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Celebrating Agriculture Day with food

The important things you can learn at a free industry luncheon celebration

Well that was a party and a half. There I was on Canada’s Agriculture Day in mid-February at a Calgary luncheon table with Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Pulse Growers and Alberta Dairy Producers. Talk about shoving, pushing, name calling and aggression. It wasn’t over any philosophy of who had the best source of food protein… it was just me making my way to the front of the buffet line. You can’t let these commodity groups run all over you. (Important food tip at the end).

But seriously, it was a nice luncheon put on by the Ag for Life organization in Alberta. It is an industry-sponsored foundation dedicated to increasing public awareness about modern agriculture — helping people better understand where their food comes from. While this luncheon was largely the ag industry talking to the ag industry, Ag for Life organizes other public events and does a lot of work of promoting agriculture in the schools.

I had no trouble knowing where my food comes from that day. It was a buffet table about 15 feet to my left. I just happened to be at a table with representatives of Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Dairy Farmers and Alberta Pulse Growers.

I thought when the Ag for Life organizer mentioned the luncheon was built around the new Canada Food Guide there might be some fireworks between pulse, dairy and beef about who had the best source of protein, but it was all very sociable and professional.

The event was held at the ATCO company headquarters, where along with corporate offices they have this impressive event centre on the main floor where you can seat a few hundred people, adjacent to their long-standing Blue Flame Kitchen. Along with building portable offices and trailers, ATCO has long provided natural gas and electricity to Alberta residents. The company created the Blue Flame Kitchen some 85 years ago to provide households with cooking advice and recipes and it’s still going. Blue Flame Kitchen probably started with the idea, “now you are cooking with gas.” (And on the topic of gas — later).

And it was a very nutritionally and politically balanced lunch buffet too — a nice selection of pulse-based salads, a great selection of cheese and of course fork-tender roast beef all prepared by the staff of the Blue Flame Kitchen.

I think if any of these commodity groups played lowball to get attention it was Alberta Dairy. The dairy rep brought a seemingly endless supply of chocolate milk for refreshments. You’d think 150 adults had never seen chocolate milk before. Refill after refill. I would have been embarrassed for them, but I was too busy bulk loading up on cheese.

And the Pulse Growers got a bit cute too. Their rep brought a bundle of a new Alberta Pulse Growers cookbooks with “20 tried and true recipes” with peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. That free book seemed to be a popular item. You can learn more about it and order a copy at albertapulse.com (see a vitally-important tip about eating pulses at the end).

The focal point of the luncheon was a celebrity cook off. Four Alberta celebrities were each teamed up with a chef from local restaurants and each team had to create a great dish that incorporated beef, dairy and pulses. I would have gone with a burger, milkshake and a can of pork and beans, but these folks decided to raise the bar.

Farmer and rancher judges at the Ag For Life celebrity cook off took their job very seriously, from left Matt Sawyer, Emily Ritchie, Cheryl Copithorne-Barnes, Ian Chitwood and Dave Lamb.
photo: Lee Hart

Celebrities included Calgary TV personality Lane Fraser; Kindersley, Sask., native and Provost, Alta.,-raised, former NHL player Curtis Glencross; country singer and songwriter from Stettler, Alta., Kent Nixon; and former Olympic curler Cheryl Bernard of Calgary.

Judges were an unbiased panel of mostly farmers and ranchers from the Calgary area including: Cheryl Copithorne-Barnes, David Lamb, Ian Chitwood and Matt Sawyer as well as Emily Ritchie with the Canadian Cattleman’s Association. Sawyer, who farms with family members at Acme, north of Calgary, had a good line when asked if he grew any pulse crops. Sawyer says some years he thinks about it, then he lays down for a little while and the thought passes. That was a joke.

Cheryl Bernard, teamed up with a chef from Saltlik Restaurant in Calgary, was voted as having prepared the best dish, although from my vantage they all looked good.

So that’s how I celebrated the 2019 Agriculture Day. I doubt if too many members of the public stopped for a moment of silent appreciation, but I am betting that 99.99 per cent of them had something to eat that day— maybe that’s all the industry can expect.

Life-changing tip

Now, the important closing item on eating more pulse crops. It was probably 20 years ago I went to a then Alberta Wheat Pool dinner — it probably had something to do with opening of the Pool’s bean processing plant at Bow Island, Alta., — but dessert at that dinner was pecan pie made from beans. It must have been good, I still remember it — I couldn’t tell the difference between pecans and beans. I believe Fern Richardson was the district home economist who talked about the dish and the importance of eating more pulses. But she also noted the unfortunate side effects of eating pulses — gas — which apparently in some circles isn’t really socially acceptable.

So at the Agriculture Day luncheon I asked Alberta Pulse Growers food and nutrition co-ordinator Debra McLennan if plant breeding or some technology had fixed that annoying problem. Apparently not.

McLennan said largely the “gas”problem results from a lack of fibre in the average diet. So if a person bulk loads on high-fibre kidney beans in chilli, or chickpea salad your system isn’t use to all this fibre and it produces gas. If people ate more fibre on a daily basis it can reduce the risk of your next chilli cookoff being a noisy, some might consider, rude event.

So today’s take home message, plan ahead. Next time the dinner menu calls for red beans and rice start a few days earlier and eat half a bale of wheat straw, dry alfalfa, hay or even pea straw and coast through the meal without a peep. (That’s my nutrition tip, not Debra McLennan’s).

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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