Scale up or bust:
…that’s long been the main approach to agriculture in Alberta. But a small group of farmers are changing that, by incorporating various practices and techniques that consider the whole ecosystem of the farm and its relationship to the community – instead of just the bottom line.
Ian Griebel runs Redtail Farms, a third-generation ranch near Castor where he raises grass-fed beef and pastured pork and chicken. He’ll be talking about the innovative farming techniques that he uses there, including holistic management, at the upcoming Cultivating Connections conference.
“Our farming practices are very focused on enhancing biodiversity, creating habitat and preserving habitat for animals, as well as rebuilding our topsoil and really looking at soil health,” Griebel explains. “A lot of our decisions are based solely upon financial reasons – it always comes down to money, it seems. So this is maybe looking at more of the whole picture: what else is involved – is there soil, or the earth or the planet [included] when you make a decision, as well as the people in our community and kind of that social side too.”
His father spearheaded Redtail’s shift to this holistic approach several decades ago and Griebel grew up surrounded by that mentality. While he didn’t intend to become a farmer himself – after high school he worked as a carpenter for 10 years – Griebel took over the family farm about two years ago, after his father passed away.
As a trailblazer, Griebel’s father sometimes had to put up with less-than-positive reception to his holistic practices. That’s really shifting, however, and Griebel has noticed a steadily increasing interest in these approaches. Both small-scale and new farmers must be creative to solve the significant challenges they face, he says. Plus, these holistic practices aren’t just limited to small operations either – they can be applied across the entire spectrum of agriculture.
“A lot of these things are very adaptable, actually, to big business as well, but it just takes a big paradigm shift,” Griebel says. “A lot of it is actually very compatible with industrial agriculture. The reality is, if we’re going to have any change on our planet the big boys are going to have to get involved, because us little guys aren’t going to be the ones – we have so little land compared to what Big Ag has that we kind of need them.
“I think there is actually a lot of hope and future in agriculture,” he continues. “I think the change is not just going to come from actually the farmers themselves, but from multiple levels – and it’s actually going to be a lot of urban people that are going to be the ones helping us spur that change. I’m hoping, at this event, that there will be a lot of those people there that maybe I can get that across to.”
For more information and to register for Cultivating Connections, click here.
Tweet your food questions to #AskEFC and #Cultivate2017 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Three regional mayors (including Edmonton’s Don Iveson) will be answering your questions at Let’s Talk Food, the free opening event of Cultivating Connections.