A Planet of Plenty – Our Award Application

Today our family farm was chosen to be one of two recipients of the Alltech Canada Planet of Plenty Award: April 19th, 2022. We are absolutely honored to be recognized by this company that serves agriculture worldwide. This award celebrates those furthering a world of abundance through nutritional and digital technologies, innovation, and sustainable management practices in the agri-food sector.

Alltech’s focused on a planet of plenty, hence their slogan. “A planet where science-based solutions help ensure sustainable food production for the global population. A planet where agriculture’s story is central to the development of thriving communities and ecosystems. A planet where, through collaboration and innovation, we can create a world of abundance for future generations.

Below is the application I sent in on behalf of our ranch. It talks about what we do, just in case you’re interested too 🙂

As ranchers, active members of our community, and innovators growing business in the agri-food industry, our family works together to regenerate our land with the goal that it will sustain many future generations to come.

Brett and I, Jillian, and our young family of four children manage our 400 head cow-calf herd in Blue Ridge Alberta. We also raise beef for butcher year-round, as well as pastured poultry, and pastured pigs from spring to fall to feed our local community. Our products are sold through our Farm Store located on our ranch.

Our farm, Blue Ridge Farms, completed an Environmental Farm Plan nearly nine years ago. Since then, we have continued to maintain and improve upon the integrity of that EFP through committed environmental stewardship. Some examples include increased water storage through soil health, plant biodiversity, and organic matter, all by managing our cattle herd effectively. We are also Verified Beef Production Plus certified, a fantastic accomplishment in the cattle industry. This certification tracks any treatment or application given to the animal from birth to butcher, even after the beef has left our farm and continued on down the supply chain for safe tracking.

One of the first developments made on our farm was installing a fencing system that would allow us to rotationally graze our cattle herd. In the summer grazing months, we rotate our cattle through each pasture using portable electric fences. This method of grazing forces the cattle to work the land; they eat most plant species, all while leaving behind manure which fertilizes and adds an organic matter layer for soil structure. We ensure our cattle do not overgraze, and that they leave 30% of above-ground plant matter behind. The cattle hooves break the soil surface allowing moisture in, and the plant roots put energy into root production after being grazed which in turn sequesters more carbon. This method of grazing increases desired plant species and reduces the less desirable noxious weeds, all through the natural system of the cow.

Another regenerative method we use is bale grazing. Each winter we choose which fields need more organic matter the most and set out hundreds of hay bales in a specific pattern. This pattern consists of rows of bales each placed roughly 20 feet apart from one another. A select number of bales are then fenced off using our portable electric fencing system with solar power. Our cattle have a buffet of feed which they thrive on while leaving behind manure and any undesired hay. This leftover hay increases organic matter and all the leftover seeds from the hay are spread and then ready to sprout. We have seen the most dramatic improvements on our land through bale grazing. Turning dry fields with limited plant species and zero organic matter, into lush fields that are rich in diverse species (plants and animals), now store water, and capture more tons of carbon than ever before.

The newest regenerative development on our ranch really took off this past summer of 2021, where we raised over 1000 broiler chickens and over 200 turkeys on pasture that were then sold directly to local consumers. These birds were raised using poultry tractors, which we designed last winter and had custom-made last spring. They are an aluminum frame, 20 feet long by 10 feet wide, and stand 6 feet high so you can walk right in and tend to the poultry. There is a door at one end, hooks on either end for towing, and the frame is covered in specific layers of poultry wire and hog fence to protect from predators. Tarps were used for shelter from rain, wind, and sun. We currently have 9 of these poultry tractors, and with the right planning, we raised two batches of broilers by July, and one batch of turkeys just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving.

The birds were all started in our barn, and once they had feathered out at three weeks and could regulate their own body temperatures, they were placed into the tractors where we moved them daily onto fresh grass. Now, this is the cool part – the birds work through the pasture, consuming greens & bugs which in turn contribute to a nutrient-dense (deliciously) consumable product. They scratch up the dead plants which aerates the soil and allows better infiltration of rainwater. They also scratch through the cow poop where our cattle had previously grazed, and naturally spread the manure as well as eat any parasites – acting as a natural de-wormer for our fields. Their own feces is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and thus acts as a fantastic fertilizer for the freshly aerated pasture.

I wish we’d measured the grass and root growth, but we just had our fourth child this past summer and had our hands full. The difference this past fall between where the poultry had been and not been was crystal clear! Once the first couple frosts hit in the fall, the majority of the pasture had moved into dormancy for winter and died off. Except where the poultry had been, that grass was thick, lush, and a beautiful dark green color, providing extra forage for our cattle to graze on in early winter.

In 2016 we diversified our cattle ranch by entering a new branch in the agri-food sector; farm to fork – farm gate sales direct to consumers. In addition to finishing our beef, we began raising pastured poultry (meat chickens, turkeys, and eggs), and pastured pork. Over the years we have religiously attended farmers’ markets to build our customer base, which recently in 2018 after the birth of our third child, we took a step back to stay at home more and work on a new project! In August 2020, we celebrated the grand opening of our own Farm Store while opening our gates to host in conjunction with Alberta Open Farm Days. We had a whopping 400+ attendance that day, with a lot of smiling faces!

We see the need to connect families to their food, and our Farm Store is a place where people come and experience farm life while shopping for groceries. Our chicken coop is open to the public, and our pens will be filled come spring with lambs, goats, cattle, and our unicorn pony Gemma. Our Farm Store shelves are stocked with our homegrown meat and eggs while supporting multiple other businesses all located within a few hours radius of our ranch. These other businesses include sourdough & paleo bread, honey, seasonal veggies, hemp seeds and oil, preserves, coffee, cheese, and more.

Our Farm Store benefits the Canadian agriculture industry by keeping food very local and dollars in other small businesses’ pockets (our butchers, grain/feed producers, etc). It elevates the agri-food sector by creating a unique experience for families while shopping for essentials. This intimate experience allows us to educate families about our food industry and share how forward-thinking and regenerative our industry is.

Brett and I are continuously researching and learning to adapt the best management practices for our land, and as our farm grows it allows us to do more for the land and community we work with. From fencing dug-outs and using solar panels to pump water up into a clean trough for our cattle to drink from, to hosting food events and educating consumers one on one through our Farm Store.

Another example is we use a direct drill for seeding specific species that will fixate nitrogen (alfalfa and clover), and break apart the soil structure to allow more water infiltration (turnips and radishes). The direct drill does not disrupt the soil structure like tilling does but still allows seeding to take place.

Being able to grow in size with our ranch has its physical demands so we hire the occasional worker from our local community to come and help. They get the benefit of farm education, and we can always use the extra help. We hope to continue to grow in size so that we can offer more jobs in our community. We are also members of the WWOOF and Young Agrarians programs, and welcome anyone interested in being a WWOOFer or summertime apprentice. On social media, Facebook and Instagram, we share our ranching story to educate followers about our sustainable, regenerative farming practices and connect them to how their food is raised.

Our Farm Store business is also growing, and it is a space where dozens of
women-owned companies are now selling their products. With our Farm Store, we hope to host more community events such as Alberta Open Farm Days again in August, and also have plans to host an annual culinary farm to fork event – stay tuned!

Brett and I are believers in giving back to our community. Over the past years,
we have donated our bulk beef (quarters, halves, and whole beef) to the St. Albert
Rotary Club and St. Albert Community Hospital. We have donated multiple meat boxes for smaller clubs, groups, and individuals in need. Brett sat on the board for West Central Forage Association for 8 years. He was vice president for 2 of those years. I volunteered with the Blue Ridge Community League for 3 years, acting as vice president for one year. Six years ago I started our local Pony Club in Whitecourt with help from another lady. I was president for 2 years, while teaching the kids one night a week throughout these two years, all volunteer hours. The club is still thriving and our oldest daughter has recently joined and is loving
it. I also helped run the Blue Ridge & Area Playgroup for over 2 years, opening the
doors weekly for other moms and dads to bring their kids to come and play.

Now that we are so involved with our ranch and our four little kids, we do not
volunteer as much as we would like to. So we have decided to host more farm events through our Farm Store and Animal viewing area to educate the public about farming and agriculture. To reconnect families with how their food is raised. We have created a space for families to come and learn, interact with our farm animals, ask questions and get those questions answered by the very farmers that raise their food.

We have also opened a separate bank account and started a fund for feeding
local families in Mayerthorpe, Blue Ridge, and Whitecourt, by donating all the proceeds for our beef-bone sales. The money will be spent very shortly here on our meat &/or egg products that will then be taken to the Mayerthorpe and Whitecourt Foodbanks.

It is our goal to create more jobs in our town in hopes to reduce poverty. To give
back to our community by feeding local families through our fund so that no one is
hungry. We want to continue hosting events that bring people together and give them an educational experience, one that they do together as a family and connect over. To feed these families with our homegrown products that will nourish their bodies, promote good health and well-being through healthy food choices, education, and connection.

On our ranch, everyone is treated equally. If someone, man or woman, struggles
with a task or lacks knowledge in that field, we stop to help and educate. Genders are always treated equally and respected as we all need each other to make our ranch work. Together we work better, smarter, faster, and more efficiently.

We believe we are the best candidate to win the Alltech Canada Planet of Plenty
Award because farming for us comes down to living a life that creates a sustainable
future for all. For our children we hope will carry on our legacy. For the soil beneath our feet that we have worked so hard to reclaim. For the families who purchase our homegrown products that will nourish their bodies as well as their very own community. We are not here to feed the world, but we are here to feed and support our community, that is doable and that is sustainable.
– Jillian Byers

Here is the Alltech Canada website with us featured on their site: https://go.alltech.com/planet-of-plenty-ca