Celebrating Local Food Week: Farm & Food Care Ontario Farm Tour 2015 #loveONTfood

What does local food mean to you? The local food movement aims to connect food producers and food consumers in the same geographic region, in order to develop more self-reliant and resilient food networks, improve local economies, or for health, environmental, community, or social impact in a particular place – thanks wikipedia for the 411.

For me, it means knowing exactly where my food is grown and produced. It’s rewarding to pick your own fruit and meet the farmers who planted it – not to mention how amazing local food tastes.

In honour of Local Food Week, I had the opportunity to join the Farm & Food Care Ontario Annual Farm Tour.   Farm & Food Care Ontario is an organization that is proud to represent Ontario’s farm families and associated agribusinesses. Since Local Food Week gives Ontarians a chance to put a spotlight on the wide variety of local foods and beverages available year-round, what better idea than to go right to the source and learn about nearby farms.

The first stop on the tour was St-Albert Cheese Cooperative – The St-Albert Cheese Coop is one of the oldest cooperatives in Canada, dating back to 1894. In those days, there were many small local cheese cooperatives. Today, Fromagerie St-Albert is the only one to have survived in Eastern Ontario. In 2013, the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative was completely destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt in time to celebrate its 120th anniversary.

Today, more than 2,000 locations in Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario carry the company’s cheeses which have won awards in national and international competitions including the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix and the British Empire Cheese Show. The company is well known for its famous cheese curds and cheddars but also sells a full range of other cheeses. Each year 28 million litres of milk from local farmers is processed into cheese at the St. Albert plant.

Our guide explained every detail of the facility and the interworking of all cheese production – LOTS of cheese gets made here! St-Albert Cheese Cooperative also has a restaurant, ice cream bar, and general store attached to it that is worth the visit. I found some local chocolates and gluten-free products to take home.

After an educational look at how cheese is produced, we were off to a Gourmet Taste of Ontario lunch at the historic Watson’s Mill in Manotick. This is one of my favourite places in Ottawa to go for a day trip and picnic, so I was very excited to be lunching in the charming mill. When we arrived, we were welcomed with delicious ciders provided by the Ontario Craft Cider Association. My favourite was Pommies Farmhouse Cider. It had a light, crisp, and refreshing taste that was perfectly paired with the charcuterie board provided by Take Another Bite.

As you can see, it was a lovely spread accompanied by beautiful decor and flowers by Mill Street Florist. I know I am not alone when I say that every bite of food was magnificent! We dined, talk, and connected over this amazing feast for nearly two hours. You couldn’t help but enjoy the flavours, savour each mouthful, and photograph each course!

The second farm we visited was the Roots and Shoots Farm in Manotick.  Roots and Shoots Farm is run by Robin Turner and Jess Weatherhead. The farm has been operating in this location since 2010 and has been certified organic since 2012. They provide quality, locally grown food and flowers through summer and fall vegetable shares (CSA) and through their booths at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Landsdowne Park and Westboro Farmers’ Market at Byron Park.

Robin shared a ton of information about how the organic farm is operated and how they are able to care for the crops using organic methods (manure, fish emulsion..etc.). To meet the organic certification the farm must adhere to strict standards:

  • following a sensible, planned, multi-year rotation to break insect and disease cycles on the farm
  • following a composting regime complete with daily temperature recording
  • limiting the amounts of manure brought in from other farms
  • encouraging the integration of animals to make the farm self sufficient
  • using cover crops every year in every field to build organic matter and fertility
  • using only substances on the “Permitted Substances List”, which prohibits any synthetic chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides on the farm
  • recording every seed purchase, buying only certified organic seed, and showing proof that organic seed was adequately sought out if it was not available, and never using treated or genetically modified seed
  • protecting waterways and wetlands from farm runoff
  • requiring that animals have access to free ranging space that is out of doors

Learning about these practices and seeing first hand all of the hard labour (and love) that goes into organic farming really appealed to me. It also made me want to make a point of shopping at the Ottawa Farmer’s Markets to buy from Roots and Shoots and support our local farmers.

My thoughts are still lingering on the day trip. From the new friends I made to all the information that I took away. When I think about local farmers in an abstract way, my opinion is positive and supportive – but having experienced an up close look at the labour and care that goes into creating food for my family table, I can’t help but be more aware, connected, and conscious of these amazing people and farms that surround me.

What does Local Food Week mean to you?

Join the conversation on twitter and see what other’s are sharing!

Special thanks to Food & Farm Care for organizing this tour with support from Foodland Ontario and Ontario Craft Cider Association 

Emily Smith
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