Albertans coming together while keeping their distance

COVID-19 can't stem the flow of good will and generosity

Demand was high but Innisfail Growers had lost their venue in Red Deer because of the pandemic. So they set up a drive-thru operation, which attracted long lines of customers.
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Drawing a heart and putting it in your window or turning on the Christmas lights. Finding small containers so you can give away farm-milled flour to a food bank. Teaching kids how to grow a garden.

Across Alberta, people are finding ways to give their neighbours and communities a lift in these troubled times.

In the hamlet of Delburne, east of Red Deer, the Family and Community Support Services and local Family School Wellness Worker initiated a ‘Red Heart Campaign’ — encouraging people to put a drawing of a red heart in a window where passersby can see it.

“When your neighbours see the heart or people walk by, it will be like sending a virtual hug,” the groups said. “Your community will share a positive and heartwarming safe interaction with each other.”

In southern Alberta, Cor Van Raay was encouraging folks to turn on their Christmas lights.

“We keep our Christmas lights on as a sign of hope. Maybe other people will join us,” the successful farmer, businessman and active philanthropist wrote in a note accompanying a $100,000 donation to the local Interfaith Food Bank Society of Lethbridge.

The Viking Hutterite Colony also wanted to help a food bank (in this case the Islamic Family and Social Services Association Food Bank in Edmonton). There was no problem sending potatoes, carrots and cabbages but the food bank was also looking for flour.

“We’ve grown some red fife wheat here to grind with a small mill for our own use,” said Paul Wipf, the colony’s farm steward. “When this group reached out for flour, we did an extra run.”

When a food bank said it needed flour, Viking Colony made some — one of many ways Albertans are helping each other during the pandemic. photo: Viking Hutterite Colony

The problem was portioning out flour from a 30-pound pail didn’t fit with new COVID-19 handling guidelines. However, a local Cargill outlet was able to provide some smaller pails.

“We hope people see this and it reminds others to help,” said Wipf. “We stand shoulder to shoulder through this serious situation. We need to be a light, and regardless of race or denomination, step out and help.”

Figuring out a way to help was on the mind of Leona Staples, even though the pandemic has raised all sorts of issues for her operation, The Jungle Farm. In normal times, the farm attracts not only people coming for fresh flowers and veggies, but also agri-tourists, including school field trips.

“I’ve had a few teachers in the past request a video to help students prepare before they tour here, so I’ve put some up on Facebook,” said Staples. “But now with no schools in, kids will be missing field trips and I’ve had requests to do something.”

So she’s set up her own YouTube channel (search for “the jungle farm”) and aims to put up a new educational video at least once a week, providing a resource to teachers and parents. The first one explained the difference between a perennial and an annual plant as she worked in the greenhouse.

“I’ve also been getting far more questions from people on how to grow a garden,” said Staples.

“My goal in doing this education is to keep us in front of teachers’s minds or maybe even reach those who don’t know yet about our programs, as well as giving some value back to those who’ve supported us for a long time.”

The support for farmers is even stronger these days.

Staples is also a member of Innisfail Growers, which has seen demand for its vegetables soar but lost its venue in Red Deer when the community centre that was home to their Saturday market closed because of the pandemic. So the group got permission to set up in a Co-op parking lot and created a drive-thru operation.

Housebound musicians around the world have been putting on mini-concerts from home and streaming them.

From this ranch in southern Alberta, country star Corb Lund did one better on his Facebook page — demonstrating proper handwashing while singing the chorus (three times) of his catchy hit “Rye Whiskey.” The video was seen more than a quarter of a million times in the first week it was posted. A history buff, Lund is also offering ‘unsolicited survival tips’ from the Old West (such as the fact porcupine can be a food source in times of emergency).

There are easier ways, however, to get food, including local food. Alberta’s Open Farm Days has created a list of farms that have storefronts and online operations. A link to the list is at

About the author


Dianne Finstad

Dianne Finstad is a Red Deer based reporter and broadcaster who specializes in agriculture and rodeo coverage. She has over thirty years of experience bringing stories to light through television, radio, and print; and has a real passion for all things farm and western.



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