Just south of Red Deer, Alberta, sits the Jungle Farm, a farming operation that goes above and beyond growing fruits and vegetables.
Leona Staples, co-owner and farmer with her husband, Blaine Staples, run their farm with the desire to strengthen community and connection through their annual farm activities, like their fruit and vegetable U-Pick. They also offer many educational opportunities through field trips and practicum placements.
“We say our mission is to create the best farm experience through exceptional food [and] education, creating lasting family memories,” says Leona Staples.
While Leona and Blaine have been running the farm for the past 25 years, the Jungle Farm has been around for five generations in Leona’s family.
Jacob Daniel Quantz and Sophia Jane, Leona’s great-grandparents, travelled to Western Canada as part of the Dominions Land Act of 1872, an act that was put in place to encourage settlement of the western Prairies. Like many other settlers, Jacob was given a homestead to farm and live on the land.
Eventually, Jacob purchased another homestead in 1897, which came to be the Jungle Farm. At that time, the farm produced grain crops and raised livestock, primarily to support the personal needs of the Quantz family.
When World War I started, the Quantz’s sons fought in the war. Tragically, only one of their sons, Oscar Quantz, returned home. Oscar inherited the Jungle Farm, married Ada Stevenett, and raised four children with her—the youngest of which was Leona’s father, Gerald Quantz.
“I always said he had dirt running through his veins—my dad loved farming. He just had a natural knack for it,” Leona says.
Throughout the years, Gerald and his wife, Betty Hamar, carried on farming grain crops and focused their efforts on raising purebred Shorthorn cattle. They eventually had four children, the second of which was Leona, who ended up taking over the family farm in 1996 with her husband, Blaine.
With each passing generation, the Jungle Farm has evolved in many ways—from her great-grandfather’s homesteading beginnings to her parents’ mixed farming with grain crops and cattle.
Now with the Jungle Farm in the hands of Leona and Blaine, the multi-generational farm looks a lot different than it did 100 years ago. Today, the Jungle Farm no longer raises livestock and is more specialized in growing fresh fruits and vegetables. They are especially known for their strawberries.
Every year, the Jungle Farm hosts a U-Pick, a truly farm-to-table experience. The Jungle Farm opens up its field to the public, so they can harvest fresh fruits and vegetables—the farm’s strawberries, raspberries, and Saskatoon berries are the most popular during summertime. In the fall, they also host a U-Pick for their pumpkin patches.
The idea for the U-Pick was introduced to the Jungle Farm by happenstance. Back when Leona and Blaine first purchased the Jungle Farm, they started growing strawberries for Innisfail Growers, a co-operative of five different family farms residing near the Innisfail area. Innisfail Growers sell a variety of fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets across central Alberta.
After Leona sent out their first batch of strawberries to the Innisfail Farmers’ Market, the Jungle Farm started getting some unexpected visitors.
“We had people show up on our doorstep within hours of them being at the farmers’ market to see if they could pick some [strawberries],” Leona says.
Seeing an interest in a hands-on-berry-picking experience, Leona and Blaine toured other U-Pick farms in Alberta, across Canada, and down in the United States.
“I think that creating the best memories on the farm—whether it's picking the strawberries, or custom planting a flower pot in the spring—that is all that we try to continue to accomplish,” Leona says.
Although Leona has been running the family farm for years, her true passion lies in education. Over the years, she found a way to incorporate education into the Jungle Farm through providing summer internships and practicums to post-secondary agriculture students. Before the pandemic, Leona even hosted school field trips on the farm.
With the Jungle Farm being passed onto the next generation, Leona is excited to see what her second son, Richard Staples, and her youngest, Gerald Staples, will contribute to the farm’s legacy.
From a young age, Richard and Gerald have always helped out around the farm. Whether it was regular chores like mowing the lawn, helping out with the harvest, or working at farmers’ market vendors for Innisfail Growers, the two boys have already contributed in many ways.
“I remember having a pretty small patch of strawberries [on the farm] and a few other vendors [at farmers’ markets]. I remember being out on the field with my parents. I would go wherever they [went] a lot of the time,” Richard says.
Fast forward to today, and Richard is in his final year at Olds College, where he will be graduating with an applied horticulture degree while also taking on a larger role on the farm. This summer, Richard will be focusing on growing long-cane raspberries in the farm’s greenhouse.
As for Gerald, he plans on pursuing a precision agriculture techgronomy diploma at Olds College, and in the future, he plans on starting a small cherry tree orchard on the Jungle Farm.
There are many new ideas on the way for the Jungle Farm, but the two sons are keen to carry on traditional activities like U-Pick.
“It's always great to be able to interact with [our customers] and educate them on how local farms run,” Richard says. “There is still a bit of a disconnect there. Not everybody fully understands where their food comes from and how it's grown.”
Being raised in the agricultural world, the Staple sons already had a deeper appreciation of food. For some, this understanding of food isn’t always apparent. For Gerald, he came to this realization when his elementary school visited the Jungle Farm for a field trip—his classmates weren’t raised on a farm like he did, so they were fascinated with how food grows.
“Everyone should experience this and get the chance to learn about where their food comes from and how it's produced,” Gerald says.
Although the family farm will soon be in the hands of the next generation, Gerald adds that they will continue to carry on the Jungle Farm’s core vision.
“We want to educate people, we want to supply good food to the public, and we also want to help people create family memories.”