By Tim Kalinowski
Alberta is one of the greatest food-producing regions in the world, and there is no doubt of the abundance we have here. But have you ever really thought about what it might be like to experience that food culture in a more immediate way? A way unmediated by labels or plastic wrapping on grocery store shelves?
To experience the real terroir, or the taste of the place, we call home?
Authors Karen Anderson and Matilde (Tilly) Sanchez-Turri have, and they have gleaned a curated sample of 200 of those tastes, and the farmers and food makers who produce them, for a new culinary travel guide published by TouchWood Editions entitled “Food Artisans of Alberta.”
“I think Alberta tastes great,” says Anderson with evident enthusiasm, “and we have seven signature foods— beef, bison, canola, honey, red-fife wheat, root vegetables and Saskatoon berries— but that is just the starting point. There’s an amazing food culture here, and books like this will only help it to grow. We are thrilled and privileged to have been a part of it.”
“As a traveller you are always looking for the best of a place,” agrees Sanchez-Turri. “It makes your vacation more authentic if you try the food of a place. This a great tourism book, and really helps Alberta boost itself into the worldwide agro-tourism market by showing the world this is a worthy destination, and there will be wonderful things to eat if you travel here.”
The book also has a more understated, but no less important, purpose, declares Anderson.
“Tilly and I used to do food tours for a magazine called ‘City Palette’ where we took city folks out to meet farm folks, and those are really transformative journeys for people. We did that for a number of years, and we always found it very powerful.
“With the statistics in farming, the average age of a farmer is 60 (in Alberta), and when the average age in an industry gets over 30 it shows it is a dying industry. We are aware of that, and we want more people to be aware of how close we are to losing our farms in Alberta.”
“It’s a wake up call, this book, disguised as a trail guide,” confirms Sanchez-Turri. “We really do want people to understand the severity of the situation, but we also want to get them into their cars and go out visiting these people. We think that is where this realization is going to have some impact.”
The 200 “food artisans” the book chooses to profile span the entire gamut of agriculture in the province from rare livestock, to local food makers and processors, to speciality crop growers.
The book is broken down by region, and profiles each artisan in short-hand form to give the reader insight into why those producers deserve a place in the book— and in Albertans’ travel plans this summer.
“This province really is diverse and delicious,” says Sanchez-Turri. “We wanted to take that research step out of the equation so people could find trusted sources of wonderful food, and to get into their cars to come and meet those providers of it.”
“There are people doing holistic management courses, and people doing bio-dynamic farming,” expounds Anderson. “And there is an increase in grass-finished beef and in organic growing in general.
“Writing this book was like doing a mini course and survey of these types of agricultural practices … These are role models for young people who would like to come back to farming— these are people who are successful in attracting that next generation back.”
The book serves, at heart, as a call to consider, and give well-earned appreciation to, the wonderful food that is produced right here in our own backyard, concludes Sanchez-Turri.
“We wanted to put a local face to agriculture,” she states. “In Western Canada we have the last great bits of topsoil and arable land, and we are growing food for the whole world.
“But as Albertans, we don’t need to think about buying things from Chile, and Mexico and California— we can have delicious, high-nutrient food if we support local farmers and create close relationships (as buyers), and we can see this beautiful lifestyle being sustained by these close relationships.”
“Food Artisans of Alberta, Your Trail Guide to the Best of our Locally Crafted Fare” is available for order online or through most local bookstores.