When it comes to working in confined spaces, the members of the Hand Hills Lake Community Club could teach astronaut Chris Hadfield a thing or two.
On the last Sunday in October, club volunteers cook up turkey dinner — with all the trimmings —for 700 to 800 people in the hall’s 24×30-foot kitchen. Well, sort of.
“It’s a busy, busy place and it’s so small, it’s crazy,” said longtime volunteer Marilyn Vredegoor. “If it’s too cold, we’ll pull in trailers and use those propane cookers, and we’ve even used UFA panels to make a windbreak thing to cook in.”
But those days are, thankfully, gone after the community club recently won $50,000 in UFA’s Rural From the Roots Up – Get ‘n’ Give contest.
“We’re going to use the money to build an addition,” said Vredegoor. “It won’t be a fancy kitchen or anything. It will just be a structure where we can get in out of the cold and to put our coolers and deep freezes in because they’re in the hall and some are in the kitchen taking up room we could use.”
In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Hand Hills is, in Vredegoor’s words, right in the “middle of nowhere.” But it’s a pretty well-known bit of nowhere and since 1917 there has been a rodeo and stampede that attracts people from across the province (see www.handhills.ab.ca). Even though there’s no town, famed chuckwagon driver Colt Cosgrave lists Hand Hills as his hometown, and was one of the many ‘townfolks’ who appeared in the video the community created for the UFA contest (it can be found at www.getngiveufa.com).
The suppers have been held for 65 years or more, said Vredegoor, who has lived in the area for 40 years. But new food regulations which don’t allow vegetables to be cooked off site was a big challenge to overcome, she said.
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“For years, members of the community would bring in big pots of potatoes or carrots that were already cooked,” she said. “But food safety regulations have changed, so we can’t have people bringing in vegetables now. That’s why we cooked outside.”
And while the turkey and homemade buns and pies are critical, Vredegoor knows that one vegetable in particular is essential.
“If we ever quit having turnips, I know there are people who wouldn’t come,” she said. “It sounds crazy, but turnips aren’t something most people cook anymore and we wouldn’t dare stop having them.”
Hand Hills members will now get to pick the fifth and final winners in the UFA contest. Five semi-finalists will be announced March 26, with the winner being selected in early April. Previous winners were: Spruce View Agricultural Society, Foremost, and Hussar.