Enjoying local food in Eastern Ontario

By Resi Walt, Farm & Food Care Ontario

A taste of local food in eastern OntarioLike most people, I enjoy day trips and exploring new places – especially when those places specialize in food! Over the course of Ontario’s Local Food Week from June 1-7, I had many opportunities to celebrate the food that is grown and produce in Ontario. One highlight from the week was the trip I took to Eastern Ontario.

Farm & Food Care Ontario partnered with Foodland Ontario to offer a local food experience for food enthusiasts from the Ottawa-area. Farm & Food Care Ontario has been organizing these farm tours since 2006, and each year they grow in popularity. The goal is to showcase different commodities and types of farming every year, and the tour participants include chefs, recipe developers, food writers, culinary instructors, and professional home economists. The tour is always such a great learning experience and good fun too.

First on the agenda for the day was a tour of the newly re-built St-Albert Cheese Cooperative. That was followed by a gourmet Taste of Ontario lunch at the historic Watson’s Mill in Manotick and finally a tour of Roots and Shoots Farm. All five of my senses were certainly pleased that day!

St-Albert Cheese Cooperative

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Exploring the new building at St-Albert Cheese Cooperative, rebuilt after a fire in 2013.

Visiting the new and improved St-Albert Cheese Cooperative was quite a delight. Being one of the oldest cooperatives in Canada means the company has a long history. The story of St-Albert Cheese Cooperative was made even more noteworthy when the company experienced a devastating fire in February 2013. Together, the thirty or so farms who own the company decided that there was no question that they would re-build in order to continue their cheese-making legacy.

The new building is stunning, offering a complete visitor experience. Outside the building there are numerous picnic tables and the business has plans to host an outdoor farmers’ market in the summer months. Inside, there is a gelato station for ice cream lovers, a restaurant serving up favourites such as poutine, a boutique for you to stock up on cheese curds and other goodies, and finally there is a viewing area so visitors can watch the full cheese-making process.

The new cheese-making facility has tripled the capacity of cheese that can be made. In one day, the facility can produce 15 tons of cheese. Wow!

No visit to St-Albert Cheese Cooperative is complete without cheese curds.

No visit to St-Albert Cheese Cooperative is complete without cheese curds.

St-Albert has it in their future plans to open an agriculture museum within the new building. Right now, there is an empty room just waiting to be made into the museum where they will feature old versions of their cheese-making equipment as well as pictures and other treasures. I hope to return again when the museum is opened.

Taste of Ontario lunch at Watson’s Mill, Manotick

We stopped at the historic Watson’s Mill in Manotick to eat a gourmet Taste of Ontario lunch, sponsored by Foodland Ontario, and catered by Take Another Bite. Our all-Ontario meal was absolutely delicious – featuring a local artisan charcuterie board, an Ontario asparagus and mushroom salad, herb charred Ontario pork tenderloin, and strawberry shortcake. Even the centre pieces had a local flair with fruits and vegetables worked into the arrangements.

Our lunch was made even more enjoyable by the setting. The Mill is a well-preserved slice of history. Located on the shores of the Rideau River, it was built in 1860 and has a rich history. Volunteers do an excellent job of keeping the mill maintained, so the public can continue to enjoy the rich history – in fact it is still a functioning gristmill. Very cool.

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Roots and Shoots Farm

Owner and farm manager Robin Turner gave us a tour of Roots and Shoots Farm at Manotick.

Owner and farm manager Robin Turner gave us a tour of Roots and Shoots Farm at Manotick.

A fresh perspective on organic farming was offered when owner and farm manager Robin Turner gave us a tour of Roots and Shoots Farm at Manotick. Robin combines his love for farming with his knowledge of plants and took the group from one patch of crops to the next, explaining the growing techniques used on the farm.

The organic vegetable farm had a humble beginning. The business started in 2010, when Robin and his partner Jess started renting a small acreage of farm land. Today, they are renting about 25 acres of land.

Roots and Shoots Farm uses the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program to supply their customers with fresh produce. Robin stated that the farm has grown from supplying about 60 shares in the early stages of the business to now supplying 280 shares. Roots and Shoots also sell their produce at farmers’ markets in the Ottawa region.

Robin reminded me of why I think farming is so special. In Canada, we have access to food that is grown by farmers like Robin who love what they do and believe in the importance of growing food of the highest quality regardless of their size or scale.

It is days like this that make me so proud to be a part of the agriculture industry. I am so grateful for farmers like Robin and his team at Roots and Shoots, as well as all the farms that provide milk for St-Albert Cheese Cooperative, because these farmers represent what farming is all about – providing safe, high quality food for everyone to enjoy.

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