Because Alberta lamb is grain-finished, cuts are generally larger with a milder flavour than imported lamb. It is tender and juiciest when slightly pink in the middle, but don’t overcook it.

Whispering Cedars Ranch

Food, Fibre, Environment and Energy

When nurse Janna Greir and her powerline-technician husband, Ryan, decided to farm a decade ago, they had no idea they’d be doing what they’re doing now.

“We always wanted to raise our kids on a farm,” says Ryan. “Originally, the intent – if I’m being honest – was just a few sheep and a few goats and maybe a horse or something.”

whisper cedars ranch

Now they’re selling lamb year-round from their Whispering Cedars Ranch, a 350-ewe herd of purebred Rideau Arcott on 93 acres near Strathmore. And they’ve jumped feet-first into the difficult conversation around preserving the environment while feeding the planet.

The Greirs are the first to admit it was a steep learning curve. Breeding programs. Animal health. Predator control. Biosecurity. To tackle it all, they found mentors and tapped information resources; took training programs from Olds College and Guelph University; sourced and integrated ag-technology; joined the board of the Alberta Lamb Producers. They built their farm business piece-by-piece while continuing to work off-farm. “We’ve just spent the years picking and pulling from things we’ve seen and experienced,” says Janna.

A major concern was regenerating the property they purchased four years ago. “When we took it over, we recognized we needed to find ways to bring it back to life,” says Ryan. “Part of that was creating a rotational grazing scheme.” With moveable paddocks of electric fencing, sheep are permitted to graze only one area at a time, while other paddocks regrow. “It’s really allowed us to improve our soil base.”

janna and ryan

To supplement summer pasture, the sheep are fed alfalfa hay and whole barley. And for the past year, the ranch has participated in the Loop program, which sees unsaleable grocery store surplus diverted from the landfill to farmers for use as livestock feed.

“I go in every Wednesday with a truck and trailer and pick up from three stores,” says Janna. “And then I basically divvy that up to the sheep throughout the week… The sheep love it.”

But the Greirs are eager to take their environmental stewardship further. Starting this summer, their flocks will be grazing Capital Power’s new 320-acre, 41-megawatt Strathmore solar facility.

“Solar installations have historically been viewed as a loss of land. Why not utilize that land for food [and] fibre… and utilize sheep to give back carbon sequestration and fertilizer?” says Ryan.

Several studies, including one from Temple University published just this year, have demonstrated the carbon sink capabilities of rotational sheep-grazing on solar energy sites. And in a win/win scenario, ranchers get access to pasture they might not otherwise be able to afford, while sheep reduce the need for mechanical and chemical maintenance of the facility grounds.

“We all have a responsibility to contribute to the succession of our planet,” says Ryan. “We all have a responsibility to find ways within our own area – and ways to support each other – to make that transition.”

With Janna now full-time on the farm with the couple’s two toddlers, a growing dairy herd, and a newly-minted certificate in pasteurization, look for sheep milk products to appear on the market in 2023. A farm-stay program, spearheaded by Janna’s mother, Jennifer Franssen, is also in the works.

You can purchase lamb directly from Whispering Cedars Ranch or through Country Lane Farms (delivering to Calgary, Chestermere and Canmore.)

Crystal Rill Trout Farm

Shifting Perspective

Think “farming on the prairies” and it’s fields of grain or livestock on pasture that likely spring to mind. Jonathan Young grew up on a farm, but somewhere along the way he developed a different vision of what farming could be.

crystal rill trout farm

crystal rill trout farm

Inspired by neighbour Bob Allen (one of the first commercial fish producers in Alberta), Jonathan recognized the potential of his property in the Springbank area where his family has ranched since 1886. On a corner where cold springs from the Elbow river basin percolate through the gravelly soil, Jonathan dug a fish pond into the high water table and began to raise rainbow trout in the mid-1990s. One pond became three; three became six, and in 1998 he and his wife, Shannon, established Crystal Rill Trout Farm, raising fish for recreational pond-stocking throughout the province. When the discovery of whirling disease in Alberta waters decimated the pond-stocking industry in 2016, the Youngs switched to food production.

“To be honest with you, the first two years, it was a rough go,” says Jonathan. The shift required scaling back production and returning to an off-farm job to pay the bills. But he knew his product was a good one – a sentiment echoed by the chefs on whose menus Crystal Rill trout has since appeared, including at Two Trees Bistro in the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, The Bavarian Inn in Bragg Creek, Fence & Post in Cochrane, and The Nash, Mercato, and Marriott Hotel restaurants in Calgary.

johnathan and shannon

Crystal Rill trout are slow-grown on organic feed that includes off-cuts from ocean-caught fish – a feed practice that reduces the waste generated in the West-coast fishing industry. Jonathan harvests his fish year-round by net, cleans them immediately in his onsite AHS-approved facility, and delivers his product to customers within 24 hours of netting. Since 2019, Shannon has sold fresh Crystal Rill trout at the Cochrane Farmers’ Market to a steady clientele.

Predators – like bald eagles, blue heron, mink, and the like – are also fans of the product, pilfering through holes in the protective pond nets that are chewed regularly by coyotes. But as a longstanding outdoorsman who loves to fish and hike, Jonathan appears unfussed. “I love just working down there [at the ponds],” he says. “And getting to know some of the chefs… working with good people… it’s nice.”

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2022 the International year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, aiming to focus world attention on the role that small-scale fishers, fish farmers and fish workers play in food security and nutrition, poverty eradication and sustainable natural resource use.

Whirling disease is not present in the meat of fish and poses no danger for human consumption. All fish farms in Alberta are evaluated to ensure the proposed site and species do not threaten native fish species. Regular inspections and reporting are required.