Since taking over his parents’ farm in 1978, Eldon Kebernik has focused on farming organically because he believes it is the right thing to do. “My parents’ approach was more conventional, and I was never really happy with that type of farming,” says Kebernik. “I always had an organic philosophy, and when the opportunity came up [to transition to organic], I was happy to produce a product that didn’t rely on chemicals.” Today, Kebernik’s farm River’s Edge Organics outside of Edmonton in Barrhead, Alberta, spans 2,000 acres, with 1,200 acres of oats.
“When I used to spray, I would look behind me and see birds in the field, and I wouldn’t feel happy about that,” he explains. “Now when I plant, I never have to worry about animals or polluting surface water or groundwater. It’s so satisfying in that respect. Not to mention, oats are one of the healthiest and good-for-you grains you can eat. Using chemicals to grow them feels counterintuitive to all of the health benefits they have to offer.”
Yet, as an oat farmer, it hasn’t always been easy. Farming organic means you can’t spray or rely on pesticides to remove pests or weeds. Among other things, there is a wild oat, says Kebernik, that can take over your crops. With time, though, he has seen both his soil and the organic industry flourish. “I think it’s just as important to put back in the soil as it is to take out,” he explains. He works the land in two-year rotations to build the soil’s nutrition content and combat weeds. “We look at the long-term sustainability of the soil, and it’s rewarding to see it full of biodiversity and good tilth. It has been a learning process.”
In 2012, Kebernik formed a partnership with oatmeal, cereal and bread maker One Degree Organics. Since then, the market has been coming to him. “When people look to eat healthier and eat a product free of chemicals today, there is a greater awareness,” he says. “With the COVID situation, there has been an increase in that demand,” he adds, noting that he often has One Degree Organics customers calling him with questions about his farming practices and the product.
And where he was once the only organic farmer in his region, now there are more joining him. Kebernik has been happy to mentor farmers and help those considering an organic path. At age 62, Kebernik most enjoys mentoring his son, Brad, who at age 27 has made the commitment to work with his dad and eventually take over the farm—ensuring that it will stay in the family.