BASHAW — The challenge for farmers who produce crops or livestock outside mainstream commodities markets is getting their products onto consumers’ plates.
A trio of ag-entrepreneurs at Bashaw have decided that one solution is to supply the plates.
Mary Ann Stevenson and her husband Les Brunelle, along with Stevenson’s brother Geordie, have been serving up meat from Stevenson and Brunelle’s Applejack Ranch since April. That’s when they opened Apples Restaurant in a heritage building in Bashaw that once served as the town’s post office.
Among the offerings on the menu are chicken and Dexter beef from Applejack Ranch. There’s also pork, lamb, vegetables, herbs and other products sourced from the area.
“We try to get as much close to home as we can,” said Stevenson, adding that the emphasis is on naturally produced foods.
Applejack Ranch doesn’t use drugs or hormones in its beef and chickens, both of which are pasture fed. Apples also buys certified organic pork.
Stevenson and Brunelle were selling meat to other restaurants, but found that buyers often were only interested in prime cuts.
“It’s pretty tough to sell stew meat somewhere,” said Stevenson, explaining that Apples’ menu and specials are designed to use everything.
“Because we have a chef who’s incredibly talented, she’ll use the entire animal.”
That chef is Mary Ellen Taks, who also manages Apples.
“She’s done everything from high-end restaurants to your basic truck stop to institutional-type cooking,” said Stevenson.
Taks’ son Erin, who is also a chef, works at the restaurant as well.
Stevenson said the public seems pleased with what Apples has to offer.
“The response has been way better than any of us could have predicted,” she said.
In addition to the appeal of local, naturally produced food, the Bashaw restaurant has benefited from area residents and Hwy 21 travellers who want to eat at “a really nice restaurant,” said Stevenson.
“If people wanted to go for a nice meal (previously), they’d drive to Red Deer, they’d drive to Camrose — somewhere out of the community.”
The restaurant is also raising the profile of Dexter cattle, small heritage animals that originated in Ireland.
“It’s a promotion of the breed,” said Stevenson.
Apples, which has seating for about 40, features the work of local lifestyle photographer Tasha Ramstad.
“Essentially, the restaurant is her gallery,” said Stevenson.
Customers have included permanent residents from the area, seasonal cottagers from nearby Buffalo Lake and visitors from as far away as Vancouver, Idaho and Texas.
The restaurant is continuing to expand its farm-direct inputs, said Stevenson.
“Most definitely, we want to hear from producers who are in the area.
“As long as people have met the provincial regulations and guidelines for selling farm gate, we have no problems using market gardens or anything like that.”
Applejack Ranch is located on the shore of Buffalo Lake, where Stevenson’s grandparents homesteaded more than a century ago.
“Some of the land that we have has never been broken,” she said. “It has native species of grass in it.”
Apples Restaurant is providing cross-promotion opportunities, said Stevenson, but has added to their responsibilities.
“It’s keeping us hopping.”
Located at 4912 50th St. in Bashaw, Apples Restaurant is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.