80 miles: Discover the who, where and why of what’s on your plate

Central Alberta bison ranchers reconnect people to food, food to health, neighbours to neighbours

In 1950, it seems every Canadian lived on a farm/ranch or knew someone who did. Visiting ‘the farm’ to get fresh meat, eggs and produce was the norm, not the exception.

Today many Canadians don’t know any farmers or where their food comes from. The integrity of the food chain is questioned and ‘food horror stories’ and reports of unsustainable ag practices, depleted topsoil reserves and other environmental concerns add to the confusion. As such, a growing number of people want to learn the “where” and “how” behind their food.

Stew Staudinger, co-owner of MFL Bison Ranch in Alix and The Ranch Gate Market in Sylvan Lake, says many farmers and ranchers are keen to tell their stories of responsible husbandry, soil regeneration and healthy food.

“As an Air Force officer who grew up on a ranch, I wanted to find healthy, locally produced food. When I retired, I returned to the family bison ranch with developing a local market in mind,” he says. “Selling to a nameless, faceless customer down some supply chain is nowhere near as satisfying as being able to tell a customer, face to face, how and where their food was raised.”

Retail butcher/food market helps connection

The Staudingers’ butcher shop and pantry market in Sylvan Lake, located six miles from great-grandfather Alex’s 1903 homestead, offers an ‘80/80’ guarantee: more than 80 per cent of their meat is sourced within 80 miles of their store. Not only that, Stew says, they connect customers with the farms the animals were raised on. “I try to put a farmer or rancher’s name on every steak, drumstick and sausage in the store,” he adds.

Family health a personal motivator

A history of medical issues underlies the Staudinger’s strong belief in healthy food. Stew’s wife was diagnosed with celiac sprue in 2015 and their daughters are at risk of becoming celiac. His sister, Dreefy (Andrea), who manages the market, underwent chemotherapy for lymphoma in 2013, their middle sister was last year diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and their father suffers from grain allergies.

“Our whole family is very aware of autoimmune disease and the impact of diet on health, so it is important to us that we serve families facing similar challenges,” Dreef says.

Movement toward prevention drives ranch policies

Amid a backdrop of increased investigation into dietary solutions to auto-immune and related illnesses, the Staudingers are among those producers who are stepping away from industrialized monoculture ag and adopting soil regenerative practices. They look forward to re-introducing non-farming neighbours and friends to healthy food and ecosystems. As Stew says, “Cut the toxins and increase the nutrients – it’s the same formula for the soil, the ecosystem or your plate.”

He invites you to visit the market on Hinshaw Drive and discover the benefits of a “local food” diet. You can also arrange for a visit to the ranch, to see where it all happens. For more information visit the theranchgatemarket.com or call 403-864-4040. Or follow what’s new on Ranch Gate’s Facebook or Instagram pages.

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Cows and calves on the range at the MFL Bison Ranch in Alix.

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