Central Alberta farmer calls for crop insurance

Jungle Farm owners are hoping to find a ray of hope in the devastating hailstorms that have hit their vegetable farm twice in less than a month.

Leona Staples thinks heartbreaking losses can do some good if their experience — and that of other specialty crop farmers — can build momentum to extend crop insurance coverage to them.

An August 1 hailstorm that produced Canada’s record sized hailstone in Markerville just a few miles west of The Jungle Farm devastated the popular destination for thousands of strawberry, raspberry, blueberry enthusiasts and vegetables every summer.

This devastating storm followed a July 8 hailstorm that tore through the area, shredding young strawberry plants and wreaking havoc on onions, leeks, cucumbers, beets and potatoes and 900 acres of crops grain fields on the farm, about 10 km northeast of Innisfail.

“I would say (July’s storm) was one of the worst we’ve seen in 25 years,” said Staples, who runs the family farm with husband Blaine with help from sons Lewis, Richard and Gerald. “During the July storm, we lost all our summer strawberries. We may have picked up 5%. 100 of what could have been picked up on 20 acres.

“(The storm of August 1) replaces that one. This one was much worse than the previous one.

The hailstones were so large that they pierced the metal roofs of farm buildings, damaged farm equipment, destroyed greenhouses and shattered windows.

“We no longer have a window on the west side of our house.”

Leona said they would be lucky if they salvaged 20% of the 20 acres of fall strawberries that would have been ready to pick in a few weeks. The jury is still out on how well cucumbers, zucchini, beets, leeks, onions and other vegetables can bounce back.

Despite the damage, many people went to the farm to pick whatever strawberries they could. But visitors who previously left with up to 20 pounds (nine kg) of strawberries only pick up one to three pounds. Baskets of greenhouse raspberries were available for sale Monday and Tuesday and shelter-grown strawberries are available and the general store offers jams, pickles and preserves.

“We had a real wave of public support.”

The Staples will update its Facebook page weekly to let people know what’s available.

The impact of extreme weather extends far beyond the Staples family and their farm. Nearly a dozen students hoped to earn money from their summer jobs. Most had to be released – some before they even started – after the July storm.

Half a dozen seasonal workers from Mexico relied on their summer income to support their families. With almost no work to do now, they had to return home months earlier than planned.

And The Jungle Farm is just one of many market gardens that have suffered huge weather-related losses over the years.

All of this only reinforces the need for crop insurance for those growing specialty crops, Leona said. Alberta market gardeners and other specialty crop growers have been pushing for years to expand the type of insurance available to other crop growers.

“If I could send one message…it’s the importance of this industry. The vegetable industry has really become the face of agriculture because people can come directly involved in agriculture when they come to our farm.

The industry also provides a significant opportunity for young farmers at a time when the cost of land and the allure of off-farm employment means that fewer and fewer children of farmers are choosing to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

“The wonderful thing about this industry is that someone can start very small,” she said. “It’s a very affordable way to get into the farming industry and grow food if that was someone’s passion.”

“We need to support this industry to grow. One of the things that is going to be critical in growing this particular industry is having risk mitigation and having the ability to have a safety net.

The Staples have had more than two decades to grow their business and set aside money for disasters. Young farmers don’t have the same resources, which makes insurance all the more critical when they’re just starting out.

Leona has previously spoken with Alberta Agriculture Minister Nate Horner, who was sensitive to her concerns and encouraged her to reach out to the thousands of people who visited her farm to put pressure on officials. of Agriculture and their local MPs to expand crop insurance coverage.

“It is possible to do it. It has been done in other provinces,” she said. “We have friends in Ontario who have crop insurance for their strawberries.

Market gardens are also more important than ever at a time when food security and food scarcity are becoming bigger issues, she said. For more farm information and hours, visit thejunglefarm.com.

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Leona Staples, owner of The Jungle Farm south of Red Deer, points to strawberries ripening in her field on Tuesday. (Photo by MURRAY CRAWFORD/Staff Counsel)

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