Literary, Local, On The Road

Foodshed a great look at Alberta farms
The Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune By Alexis Kienlen
May 6th, 2012

I love it when I read a book that makes me excited. It’s a great thing when I read a book and feel enthused, eand ready to learn more. This week, that book is Dee Hobsbawn-Smith’s Foodshed – An Edible Alberta Alphabet.

Hobsbawn-Smith now lives in Saskatoon, but lived in Calgary for more than 27 years, where she owned a restaurant and freelanced as a food writer and culinary educator. She uses to host culinary tours from Calgary to local farms. Foodshed is her fifth book.
The book is organized alphabetically and takes the reader on a tour of Alberta’s farms from “Asparagus” to “Zizania (wild rice)”.

Hobsbawn-Smith visits and profiles more than 75 growers and producers from all over the province. She spent a lot of time talking with people and getting to know their farms. The voices of the farmers come through, and she is able to let them talk about their operations, their struggles and their triumphs. She looks at the issues through a realistic lens, and talks about some of the problems that plague Alberta farmers, including labour issues, sickness and financial difficulty.

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Photograph by Lorem Ipsum via Unsplash

There’s a showcase of the wealth that the province produces, but also a look at the issues faced by small-scale farmers, including some of the ways Alberta’s regulatory environment can actually be detrimental to small family farms.
All of the farmers in the book use natural methods, and many of them are organic. She focuses on farmers who are doing things organically and is clearly on the side of the producers.

“Hobsbawn-Smith includes photographs and recipes using local foods in this collection. She doesn’t ignore the Peace Country, and profiles a number of Peace Country residents including Jerry Kitt, Gil and Darlene Hegel, Eric and Carmen DeSchipper, Peter, Lisa and Mary Lundgard and the Marusiaks of Bridge View Gardens.”

The book includes small paragraphs that explain concepts such as the Weston Price diet, and community-supported agriculture projects. There are also several appendixes that talk about urban agriculture, home cooking and a list of further reading. Names, addresses and contact info for all of the farmers included are in the back of the book.

I’m a standard Image Caption.
Photograph by Lorem Ipsum via Unsplash

The book is an experience itself. Hobsbawn-Smith has laid out the situation and landscape of a large number of Alberta’s farmers, and really tries to take the reader all over the province. The result is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in food and food issues. It’s a travel guide for people who want to engage in agri-tourism of Alberta’s farms.

The book urges people to care about the people who are producing food in the province, and seek it out. It’s hard not to read the stories about the many amazing people who are producing meat, produce, and milk and honey products in this province and not feel moved by their stories and their endeavours. Hobsbawn-Smith also takes care to showcase producers who are doing things differently; using draft horses instead of equipment, diversifying into new crops, and using beneficial insects to cut down on pests.

This is a book that can be read in one sitting or slowly over time. I think it would be fun to read it over a long period of time, dipping into chapters according to whimsy.
This is a wonderful book, and I’m glad that someone felt compelled to write it and publish it. It’s a valuable resource, a portrait of some of the province’s overlooked riches, and a great read. I urge you to pick up “Foodshed”. After you read it, you’ll be running to your local farmers’ market.

Questions or suggestions? Email me at alexiskienlen@hotmail.com

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“Bread & Water is an emotionally arresting, beautifully written series of essays.”

~ Jurors’ Citation, Saskatchewan Book Awards, University of Saskatchewan President’s Office Nonfiction Award

“Food is a wonderful agent for storytelling... and Bread & Water demonstrates this brilliantly.”

~ Sarah Ramsey, starred review, Quill & Quire

“[Bread & Water is] An amazing feast... riveting... eloquent.”

~ Patricia D. Robertson, Winnipeg Free Press

“[Bread & Water is a] sensuous experience; she brings her poet’s eye and ear to everything within her purview.”

~ Professor emerita Kathleen Wall, Blue Duets

“A deep love of the art of cooking that includes the language of fine dining (cassoulet, confit) even if the lamb was raised in Olds and she picked the rhubarb herself... she impressively manages this collision of worlds with a wholesome, approachable style.”

~ Megan Clark, Alberta Views

“These finely focussed poems [in Wildness Rushing In] invite us into a sensuous and emotionally rich landscape.”

~ Don McKay, winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize

“The writing [in Wildness Rushing In] is honed and textured, the senses so alive that you can practically taste the language. There are moments of brilliance rare in a first book.”

~ Jurors’ Citation, Saskatchewan Book Awards

“dee Hobsbawn-Smith’s stories [in What Can’t Be Undone] are written with a poetic edge. Her descriptions, particularly western landscapes, are often luxurious, lending themselves a kind of nuanced impression, a delicate fingerprint on the reader’s mind. "

~ Lee Kvern, Alberta Views

“[Foodshed is] A rich encyclopedia of facts, farm-gate lore and original recipes... a politically engaging narrative in which Hobsbawn-Smith articulates the challenges and joys faced by small-scale producers... don’ t let the alphabet theme fool you. This is no tame nursery rhyme; it is a locavore call to arms.”

~ P.D. Robertson, The Globe & Mail

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