When you think of farming, what comes to mind?
Most of us would not imagine 30 plots of land within the Calgary area.
Meet urban farmer Rod Olson, the founder of Leaf and Lyre Urban Farms. Rod’s plots range from backyards in Bowness to a larger piece of land in Bearspaw. There is a particular charm to each of Rod’s growing locations: the hidden quaintness of a miniature backyard kale forest, to the majestic Rocky Mountain scenery that frames his Bearspaw location.
Rod has found his niche in Kale production and predominantly grows two varieties: Curly and Red Russian. Rod’s specializes in kale due to the nutrient density of the crop and the suitability of the crop to Calgary’s climate.
I was excited to visit Rod’s urban farm since his kale has garnered a reputation in Calgary. This is the kale used for the ‘famous’ Una kale salad. I arrived at Rod’s primary site: his home. It felt more like I was meeting with a teacher or family friend, rather than being put to work on a farm. We discussed what the day would look like and I met his two summer employees, his family and his dog. Rod emits a strong sense of family and community spirit.
On the drive out to visit Rod’s Bearspaw site, philosophical and inspirational discussions ensued as we became better acquainted. Rod and I really connected over our experiences overseas, and how these experiences shaped our need to make a difference in our local food system. Growing up in an agricultural community, Rod remembers a lack of pride in farming. Farming was a way of life and a difficult one at that. He remembers experiencing the dominant perception that farming is hard work and not necessarily something to celebrate. In other countries, as Rod and I uniquely experienced, there is a different perception of farmers and the agrarian lifestyle. Farmers in countries such as France have a long-standing tradition of farming and there is a strong cultural tie to the celebration of food. Producing fine ingredients is highly respected and considered essential. This lends itself to a smaller community where producers and consumers interact closely.
Rod’s involvement in urban farming was partially motivated by an article he came across about the pride of local producers. The lack of historical ties to ‘true Canadian cuisine’ may be linked to the lack of pride found in North American farming. However, there should be great pride in growing food! By reinvigorating the local farming community and the role of the farmer within the community, we can significantly improve our health and reduce our environmental impacts. And that is exactly what Rod has set out to do!
Indeed, the modern farmer does not have to get up before sunrise and live a rustic, pastoral lifestyle. Simultaneously, the role of the modern farmer is more than simply producing nutritious, high quality produce. The modern farmer is an educator, community builder, local artisan and advocate for healthier communities. Rod embodies this in every way. His enthusiasm and passion is infectious and there’s no question that his efforts are making a difference in Calgary!
Here's the view from Rod’s Bearspaw site: