What was supposed to be a one-time trip to Edmonton ended up changing Johanna Wasylik’s life. Born and raised in New York City, Johanna never planned to leave the place where she’d lived for 30 years, but everything changed when she met Rick Wasylik at her future sister-in-law’s Alberta wedding.
Johanna didn’t know much about Alberta before the wedding. She didn’t even know who Wayne Gretzky was. She especially didn’t know that she was going to have to run errands with the bride’s younger brother, Rick Wasylik.
“Right before the wedding, he says, ‘I have to go check on my cows,’ and I just thought to myself, ‘What?’” says Johanna.
Rick dreamed of owning a farm ever since he was a young boy. His grandparents were farmers, but his father didn’t share the same passion for it, instead going into carpentry. Rick got what he always wanted when he bought land in 1993, minutes away from Vermilion, about a two-hour drive east of Edmonton, where he founded Chatsworth Farm. Not even a year later, Rick fell in love at his sister’s wedding.
“There were definitely some sparks that weekend, and, when I got back to the city, he sent me a fax at work,” says Johanna. The couple met in September 1993 and, after they sent many letters back and forth, they got engaged in January 1994. Six months later, Rick and Johanna got married in the backyard of their farmhouse.
Rick had considered selling the farm, says Johanna, but she grew up reading Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, and could imagine herself creating a home on a farm. She felt that there was something magical about country living, even with the hardships and learning curves that would undoubtedly come.
“I’ve always loved gardening, and owning a farm seemed wonderfully appealing, especially after doing a lot of office work,” says Johanna. “I also thought about where I wanted to raise kids, and I thought a farm would be much more enjoyable for them than growing up in a city.”
The rolling 2,000-acre farmland houses beef cattle, sheep, turkeys, chickens and ducks, which are raised for eggs and meat. When all of the animals give birth by the end of spring, the farm will have approximately 1,000 animals.
Rick took care of the farm, while Johanna raised their three kids — Charlotte, Alex and Nick — who are now old enough to take over. Charlotte splits her time between her full-time job and working on the farm caring for the animals, planning events and running the Chatsworth Farm social media. Alex and Nick farm full-time and, like their father, the brothers’ dream is to continue farming.
When Rick founded Chatsworth Farm 27 years ago, social media was non-existent and shopping local wasn’t the trend it is now. Charlotte uses the farm’s social media accounts to further educate Albertans about food and the importance supporting local farms.
“We’ve always done farm-to-table or selling directly to customers, but in the last couple of years, we’ve seen everyone become more interested about where their food comes from,” says Charlotte.
The family welcomes visitors to the farm to see how the animals are being raised and to learn about local farming. Creating bonds with the animals is essential, says Charlotte, because then the livestock, especially the cattle, are more comfortable around humans.
“You could lay down in the pen and they won’t bother you one bit,” Charlotte says about the cattle. “Actually, they’ll probably lick you to death, but that’s about it.”
Chatsworth Farm prides itself on practicing sustainable agriculture, and its treatment of the animals is a large part of that. The farm recently received the Alberta Farm Animal Care Award of Distinction for Communication, which honours those who actively educate the community about farm care and the food industry.
A trip to the farm is not the only way to learn about locally grown food. Chatsworth Farm has partnered with Get Cooking to provide farm-to-table experiences through virtual cooking classes. Individuals get to cook with farm-fresh ingredients while also getting a virtual tour of the farm from Charlotte, who will discuss where the ingredients came from.
Chatsworth Farm’s online shop proves there is an increased interest in farm fresh ingredients such as meat, eggs and flour products. The family saw a surge in orders last spring, causing them to increase the frequency of delivery dates from every other month to monthly in Edmonton and Calgary.
Grocery shortages because of the pandemic could be why more people are shopping the farm, but Charlotte thinks more people wanting to shop local also plays a part.
“People who want to support local want to have that connection to food and see the time and work that goes into raising all of those products,” says Charlotte. “And then there’s the feeling of supporting a family that is trying to do the best they can with raising food.” Chatsworth Farm Virtual Tours educate Albertans. Charlotte started the virtual tours in 2020 as a way to teach people about animals and farming. At first, friends and extended family members made up most of the audience, but then the tours gained worldwide reach.
“The need for agricultural education is clearly really evident, but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else that is providing such a tour,” says Charlotte. “I’ve had participants who are five years old and some who are 55 years old, so there’s something for everyone to learn.”
So far, Charlotte has done both private and public virtual tours for classes and groups in Ontario, California, Minnesota, Nigeria and Scotland. Even though Chatsworth Farm has followers across the globe, there’s nowhere like Alberta. Just ask Johanna.
“It’s been 27 years of learning and farming, trial and error, and long days,” says Johanna. “But when I saw the sky on that first trip to Edmonton — it was just magical. I definitely made the right choice.”
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This article appears in the Summer 2021 issue of Edify