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Meet the McKennas!

McKenna family photo

Last month, I was kindly invited by CropLife Canada to meet the McKenna family who are 4th generation farmers in beautiful Prince Edward Island (PEI)! Gordie and Andrea McKenna shown above with their family, grow potatoes, carrots and turnips on the red, iron-rich soil which helps to retain the right amount of moisture for the crops.

But it takes so much more than just perfect soil and climate to grow food. Along with hard work and perseverance, the McKennas must navigate issues such as:

  • Land management – Preparation for this year’s potato planting actually began 3 years ago with a SWAT analysis (soil, water, air and topography), crop rotation and pest management.
  • Soil health – Grid sampling is conducted to test soil samples for nutrients.
  • Impact of world events on supply and cost of resources – For example, much of the fertilizer was previously sourced from Russia. With the world events, the cost of fertilizer has risen by 85%!
  • Technology – Modern day farmers need to invest in technology and digital tools.
  • Labour shortage – It’s a challenge to find staff who understand the machinery and technology required for farming. The shortage of truck drivers in our country is escalating a competitive marketplace between Canadian and European farmers.
  • Weather –  Climate uncertainties such as early frost or heat domes can pose major challenges.
Gordie and Jason on the farm

Gordie McKenna describes the precision needed in growing carrots.

I had a chance to ask Gordie, “What’s one thing you would like to say to Canadians?”

His reply, “I want Canadians to know just how challenging it is to produce perfect food. It’s a constant pressure on a food producer in Canada to try to be perfect every step of the way. Farmers need more respect from consumers, better understanding and more education in the classrooms for children to see what farming is like today.”

The bottom line is that farming is incredibly hard work. Farmers take pride in growing safe and nutritious food that feed us and families around the world. Watch the Real Farm Lives documentary series to peek into the daily lives of our amazing Canadian farmers!

Other Fun Facts I Learned on My Trip to PEI

  • Prince Edward Island is the largest grower of potatoes in Canada, supplying about 25% of all potatoes grown in Canada. There are 200 potato producers in PEI, and 96% of them are multi-generational farmers.
  • Plant science includes tools that protect crops from insects / weeds / diseases as well as innovations to develop stronger varieties of crops. Farmers use these innovations to grow food sustainably.
  • Cavendish Farms were the first potato producer in North America to convert solid waste to bio-methane gas for energy. The Cavendish Farms plant processes 4 million pounds of potatoes every day and produces 270 bags of French fries every MINUTE – that’s 388,800 bags of French fries each and every day! It can take 9 years to clone a new potato variety. The Cavendish team of researchers developed the Russet Prospect potato which requires less fertilizer and soil fumigation.
  • Harrington Research Farm houses a field and greenhouse research facility as part of the Charlottetown Research and Development Centre. Scientists conduct research on integrated crop systems with a focus on crop rotations, soil health, water quality, agronomy of new crop species, crop nutrient cycles and pest / disease management.

Thanks again to CropLife Canada, Farm and Food Care PEI and the PEI Federation of Agriculture for organizing this fantastic trip and educational event! Until next time!

Group photo of tour participants on the farm

Friends and colleagues on the McKenna family farm!

The event was sponsored travel and this blog reflects my own learning experiences.

 

 

 

Chicken & Vegetable Empanadas

Triangular shaped empanadas stacked on a white plate with a garnish of green parsley on the side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Canadian Agriculture Day!

Thank you to the Canadian farmers who produce safe, nutritious and quality food for us!

To celebrate, I baked these Chicken & Vegetable Empanadas – made with delicious Canadian ingredients like chicken, cheese, mushrooms, eggs, corn, butter and canola oil. The phyllo pastry gives them a light and flaky crust. Enjoy!

Chicken and Vegetable Empanadas

Ingredients

2 T canola oil

1 onion chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

2 boneless chicken breast, diced into ¼” pieces

1 cup corn, fresh or frozen

1 cup finely diced mushrooms

2 T lime juice

1 – 1½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

pinch salt

pinch pepper

1½ cups shredded cheese (e.g. Old Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or a mix of your favourite cheese)

1 egg, lightly beaten

8 large sheets of phyllo pastry, defrosted and sliced into thirds lengthwise

½ cup butter, melted

Directions

  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Cook the onions until soft and slightly brown (a few minutes). Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
  2. Add diced chicken and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  3. Add corn, mushrooms and lime juice. Cook for a few more minutes.
  4. Mix and sprinkle in cumin, coriander, salt and pepper.
  5. Remove from stove and allow to cool.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
  7. Lay out the phyllo pastry sheets and cover with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out.
  8. Once the chicken mixture has cooled, mix in the cheese and egg.
  9. Take one phyllo sheet at a time and brush with melted butter.
  10. Place 1 T of the chicken filling in the bottom left corner of the phyllo sheet.
  11. Make a triangle by folding up the bottom right edge of the phyllo sheet. Continue folding this way all the way along the phyllo pastry. Don’t worry if the pastry tears, just keep rolling.
  12. Brush the top of the triangle shaped empanada with a bit more butter. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the chicken filling.
  13. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the empanadas are a lovely golden brown colour.

Makes about 24 appetizer sized empanadas

 

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