Touring Ontario’s Hills of the Headwaters region

collage one Landman farmGuest blog by Carol Harrison, Registered Dietitian

Pigs. They are as cute as a button then smack, that Eau De Pig Cologne hits you. It’s a linger on your nostril hair smell that should do anything but conjure up fond childhood memories.

Here I was on a sunny day in May at Landman Gardens and Bakery in Grand Valley just one hour north of Toronto with a media tour in the Hills of the Headwaters region and I had completely forgotten until this stinky pig poop moment that an older cousin of mine once had a pig farm in this very region, Orangeville to be exact.

While others marched on towards the chicken coop tweeting away, I stood still, my mind miles and years away smelling the hay we played in, remembering how cool it was to see vegetables still on the plants, gorging from a table crowded blue and white Corningware casserole dishes while listening to the Irish brogue of my aunts and uncles tell stories.

chicken coop shot - headwatersOne smell and it all came back. And as corny as this sounds, the tourism campaign slogan, The Headwaters, where Ontario gets real, rang true. This was for me where I got real rural experiences as a kid and I had completely forgotten I had any connection to this part of the province.

If you have an on-farm market or agri-tourism business you likely offer people similar unexpected joyful experiences. It’s offering experiences that connect people to where and how their food is produced that drove 25 year old Rebecca Landman to start Landman Gardens and Bakery. She also wanted to be close to home to support her mom during cancer treatments.

Studying sustainable agriculture at Fleming College and culinary management at Canadore College provided Rebecca a leg up on starting this business. And four years later, she has an on-farm store market, provides for 60 families through her two acre, organic vegetable CSA program and offers a unique dining experience in a Black House. Rebecca is also a vendor at the Elora, Orangeville, and Shelburne Farmers’ Markets. She is proud to support herself and offer employment to seasonal staff as well.

store frontHer on-farm market big sellers are eggs and pork. She also sells fruit and meat pies, cookies, squares, 20 types of preserves, as well as hormone and antibiotic free chicken, turkey and lamb.

Rebecca says most CSA customers visit the farm at least once in the season to see how their food is produced. She welcomes the visit because it gives her a chance to dispel myths about agriculture and share what they are doing to be environmentally responsible, such as putting up a new high fence along the waterway to keep predators like coyotes out and farm animals and their waste away from the waterways.

black house imageI’m saving the best until last. This is the Black House I mentioned. It is very similar to a traditional dwelling from the Scottish highlands and was built in 2009 by Rebecca’s dad and other dry stonewall masons (I never knew there was such a trade).

Don’t you expect to see a flashing glimpse of fairy in the window or a leprechaun jump out from behind the nearby weeping willow tree with a riddle to tell you where the pot of gold is? I sure did.

They picked up on the genius idea to serve sit down meals in the Black House and now Rebecca says the dinners are booking up like crazy. Our lunch was the grand finale of our fantastic tour of the Headwaters region where we savoured her farm fresh products.

food on table shot 2food on table shot 1

If building experiences and farming comes easy, Rebecca finds promotion the hardest part of doing business. She has found word of mouth to be the most effective. To encourage word of mouth advertising, she tries to offer the best products possible so people will want to come back for more. Facebook ads have worked well for her and this year she is investing in those blue tourism signs that dot the rural parts of the province.

For anyone considering an on-farm market she recommends visiting on-farm markets for ideas. Getting involved with the local tourism board and joining the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association are also key for networking and getting advice on business plans.

Rebecca is on to something with her desire to offer experiences connected to food. I certainly had a memorable experience that gave me this story to tell, which really is word of mouth advertising, still the best there is. Bravo Rebecca!

In the summer months you can find Landman Gardens and Bakery at the Shelburne Farmers Market Thursdays from 3-7 p.m. And all year at the Elora and Orangeville Farmers Market Saturday mornings from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. The farm store is open from Easter until Christmas.

Carol Harrison loves to learn how food is produced and meet farmers. As a registered dietitian she believes that cooking locally produced food and eating at home can go a long way to improve our health and our economy. You can find out more about her at YummyLunchClub.ca.

 

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