Alan and Nicola Irving aren’t afraid to take risks. In the last 15 years, they moved halfway across the world, and grew a booming business from scratch — all while raising a family. Though both worked in agriculture in England, they never imagined owning a farm when they moved to Alberta in 2005.
But the Irvings missed little reminders of home, like traditional English sausage. So they decided to start making their own sausages, while living in Vimy. What started as an experiment quickly turned into a commercial kitchen, as demand for their sausages grew.
“Our neighbours couldn’t get over how nice the sausages were,” says Nicola. “It kind of just grew from there.”
Over a decade later, Irvings Farm Fresh is best known for its dry-cured bacon, but the farm produces everything from smoked sausages and cuts to roasts, chops and ribs. What hasn’t changed is the Irvings’ commitment to keeping their business local.
“We wanted to do everything right from scratch,” says Nicola. “To use fresh ingredients, and use as much local ingredients as we can.”
Unlike bigger, commercial producers, the Irvings use Berkshire pigs — a breed with darker, more generously marbled meat, which tends to be more rich and tender.
“We try to do one thing, and do it really well,” says Nicola.
Though it takes longer for Berkshire pigs to grow — about seven to eight months — Alan and Nicola never count the days. To them, the quality of product comes first — like with their signature bacon. To make it, they hand rub every piece of meat with the salt and cure, and don’t add any water. The entire process takes two weeks, but creates a more flavourful bacon that doesn’t shrivel up when you cook it, and isn’t as salty. The two even went back to England to learn how to properly prepare it, before buying their first pigs and moving to Round Hill, where the animals are free to roam as they please.
“They’re out there in all temperatures, digging holes and doing their thing, and they’re quite happy,” says Nicola.
Over the years, Irvings Farm has partnered up with stores and restaurants in Edmonton — including Blue Plate Diner, Canteen and Woodshed Burgers. It sells at various markets, including St. Albert Farmers’ Market, where it first started selling its sausages 12 years ago.
“We like dealing directly with our consumers,” says Nicola. “It really matters to people where their food comes from.”