A Sturgeon County potato clan will finally receive a provincial award this week after a year-long wait.
Russ Van Boom and Keith and Kevin Goutbeck of Sturgeon County’s Northbank Potato Farms will receive a 2020 Farm Family Award Nov. 12 as part of Farmfair International. They and 15 other families were supposed to get this award last year, but the award ceremony and the Farmfair conference were cancelled due to the pandemic.
The Farm Family Award has, for about 50 years, recognized forward-thinking farmers in northern and central Alberta who are leaders in their industry and community, said award co-ordinator Kimberly Zagar. (The Calgary Stampede gives out similar awards in southern Alberta.) Winners are nominated by local governments or agricultural service boards and receive recognition at Farmfair and a commemorative gate sign.
Zagar said Van Boom served as chair of the Alberta Potato Growers and was a deacon at Crestwood Presbyterian Church. Keith was a director for the “Grow Hope” chapter of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and served on the executive of Avenue CRL Church. Kevin was a director with the Edmonton Potato Growers. Their farm also received an Excellence in Agriculture Award from Sturgeon County in 2019 for their environmental leadership.
58 years of potatoes
Keith said the Northbank farm has been in his family for four generations. (Kevin is his brother, and Van Boom is their cousin.) His grandfather, Peter, started the farm in 1963 as an all-grain operation but soon diversified into table potatoes. Keith’s father, Cecil, partnered with Van Boom’s father Ernie in the 1980s and shifted the farm’s focus to seed potatoes. Keith, Kevin and Van Boom took over the farm in 2018, and now grow about 4,800 acres of grain and 700 acres of potatoes a year.
Keith and Kevin said Sturgeon County’s excellent soils and easy access to irrigation water make it well suited for potatoes. The county’s colder weather also gives seed potatoes grown here a sort of “northern vigor,” which makes for hardier crops.
Keith and Kevin said it is a challenge to keep on top of the new varieties of potato coming out all the time, noting they had to think years ahead to be ready for shifts in consumer trends. They currently grow a mix of yellow and white varieties, including the Russet Burbank (the classic baked potato) and the Satina.
Van Boom said their farm is unique for this region, but not for potato farms in general, in that they use central-pivot irrigation systems to water their crops. They also use greenbelts and low- or no-till farming to prevent soil erosion.
Van Boom said it is certainly an honour to receive this award.
“It’s a really nice way to draw attention to agriculture in Sturgeon County,” he said, as well as the hard work of all farmers in the region.
While this year has been something of a disappointment due to the drought, Keith and Kevin said the farm is still going strong and recently expanded its potato storage capacity by 30 per cent.
Van Boom said Sturgeon County has yet to realize the full potential of its agricultural industry and soil.
“The future is bright so long as agriculture is protected. If agriculture doesn’t matter to people, then it’s dim.”
The 2020 Farm Family Awards will be presented at 11 a.m. Nov. 12, with the 2021 awards following that same day at 4 p.m.
Farmfair 2021 runs from Nov. 10 to 13 at the Edmonton Expo Centre. Visit farmfairinternational.com for details.