The heritage breed pigs at Urban Digs Farm are fed a wholesome and almost entirely organic diet, and are free to roam around their large enclosure.
*** Urban Digs Farm is now called Blue Sky Ranch! ***
Where does my food come from?
Becoming a food writer gave me a new lens through which to look at the food I was eating.
As a fitness professional for over a decade and the product of a stay-at-home mother who cooked all of our meals from scratch, I’ve always been interested in healthy nutrition, but learning the story behind the ingredients through meeting some of BC’s most incredible chefs has drastically changed the way I eat.
I used to think from the perspective of “protein” and “vegetables,” especially during my days as a personal trainer working in a gym where many of my colleagues subsided on such bland meals as poached chicken and steamed broccoli. I didn’t think beyond the shelves of my grocery store. I didn’t consider how the pristine chicken breasts and neatly stacked rows of vegetables made their way into my shopping cart.
Because I was so detached from the source of these products, I didn’t think about how the animals were treated, what chemicals had been sprayed on the vegetables, or how far the packages had travelled, and at what environmental cost, to arrive on my plate.
The ducks at Urban Digs Farm have the space to snuggle with each other, stretch out on their own, or splash around in their little pool.
When I began to interview chefs and look closely at their menus, they highlighted their ingredients’ origins: Agassiz hazelnuts, North Arm Farm beets, Lois Lake steelhead, Maple Hill Farms chicken.
This made me think about my own ingredients’ origins when I was cooking at home. When I began asking questions, I often didn’t like what I discovered. In some cases, I was completely horrified.
I take full responsibility for my own ignorance but I was still very angry that many of the products I’d been buying, with deceptive marketing depicting nutritious, sun-ripened plants and happy, frolicking animals, were grown or raised under very shameful circumstances.
As I began to get really nosy and ask a lot of questions, I discovered the power I had to make informed choices and the influence that every dollar I spent carried. My mood changed from anger to empowerment. It became evident that a small army of compassionate and concerned businesses was rising and by buying their products I was helping them, in very small part, grow.
When I met Erin Ireland, a respected food reporter and owner of To Die For Fine Foods, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit. This is a woman who oozes compassion and authenticity. A few years after we met, I heard her captivating Pecha Kucha talk (watch it below) and was very interested to hear we’d had a similar journey with the way we thought about and approached food.
During one of our beautiful nature jogs with our dogs, Effie (hers) and Charlie (mine), we hatched a plan to visit local farms to see with our own eyes how they operated. As both animal lovers and food reporters, we felt a strong pull to act and speak with authenticity and transparency. We wanted to be sure that the wonderful new restaurant we were sharing on social media, or writing about for local publications, was getting their ingredients from equally wonderful producers.
So began our #trulyethicalBC adventure, a series of road trips to discover who’s doing great things in our community and share them with everyone we know and the reach of our combined media outlets.
First stop: Urban Digs Farm
The pigs at Urban Digs Farm love getting a belly rub from owners Julia Smith and Ludo Ferrari.
If you follow Urban Digs Farm on Twitter (@UrbanDigsFarm), you’re treated to adorable images of their chickens foraging around the farmyard, ducks lounging in the sunshine or splashing in their pool, and pigs rooting around in the rich, peaty soil or having a nap in their cozy sheds.
We wanted to see these happy animals for ourselves so when owners Julia Smith and Ludo Ferrari invited us out for a visit we pulled on our gumboots, hopped in the car, and made our way to their beautiful little plot in South Burnaby.
It was a real privilege to spend nearly two hours with Julia and Ludo as they showed us some of the work required to raise animals with their fierce ethical conviction.
5,000 pounds of organic food diverted from landfill each week
Julia shows us some of the organic produce, brew mash, and yogurt they diverted from the landfill to feed their animals.
One of the first things that struck me was how they feed their animals. Firstly, it’s almost entirely organic feed. Every week they pick up over 5,000 pounds of mostly organic food from a nearby grocery store and brewery, diverting it from the landfill – even though it’s practically in perfect shape! I had no idea how much food waste occurs in the grocery business.
It sounds pretty great to get truckloads of organic food for free but the time spent in transit and on opening hundreds of packages is a huge time commitment. I also learned that organically-grown, ethically raised animals take at least twice as long to raise as factory farmed animals, so this commitment is magnified. Not to mention the time spent rubbing bellies, patting heads, and checking on each and every animal individually to make sure they’re thriving.
When we visited the farm, we checked in on the chickens and ducks on our way to see their beautiful, boisterous heritage pigs who were just finishing up a snack of organic yogurt, greens and brew mash – the nutritious leftovers from beer-making that would otherwise be thrown in the garbage. There were stacks and stacks of cases of 100-gram yogurt containers. Can you imagine how long it would take to open enough teeny tiny containers to feed over a dozen hungry, growing pigs?
Reducing carbon footprints
As Julia pointed out, this is a good way to raise animals – maybe we should only eat animals raised on (perfectly good) food waste, instead of growing feed that requires an additional carbon footprint.
The pigs at Urban Digs Farm not only have a net zero carbon footprint, they’re carbon positive! With their strong muzzles, built for rooting, they’ve pulled up entire fields of invasive quackgrass, preparing the fertile soil for nutritious vegetable gardens. The peat bog they’re located on is some of the best land in Canada, says Julia.
The pigs are allowed to carry out their natural, highly social behaviours, while they divert organic waste from the landfill, spare the cultivation of fields for feed crops, provide fertilizer from their manure, and do the job of heavy machinery by removing weeds and preparing the soil for nutrient-dense produce.
This, said Julia as she lovingly rubbed one of her pig’s bellies, is an example of why farm animals are an important part of the agro ecosystem.
We were beginning to get the idea of how much work it took to raise their animals in alignment with their values, and how much love and compassion there was behind their efforts.
Eggs and fresh whole chickens from the farm are available at the Urban Digs Farm Market.
To support Urban Digs Farm and nourish your body with their wholesome food, look for their products here:
- The Beasty Box, a "nose to tail" butchery box
- Vegetable Harvest Box
- Pig shares
- Urban Digs Farm Market
- Retail Markets in the Lower Mainland
The Urban Digs Farm Market is located at 4992 Byrne Road, Burnaby, BC and is open Thursdays from 1pm to 6pm and Saturdays from 10am to 5pm.
Check their website, urbandigsfarm.com, for regular updates. As of June 18, here’s what they have in store:
In addition to lovely spring produce and eggs we'll have fresh whole chicken, whole ducks, duck breasts, heritage pork and red angus beef. All our meat is super sustainably and ethically raised on pasture.
Here's a more or less complete list of what's for eats this week:
- Garlic Scapes
- Sunflower Shoots
- Pea Shoots
- Swiss Chard
- Napa Cabbage
- Bok Choy
- Whole Duck
- Duck Breast
- Red Angus Beef
- Pickles & Preserves
In addition to picking up lovely spring produce, you can also visit the baby chicks, ducks, chickens & pigs, and see how our spring crops are coming along.
We are really easy to get to by car, transit or bike. There are miles of beautiful biking/walking paths right at the end of our street so why not make an afternoon of it?
We look forward to seeing you soon!