Alpenblick Farm

Alpenblick Farm
Robert Oechsli and Petra Stevenson
8138 Golf Club Way
Ashton, ON

What They Sell: Farmgate sales of non-certified organic beef, lamb and goat by the pound/piece. Delivery possible for additional fee.

Where They Sell: Carleton Place Farmers Market (Saturdays 8-1, May-Oct), Stittsville Organic Farmers Market (Thursday afternoons 3-7pm, May – Oct.)
Ballygiblin’s Restaurant & Pub, Carleton Place and The Urban Element, Ottawa

Alpenblick Farm just might be the closest thing to going to Switzerland that I may ever experience. Surrounded by classic Swiss paraphernalia -from cuckoo clocks to beautiful oversized cowbells, I sat with Robert Oechsli for a couple of hours in his kitchen to talk about Alpenblick Farm. The word ‘Alpenblick’ which means ‘mountain view’ in German, conjures up visions of snow covered alps, animals grazing in alpine meadows, green valleys, chalet-dotted hillsides, and the bucolic sounds of cow bells. Here, near Ashton, ½ an hour from downtown Ottawa, and, in spite of the absence of any sort of mountains, Robert and his wife Petra Stevenson have created something of an ‘homage’ to his place of birth.

Robert grew up on a mountainside farm in the Simme Valley in Switzerland from where Simmental cattle originate (‘Simme’ + ‘tal’ (meaning valley)). After leaving Switzerland as a young man, he spent time in England working as a chef. After an accident which left him unable to tolerate long hours of standing in a kitchen, he became a dog trainer for the Royal Airforce – for the purpose of detecting narcotics and explosives. He eventually applied for a contract in Ottawa training dogs for the RCMP and, in 1968, ended up moving to the old homestead they now share.

The couple, who met while Robert was driving a bus (one of the many positions that he has occupied) has been together for 9 years now. Petra, moved to Vancouver Island from Germany 18 years ago and wound up in the Ottawa area some years later. She has a background in fitness training and now teaches classes regularly in Almonte and works with COG coordinating the local food directory – a list of organic farms and what they produce. The glue that holds this couple together is their passion and love for their animals. ‘They give me so much’ says Petra. Both the stock they keep for meat production, and the numerous ‘pets’ that have found their way into their lives, are treated with much affection and care. I met Elvis, the miniature pony rescued from an abusive situation and Freddy the pot bellied pig who greets cars and has apparently learned (by himself) to herd the animals into the barn. The barns were full of several breeds of sheep and goats (and many new babies). Not surprisingly, they raise Simmental cattle. At 35 head, theirs is a small herd by Canadian standards, but a rather large one by Swiss standards according to Robert!

Petra and Robert are firm believers in a natural approach to disease prevention and general livestock management. In addition to the use of organic methods, Petra sometimes practices reiki (a type of energetic healing therapy) on her animals. Their animals are allowed to breed according to their natural cycles (ie. no use of hormones to induce estrus); they are grass and hay fed, and generally left to develop at their natural rate with minimal interference. Despite the fact that cattle have not evolved to eat grain, it has become the staple diet of most conventional cattle operations for the simple reason that animals put on weight quickly on a diet of grain – no matter that it can lead to digestive problems, weakened immune systems, and the proliferation of e-coli in the cow’s gut. Grain feeding shortens the amount of time that animal will spend on the farm (getting fed and managed). Take away the grain and animals like those at Alpenblick Farm take a lot longer to reach a size that is ready for slaughter – one of the reasons why organic meat is more expensive than conventional.

Their passion for animals may be matched only by their shared commitment to educating the public, especially children and youth, about living a healthy life – particularly where it comes to growing our food and developing skills related to this. Petra and Robert have met many wonderful people who have provided invaluable support (and friendships) to the farm in the last few years. Much of this is a result of an outreach effort by Lynda Hall (COG Ottawa) several years ago. Hall was also instrumental in creating the partnership between Alpenblick and COG for the Youth Farm Apprenticeship Camp. Essentially an extension of the day-long farm visits for kids that have happened under the banner of COG’s Growing Up Organic (GUO) program in Ottawa, the Camp offers groups of youth 5 days of camping at the farm. During their stay they experience a general introduction to the practice of, and reasons for, farming organically. They learn to cook over an open fire, to milk and make cheese and to tend the animals. They also learn many other simple yet profoundly important life skills such as how, and why, to read a food label in the grocery store! One child reported that it was the best camp he’s ever been to. This enthusiasm (and it is plentiful) is what inspires and energizes this couple to do what they do. Can you blame them?

What started with day visits for kids through the GUO program, moved into ‘camp’ sessions, and now also includes what The couple hope will become continual weekly farm visits by Montessori Schools, day cares, and other schools and community centers in the area. Wouldn’t it be revolutionary if all children had this opportunity for at least one week of their youth? The experience connects them with local farmers and provides them with insight into their lives and philosophies. It also transfers valuable knowledge and skills from farmer to youngster that has the potential to profoundly influence behavior and the choices they make throughout their lives.

For information on COG Ottawa’s Growing Up Organic projects go to Camp dates will be posted on the website in the near future. For information about organizing a farm visit contact Alpenblick at the number above.

Goat Meat Stew

1kg goat meat
½ cup olive oil
1 cup white wine
1 lb. small onions, peeled
1-3 bay leaves
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic gloves

Heat the olive oil in a pan and brown the meat. Lower the heat, add enough water to cover the meat, cover the pan and simmer for 45 minutes. Add the white wine and bring to a boil, remove any scum that is produced. Add the bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Put the whole peeled onions in the pot, also the garlic and the tomato paste. Continue to braise until the meat is tender.

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