-pick. In the fall a mega corn maze, pumpkin patch and giant cannon that shoots Halloween’s favourite squash are added to the mix. Visitors return year after year just to see the next chapter in the story of this fairy tale farm.

Community Supported Farming

Appetizers for the six-course meal were served at the farm’s campfire pavilion – a rustic gazebo just steps from Chef Blair’s wood burning oven. After snacking on beet antipasto, cauliflower polenta and roasted broccoli with marigold butter, we toured the garden to see where the ingredients were grown. Tam’s farm includes a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with 50 families, who share in both the risk and bounty of the harvest. After enrolling at the beginning of the growing season, participants receive a fresh produce basket every month throughout summer. Yet another way Tam is connecting farm to families.

A Family Affair

I’m fortunate to sit beside Tam at the long table dinner. Her knowledge is especially helpful during the first course. Served family style, The Edible Farm is a salad that uses everything from Prairie Gardens’ harvest that week. Trying to guess the various ingredients is a magnificent conversation starter that truly links farm to fork.

I soon learn that Tam is a farmer’s daughter married to farmer’s son. The pastoral venue for tonight’s dinner is care of her husband Terry, a commercial wheat and canola farmer. Terry’s elderly father Niels, who supplied the 40-day dry aged beef for the fourth course, still rides a bicycle around his working farm. Throughout our meal I hear stories about the many heartaches and triumphs of farming. Tam tells me that farming is in her blood. I believe her. But what impresses me most is her commitment to sharing her vast knowledge with the community. A calling that she is most suited for, as her passion for the farm – and life – is infectious.

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