At Home with Jenn Sharp

A Note from the publisher

We’re living in an unprecedented moment in history, and it’s been amazing to see how people are pulling together to support one another. Here at TouchWood we’ve decided to ask our authors what has been keeping them busy during a time when we’ve all been asked to stay home to Flatten the Curve.

Meet Jenn Sharp

I’m a Saskatchewan-based food journalist, agriculture consultant and the author of Flat Out Delicious: Your Definitive Guide to Saskatchewan’s Food Artisans.

After travelling all over my flat out gorgeous province in 2018, meeting inspirational food artisans working to reclaim food security and support their communities with good, clean food, then writing my book manuscript, it was time for a little change of pace.

I spent the past winter living and working from Ubud, Bali in Indonesia to focus energy on my small-scale farmer clients in my new consulting business. Deepening my spiritual connection, with myself and with nature, whilst exploring Ubud’s diverse culinary scene and various regenerative agriculture endeavours were also happy outcomes.

In early March, I set out on a new adventure. On a remote area of a jungle-clad corner on the island Sumbawa, I spent time with a heart-centred community using regenerative agriculture and permaculture techniques, along with ancient, sacred practices like agnihotra ceremonies to restore vitality, health and a diverse soil microbiome to their land. My days were spent learning from these land stewards, while exploring the area’s untouched jungles and beaches.

When it became obvious I would need to book an earlier flight home to Canada, I jumped on it, full of gratitude that I have a warm, safe home to return to in a country with public healthcare. Plus, I was really excited to eat all my favourite Saskatchewan foods I’d been missing! (Rice is great and all but it will never compare to Red Fife sourdough from the Night Oven Bakery.)

It was quite the adventure to get home, as the ports on Indonesia’s islands began closing. Several hours of rides through the jungle and across two islands, a short flight from Lombok to Bali, followed by three flights and two layovers and I was home in Saskatoon (thank you Air Canada). It was both startling to see airport departure boards full of cancelled flights and hilarious to navigate the new normal of trying to smile and eat in face masks, while practicing physical distancing for the first time.

Now that I’ve been home a few weeks, I’m using this unprecedented time to press pause and to further deepen my connection to nature. That means lazy late afternoons basking in the setting sun as it lights up my living room walls and plenty of walks through the trees in the park behind my home. I’m also writing, reading, doing plenty of yoga and meditation practices, while preparing to launch a book in our brave new online-driven world.

There is much positivity in the midst of the pandemic’s downside in Saskatchewan. More and more people are supporting online farmers’ markets, local food retailers, independent restaurateurs and small—scale farmers.

While there are many pandemic-influenced innovation stories from the Flat Out Delicious featured artisans, perhaps the most inspiring comes from The Little Market Box in Saskatoon.

The brainchild of a cattle rancher and a raw chocolatier (Benlock Farms’ Shawnda Blacklock and Those Girls at the Market’s Julianna Tan), the two opened their online farmers’ market and small retail hub in December 2019. By April 2020 the demand for their farmer partners’ products increased to the point that they are working around the clock and hiring more staff. They’ve also partnered with dozens of new vendors to fulfill customers’ requests.

The message is clear: people in Saskatchewan want more locally produced food and it’s makes me so happy I could cry!

Benlock Farms

Excerpted: Flat out delicious
Hwy 672, Grandora 306-668-2125

Tom and Shawnda Blacklock’s annual February bull sale has become the event of the year. It’s held in the loft of their red hip-roofed barn, where everyone enjoys a day of home-cooked food, drinks, and socializing. In 2019, the couple marked Tom’s sixtieth birthday with themed food and the biggest party to date.

The farmhouse dates back to 1917 but the barn goes back earlier than that: “They always built the barn before the house,” says Tom with a smile. Tom’s roots in the cattle business go back generations. His maternal great-grandpa and grandpa were members of the Canadian Angus Association. Today, about 75 percent of the Blacklock herd goes back to the original one started in 1910. The family has always been in the seed stock business; that is, breeding registered cattle with documented pedigrees.

The Blacklock brothers on Tom’s dad’s side were some of the only auctioneers around and everyone knew the Blacklock name—his uncle even auctioneered at the historic Calgary Bull Sale.

The annual bull sale is when people come from miles around for their chance to get some of the Blacklock genes (Angus and some Speckle Parks) for their own herd. “The bull sale has turned into a great thing. We just really appreciate all the support that we get,” says Tom.

Tom Blacklock with one of his prized Speckle Park bulls. Photo by Richard Marjan.)

He says Benlock Farms is typical of Saskatchewan cow-calf family operations and that fact fills him with pride. “The whole industry [makes] their first priority animal welfare. People that are just driven in terms of monetary gains don’t stay in the cattle business. It’s people that are passionate and really enjoy working with livestock.

“As a province and as Western Canada, we can take a great deal of pride in our cattle business.”

Benlock Farms operates a year-round stall at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, selling their homegrown beef and talking to customers about their forage-based feeding system that’s supplemented with grain. “To suggest that a growing calf when it’s -30Åãc in February shouldn’t have a little energy in its ration isn’t practical. Energy is a bad thing if it’s not balanced. If you’re eating potatoes for 90 percent of your ration, that’s not good either,” explains Tom.

All are welcome at the annual bull sale or contact the couple if you’d like to visit the farm. And be sure to stop in at Shawnda’s new venture, Little Market Box, in Saskatoon.


Those Girls at the Market

812 16th Street W, Saskatoon 306-850-5671

Those Girls at the Market began as a fun passion project for two then-university students excited about raw chocolate. But it very quickly evolved into a full-fledged business.

Julianna Tan making chocolate. Photo Richard Marjan

Sisters Julianna and Ying Tan both have backgrounds in fitness and nutritional counselling. “Whenever we hear chocolate, we associate it more with candy bars,” says Julianna. “Whereas cacao is very dense in nutrients.” Raw chocolate has several health benefits: It’s rich in magnesium and antioxidants, along with epicatechins—flavanols that help maintain or gain muscle mass.

They keep their organic chocolate simple and never add artificial flavours or colouring. There’s just three ingredients: cacao paste, cacao butter, and a touch of maple syrup. To add flavour, they use organic whole ingredients or pure essential oils (like peppermint in the mint chocolate).

The sisters opened their Saskatoon Farmers’ Market booth in 2014, thinking it would be a summer project. Their raw chocolate was a big hit. “We stayed up all night making chocolate so that we could come back to the market on Sunday,” says Julianna. “We sold out in two hours, and thought, ‘What have we got ourselves into?’ ”

Since then, the sisters’ chocolate has grown in popularity—enough that Julianna has made it her full-time job. “Every day I look forward to getting up and making chocolate. It’s just such a cool gig to have. I feel really grateful that I’m able to do this every day with my sister.” Be sure and visit their new Riversdale shop, just around the corner from Darkside Donuts.

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