Fourth Generation Family Farm Brings Free-Range to Market

Serben Free Range 1

You know the benefits of buying foods at farmers’ markets. Nothing beats the freshness you get when buying straight from the producer, grower, artisan and baker. Every purchase not only supports small Alberta business, it also supports local families, like the Serbens of Serben Free Range. Jered and Julia operate a fourth generation farm near Smoky Lake raising pigs, chickens, turkeys and lambs in atypical free-range style. Now a firm fixture in our market, the Serbens tell us about their products and what makes them so tasty and so healthy for us.

Tell us about the products you sell.

We sell free-range, naturally-raised pork, chicken, turkey, eggs, and occasionally lamb. Our pork selection is unparalleled – at the moment we have (deep breath): roasts, pork chops, tenderloin, bacon, bacon bits, sliced ham, smokies, cheese smokies, European weiners, pepperoni, jerky, English bangers, rosemary and garlic sausages, bratwurst, maple breakfast sausage and garlic breakfast sausages!

Why is “free range” more expensive than the meats available in grocery stores?

Meats available in the grocery store come from factory farms. These farms use systems that achieve profitability through very high volumes, and very small profit margins. Squeezing every penny out of the production system compromises the well-being of the animal at every turn. By cramming tens of thousands of birds into one barn, keeping sows in extreme confinement, breeding birds to grow quickly and unnaturally, using antibiotics to increase yields and other similar strategies,
factory farms can produce “food” very cheaply. However, there are major costs to the environment, to animal welfare, and to the nutritional value of the food that are not captured in that low sticker price you see at the grocery store. Free-range products are more expensive because the farming practices take into account the happiness of the animal, the impact of the animal on the environment, and the nutritional value of the food produced.  To do this effectively, the farming practices have to be small scale, and as such they are far more labour intensive. By allowing animals to range on pasture, and by not relying on antibiotics but on good management practices to keep them healthy, a far superior end-product is created. This is the “true” cost of producing food.

Why are free range products so much more healthy for us?

Free-range products are healthier because they are raised in a natural environment. A chicken or pig raised on a diet containing animal by-products that drinks antibiotic-laced water for its entire lifespan, and lives in extremely crowded quarters on a slurry of feces does not produce meat that is healthy to consume. However, a chicken raised in a warm coop for the first few weeks of life with lots of straw bedding, then moved outdoors to green grass, sunshine, and a well-balanced grain-based feed is a nutritionally superior product. A pig allowed to forage and root obtains many micro nutrients from the soil. This is all backed by good science; for example, free-range chicken and eggs both have a higher content of healthy omega-3 fats than their conventional counterparts.

What kind of feedback do you get from your customers?

We hear all kinds of great comments! That our chickens are the most tender they’ve ever had, that no one in the family can stop themselves from eating more, and they even thank us for providing this kind of product, that the hard work really makes a difference. Some have told us that they were surprised at how many meals they could get from one chicken! And one told us that it feels good to get real food from real people. And that’s what we love about being in the farmers’ market – we get to connect with our customers face to face, and they get to meet the people who make the (real) food they eat.

Is the cooking time for free range the same as grocery store meats? 

Since free-range meat is generally leaner, it is usually recommended to cook it low and slow.  However, we have yet to find a cooking method that doesn’t yield excellent results – barbecue, slow-cooker, high-heat, low-heat – it all tastes great! You definitely don’t want to overcook so the best advice we can give is to use a meat thermometer.

Do you have a particular favourite recipe or method of preparation to share?

For pork, we particularly enjoy ribs (and bacon of course!).  Wrap each rack in foil and cook it in the oven at 300 F for 2.5 hours.  Finish on the grill for a few minutes a side and baste with barbecue sauce.

Our favourite way to cook a chicken is the simplest way. Thaw it, dry it, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and onion powder and roast it in a 400F oven for about an hour (3 pound bird).  Use a meat thermometer and pull it out at about 5-10 degrees before the desired temperature, since it heats up a bit after it comes out.  Let it rest about 10 minutes before carving.

Tell us about your farm.

Our farm is 3 miles west of Smoky Lake, AB.  Jered is the fourth generation to farm on this land, our children will be the fifth. We live in the house his Baba and
Gido built. The farm was a traditional mixed livestock and grain farm in his grandparents era, with milking cows, beef cattle, pigs, chickens, hens. The next generation specialized into hog farming and the farm became an intensive hog operation through the 1980’s and 90’s. In the early 2000’s, the hog market crash forced the family out of farming altogether. After working off the farm for a few years, I came back and began raising some pigs outdoors, as his grandparents had. The next year I raised some chickens too. Once I met Julia, our team efforts resulted in the farm it is today. Pigs, chickens, hens, turkeys all outdoors, all free-range.

Is it true turkeys forget how to eat? How do you make sure they don’t starve to death?

Turkeys, at least the breeds available to us, have been bred for breasts, not brains. They have a hard time figuring out how to survive. We keep vigilant watch on them in the early days, making sure they can find their way to water and feed. They are by far the toughest animal to raise. Once they’re about a month old, though, they are very hardy.

Why do you like selling at the City Market Downtown? 

We have participated in a LOT of farmers’ markets. Indoors, outdoors, rural, urban; no market compares to the City Market. The vibe, the energy, the extremely high quality of food available makes it unparalleled in the Edmonton area. We have amazing customers who make us want to keep on doing what we are doing. We love our regulars! The relationships we have with other vendors also make the City Market a really fun place to be – the sense of community is strong and we all help one another out on market day.

On which days will you be selling at the City Market Downtown?  

We are at the City Market every Saturday, year round.

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