Sparrow's Nest Organics

My name is Graham Sparrow and I started Sparrow’s Nest Organics in 2000, after purchasing a 70-acre farm just north of Edmonton. Born and raised in Calgary, by my early-twenties I was quickly losing interest in finishing my degree in Economics at the University of Calgary. I packed up my bicycle and camping gear for my trip to the UK for one year. I spent nine months in Ireland, where I traveled and worked for room and board on several small rural properties. I quickly became hooked on the concepts of self-sustainability, organics, and food production.

Once home in Canada, I eagerly began more formal apprenticeships toward the goal of some day acquiring a farm of my own. I spent that first summer home, again working for room and board, on a Certified Organic farm near Kamloops, BC. From there, a year as Produce Manager at a health food store back in Calgary taught me much about staffing a department, maintaining stock, keeping produce looking fresh, and interacting with customers. (This year at home offered me not only my first paid full-time position in a couple of years; it also afforded me time to finish my B.A. in Economics from UofC.)

Total chance took me to a Farm Manager’s position on a Certified Organic tree orchard in southern California, in the Anza Borrego desert. I learned much about tree care, farm management, and set up a small CSA garden for the farm’s owner. Missing home, I returned, and spent a year working on a thriving, year-round Demeter Certified bio-dynamic farm in Kaslo, BC. By far it was the most intensive and thorough training for me to that point. It taught me much about row-cropping, and the power of machines to produce mountains of food. My final stop before returning to Alberta was a second year at my friends’ hidden oasis in the hills looking down upon Kamloops. Combined with planting, caring for and harvesting gorgeous produce, we played rock-and-roll every day after meals.

My internal magnet for Alberta finally dragged me to the Edmonton area, with every intention of finding my perfect spot. It took many months, and many dozens of dead-end visits to inappropriate farm listings, to finally stumble across the property I now call home (and The Office, as well). The farm was nothing more than a modest house, several large fields, and a comforting amount of Parkland aspen forest. Now, after fifteen years, the land has been transformed into a thriving market garden, tree farm, and serenity forest, replete with walking trails and any number of wild animal residents.

When I think back to the beginning, in 2000, I recall my first CSA garden, for thirteen families (mostly friends and family, whom I browbeat into supporting those first meager production years). I don’t think we had any produce until late July, and then had ludicrously large amounts of it. Atop that original garden space now sits the commercial greenhouse, built only two years ago now, where plant production begins for the thousands of transplants and bedding plants grown.

I owned no machinery for years. Everything was done by hand and with hand tools. The planting was done with a string to keep rows straight, and a trowel; potatoes were planted by hand along rows, hilled by hand, dug by digging fork. I remember the first wash shed, with no lights, outdoors with only a roof. Water and power came by hose and a handy extension cord from the house. Plants were started in the kitchen. You can only imagine the mess: soil, compost, and water all in the kitchen—plastic shower curtains were hung on the walls to keep water off.

We used to carry all storage crops downstairs to the cold room, day after exhausting day in the Fall, to lose half the crops or more to mold and rot by late Winter. Now, a commercial walk-in refrigerator maintains top produce quality well into early Summer.

We have been Certified Organic since 2003. Organic production methods are the mainstay of our growing philosophy. We rely on the power of plants—especially legumes, composts, and naturally-occurring minerals to build our soils.

It is with great pleasure to be included in the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market family. An opportunity, indeed!