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Jungle Farm grows in a new direction during pandemic

"I am thrilled to be a farmer who can help feed my community in a time when interest in food is very high," says Leona Staples.

The origins of Jungle Farm in Red Deer County began in 1897 but it wasn't until 1996, when Leona Staples returned with her husband to the family farm, that the popular u-pick and market garden service was launched. Then, in 1997, Jungle Farm’s doors opened to the public.

After years of Jungle Farm sharing wholesome produce and farm experiences with the public, COVID-19 has posed some challenges. Yet, you can never keep a good grower down!

“We could not offer our school field trips, which was very sad. We have thousands of children who come to our farm to learn about how plants and animals grow,” says Staples. However, “our greenhouse season was exceptional as so many families were wanting to make their yard beautiful and grow vegetables. We have herbs left in our greenhouse, and that is all.”

They were able to leverage the situation in positive ways, says Staples. “We required more help through March and April. Our sons, who were learning online, were able to help. Plus, other local university and high school students helped us plant our gardens. We have hired students for years. We hired more students as they were available this year. I enjoy having my students working at our farm – they are full of enthusiasm, energy, and are keen to learn.”

That’s not all. Jungle Farm also went virtual.

“We were able to start a YouTube channel to offer virtual school field trips and youth programming. We also did short clips for gardeners. It was a new way of sharing our knowledge about agriculture with the public.”

Staples takes heart in seeing how the community is pulling together in these uncertain times.

“We have many innovative businesses who have offered great services to our community, and the community support has been amazing for our local berries and vegetables. We have been able to set up pop-up markets; many families have come to support our farms. Our chamber of commerce has had very unique local promotions that we have been able to participate in, and there has been government support for the students and staff.”

Customers can continue to enjoy The Jungle Farm as long as each visitor follows the protocols in place.

“We have worked hard to create one way traffic and rules that will keep our staff and customers safe while on our farm," says Staples. 

"Our u-pick strawberries and in-season vegetables are open to the public. We will have saskatoons and raspberries soon. We have a weekly vegetable box program and we have been able to continue our ABC preschool program with some modifications. We still have spaces in our drop in ABC program for families who cannot commit for our whole season.

“I am thrilled to be a farmer who can help feed my community in a time when interest in food is very high. Our mission is to create the best farm experience through growing exceptional food and providing education and family memories.”

Nerissa McNaughton is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Great West Newspapers. This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.

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