Calgary Farm and Food Tour
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From traditional farming to the future of urban agriculture 

Written by Liana Greenshields, Emily Chow, Nathalie Prayogo and Karlee Davidson, students at the University of Alberta in the Nutrition and Food Science and Dietetics programs

Sponsored by Farm & Food Care and Canadian Food Focus

Cow at a cattle farm from the Farm and Food Tour

On March 3rd, 2023, a few of our dietitians and volunteers had the chance to participate in the Calgary Farm and Food Tour alongside several other dietitians and food experts, where we got to dig deeper into Canadian agriculture. We spent the whole day touring various types of farms and learning directly from the experts themselves. 

We had the pleasure of touring a grain and cattle farm, a vertical farm followed by a wonderful lunch at Sunterra Market and finished the day off by visiting a dairy farm. The purpose of this tour was to gain an appreciation and understanding for our agricultural and farming practices in Canada, and a sneak peek at the new trends of vertical farming. In this post, follow along with our tour and immerse yourselves in the importance of Canadian farming.

Visiting the Grain and Cattle Farm 

The first stop of our tour was a beautiful grain and cattle farm. Here, we had the pleasure of hearing from fifth generation farmers about the hard work, time, and money that must go into the production of various grains and cattle to produce the best products for Canadian consumption.

Are pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides harmful to consumers? 

Canada has one of the safest food supplies in the world. Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are used in farming because without them, it would make it incredibly hard to produce a crop due to fungus, weeds, and pest infestations. Consumers are often skeptical that farmers are using these products with no purpose, when in reality, they want to produce a safe, abundant and affordable crop for Canadians by eliminating the risk of fungus and pest diseases. Herbicides are used in a sustainable and responsible way – for example, farmers don’t spray the crops in windy conditions due to the risk of spraying water bodies, their animals and neighbours.  

The machines they use to spray their crops are also precisely set to not overspray, but also not underspray to ensure soil health and also manage cost. This is taken into account when turning as the sprayer on the wide-turn side pulses faster, while the sprayer on the inside pulses slowly. This is known as turn compensation. Modern farm machinery even knows where they have and haven’t sprayed with the use of GPS, so it will shut off to reduce costs and wastage. 

To reassure consumers even more, it is important to understand that farmers’ crops will always get tested by taking samples for the presence of herbicides before entering the food system. If unsafe levels are found, the farmer will face consequences and the crop will be thrown out. In summary, farmers are using herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides to protect both themselves and consumers. Farmers love their crops and want to deliver the best product, so they don’t spray them just because! 

You can read more about pesticides and pest management here: from Health Canada and also about the safety monitoring here from Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 

What kind of grains are produced? 

Wheat, peas, canola, and oats are the major crops produced by farmers. In fact, Canada is one of the top two exporters of wheat in the world!

Grain farm - wheat

How long does the whole process take, and what is the process like? 

Farming takes equity, time, patience, family, and in the case of the beautiful farm we visited, 110 years of hard work. Every season, farmers are given a short window to grow and produce food.  

The first step is seeding, which takes around 3 weeks, starting in the 1st week of May because the soil has to be warm to allow the seeds to germinate. Farmers use a sustainable seeding system which barely opens the soil and puts the seed and fertilizer in at once. This sustainable way of seeding puts more carbon back in the soil which is taking it away from the air. By early July, the seeds begin to sprout. When the harvest time comes near the end of the summer, the process lasts for 5 weeks. Neighbours will come in and help to hopefully finish before Thanksgiving to avoid the cold snap of fall. When the next May comes around, a different crop will be planted in the soil to rotate the herbicides used and for nitrogen fixation.

Tractor at a grain and cattle farm

However, not every summer is as smooth as this. Farmers can’t get a crop harvested before July, so weather (specifically hail) is the biggest issue. In severe hail storms, an entire crop can be wiped out, leaving the farmer with nothing for that season. The seeding planes for hail move the hail to less populated areas which are the farms, leading to intense hail on the crops. Farmers do have insurance, but premiums increase for every claim. Did you know, it is around 3 to 5°C colder out in the country than in the city at any time, making farming very difficult on colder days! 

Fun fact: With the sustainable seeding systems used by farmers, they sink 12.8 million tonnes of carbon each year, which is the equivalent of taking 2.8 million cars off the road! 

Will farming ever become fully technological? 

For those who do it and have a long family history of farming, they want to be out in the field with their crops. In other words, they love what they do and want it to remain how it is. But for those interested in the newly developing world of artificial intelligence (AI), Olds College is currently working on the potential of using AI in farming. Read more here: Smart Farm Projects. 

Visiting the Vertical Farm

How great would it be to grow plants, without having to deal with the uncertainty of mother nature? This is exactly what Agriplay decided to do. Agriplay is an innovative farm and technology company that is dedicated to solving food insecurity and unsustainable farming. We visited their showcase location in the Calgary Tower. 

What is Agriplay?

How did it all start? Well, Agriplay noticed the decrease of office space usage since 2018, which dramatically declined due to COVID-19. They decided to use a vacant office space to open their first facility of a multiphase process. Agriplay will be utilizing 65,000 square feet of vacant office space for their technology.  

Although Agriplay grows a wide variety of plants at their facility, they are focused on selling the technology they have created, not the plants themselves. Currently, they are not building for retail use. Their technology was designed to solve for scale deployment to match the need for onshoring food production and food security. Their goal is ensure everyone has access to the technology required to startup large scale farms and improve the access and quality of foods that can be purchased locally.


Before we get into the technology, we’ll first define three types of soilless growing methods. Each of these processes deliver nutrients to the roots of the plants. 

  • Hydroponic is a technique where the plants grow on top of the water surface and the roots are submerged underwater.
  • In aeroponics, the roots are in the air but use different methods to water the roots including misting and dripping.
  • Aquaponics are a little more complex. It uses the waste from the nitrogen cycle produced from fish to supply nutrients which purify water that holds the raft beds of plants. 

All these processes are used in different vertical farm techniques. Agriplay uses a precision rainfall system to provide nutrients to the plant roots. By doing this, the system can be lightweight and use less water.  

Agriplay’s Technology 

Agriplay’s innovation uses vertical planters, LED lights and precision rain to efficiently grow the plants. In a nutshell, computerized sensors are used to scan the plant’s life cycle to control the photon delivery of the LED lights. It will emit a certain spectrum and duration to promote growth based on its stage. Water is pumped from the bottom of the planter to the top and precisely rains down to hit the roots. The whole system is so energy efficient that it could be plugged into a wall socket. 

Creating this technology was not without problems. Although indoor farming does not have to worry about extreme temperatures, humidity or other mother nature uncertainties, there are other challenges that they must solve. First is having to fit the technology in a physically constraining commercial office. They also needed to ensure it was not consuming immense amounts of energy that required retrofitting of the facility. 


Agriplay’s technology is able to efficiently grow crops in the limited space while using only 10 watts per square foot. That is about 10% of the energy used in other indoor farms. They use Power over Ethernet technology which is new to most companies. The biggest challenge they faced was the supply chain issues that are still continuing. To combat this, they decided to build everything locally.

Agriplay’s system can grow more than 150 crops, not just leafy greens like most vertical farms. Agriplay originally planned to set up the Calgary Tower location in 3 phases, but they are currently discussing expanding to the entire building with ~200 square feet of space. This would allow them to include learning spaces and an Agritech innovation area for research and development. Before you know it, your next dinner may have grown in an office building!  

Going local with Sunterra Market and GroundUp Eco-ventures 

We also stopped by Sunterra’s 3-floor cozy marketplace in Keynote, Calgary for lunch. From delivering fresh produce to their delicious desserts, Sunterra provides locally sourced foods and creates delicious cuisines from scratch to give Albertans high-quality foods. Here, we learned about Sunterra’s and GroundUp Eco-Ventures’ stories and how they provide excellent local products for all Albertans. 

Sunterra’s Story 

Sunterra started around the 1970s, on a mixed farm owned by the Price family in Acme, Alberta. Although numerous kinds of crops were grown, the Price family decided to focus on breeding the best quality hogs in Alberta. With amazing genetic technology and standard health practices, Sunterra has always ensured its pork is of the best quality. In the 1980s, the Price family decided to expand and become meat processors, creating a meat processing plant in Trochu, Alberta. Visit the Sunterra Market website for more information. Finally, the Price family took their own fresh products to the market to sell, and in 1990 they created their very own: Sunterra Market! 

Sunterra’s Greenhouse 

Even with Sunterra Market’s growth and success, its goal has always been to provide Albertans and all other customers with fresh, affordable, and wholesome products. Furthermore, with Sunterra’s belief in providing Albertans with higher quality local foods, Sunterra decided to start its cropping division in 1998, seeking the best cultural practices to decrease the use of chemical fertilizers in their crops. Moreover, Sunterra started to produce salami, hams, and dry-cured meat in its very own Soleterra d’Italia so that Albertans could get locally processed meats. With great effort to ensure their salami, hams, and dry-cured meats were of the highest quality, their meats are now in demand and being shipped internationally! 

Living through the cold winters of Alberta, getting fresh produce is a difficult thing to do. Produce shipped to Alberta was picked unripe and had to travel thousands of kilometers to reach Albertan customers. Therefore, the Price family created their newest 20-acre-wide greenhouse in 2020, where produce can be grown and picked at its ripest to obtain fresher, sweeter, and better-quality fruits and vegetables, increasing the enjoyment of Albertans. Currently, Sunterra’s greenhouse grows 17.5 acres of tomatoes and 2.5 acres of Dutch strawberries. These products can be grabbed fresh at their markets or tasted on a cake at their restaurant. Finally, Sunterra also supports small, growing local brands. Local products are displayed in their stores so that these brands can grow and succeed!  

sunterra market dessert

Upcycling with GroundUp Eco-ventures 

In 2018, GroundUp eco-ventures started their journey of upcycling food in Okotoks, Alberta. Unlike recycling, upcycling creates new products from previously unusable remnants by adding value to them. GroundUp specifically focuses on upcycling coffee grounds and brewer’s grain in Canada, creating flour, baking mixes, and sustainable oils. 

Through upcycling, the amount of waste and greenhouse gas emissions from the yearly landfills of over 200,000 tons of coffee and barley can be reduced significantly! In addition to its impact on the environment, upcycling can also benefit the nutritional content of its new products. 

GroundUp’s flour made from upcycling products contains higher amounts of fiber, protein, and iron, and is lower in carbs when compared to regular wheat flour. Try replacing some of your regular wheat flour in baking with GroundUp’s flour for added nutritional value. 

Did you know? Upcycling has become a big part of the Circular Economy – a system designed to extend the life cycle of products and ingredients and contribute to environmental sustainability. 

Visiting a Dairy Farm 

We then visited Buffalorock dairy farm which is located about an hour outside of Calgary. You may be wondering where the name “Buffalorock” came from. The farm was named “Buffalorock” because there was a rock nearby the farm that was used by buffalo as rubbing stones for thousands of years! 

History of Buffalorock Dairy Farm 

Buffalorock Dairy Farm is a family-run farm that started in 1998 with 50 cows. Since then, they have expanded their facilities to house over 170 cows and livestock. The cows are fed three times per day and milked twice per day. Each cow produces approximately 30-60 liters of milk per day! Incredible right? 

Fun Fact: What is the gestation period of a cow? 

The gestation period of a cow is the same as for a human, 9 months!  

How are cows fed when they are first born? 

When calves are first born, a milk replacer is used to feed the calves. You can think of it as being like the formula you would give to a baby.! The nutrient composition is overall identical to the milk it would get from its mother. The reason for using a milk replacer is that it is convenient and consistent, so the farmer knows the exact nutrient composition each cow is consuming. There is also a colostrum replacer that is given to cows after birth which contains immunoglobulins, another term for antibodies, which help to protect the cow’s immune system and fight infection. The immunoglobulins are given to the baby cow for the first two feedings and then the next 10-12 feedings, colostrum replacer is added to the milk replacer for added fat and immunoglobulins.

After two weeks of age, the cows are fed pellets and after 2 months of age the cows are weaned off and their nutrients begin to come from dry feed. Cows are very cared for; they even have a special balanced diet that is formulated by an animal nutritionist. 

Where does the feed come from? 

95% of the feed that is fed to the cows is grown on their own fields, the remaining 5% is brought in from a food manufacturer.

Are hormones and antibiotics given to cows? 

Growth hormones are not given to cows and are not allowed in Canada. Antibiotics are given if the cow is sick, but not otherwise.  

Antibiotics are heavily tested and regulated in milk production in Canada. The withdrawal time for a cow to wait before being milked after being given antibiotics is 96 hours (about 4 days). In addition, each tank gets tested for antibiotics. There are many regulations completed to ensure the milk is free from antibiotics. The quality standards for milk production in Canada are among the highest in the world. To get the highest quality standards and optimal milk supply, the best quality feed and the highest cow comfort need to be achieved. 

For more information on hormones and antibiotics in foods read this article from Dietitians of Canada. 

Dairy cows at Buffalorock dairy farm

How are the cows milked?  

Buffalorock uses a Double 10- Parallel Parlour for milking the cows. The milking takes around 2 hours, and each cow is milked for 10 minutes, twice a day. There are 4 cleaning steps that need to be done before and after milking to ensure proper sanitation: 

Step 1: Pre-wash – water and chlorine are used to clean the milking equipment  

Step 2: Water – just water is used here 

Step 3: Soap is used to eliminate any potential bacteria  

Step 4:  Acid is used to neutralize the pH and eliminate contamination 


Sylvan Star Cheese & Lone Pine Creamery 

To finish the tour, we enjoyed some delicious premium gouda cheese from Sylvan Star Cheese which you can find at Calgary Farmers Market, alongside fresh cheese curds and the most amazing, creamy white and chocolate milk from Lone Pine Creamery! 

lone pine creamery milk
sylvan star cheese

Throughout this incredibly fun and educational day, we got the chance to learn so much about how traditional farming works, and also take a look into the future of vertical farming. Learning about the importance of agriculture and farming in Canada helped us to gain an appreciation for how crucial they are for Canadians. Our farmers work hard for not only the safe Canadian consumption of crops and milk, but also to fulfill their love for farming. 

From grain and cattle ranchers dealing with harsh conditions to grow their crops, to the future of vertical farming using technology like Agriplay, to the family-owned Sunterra Market dedicated to providing fresh and local foods, and finally a magnificent dairy farm with over one hundred happy cows, we are thankful for the hard work from farmers to consistently provide Canadians safe food. 

I hope this post helped you gain an appreciation for Canadian farmers, and if you have any more questions or would like to learn more, feel free to reach out to Canadian Food Focus. 

If you’re looking for personalized nutrition support, our dietitians can help!

Learn more about what we do at Health Stand Nutrition! Check us out here!

If you want to book an appointment to begin nutrition counseling please contact us.

Find out more about our Calgary Dietitian and Online Nutritionist services here.

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