By Heather-Anne Wakeling
As the sun warms the land, self-taught horticulturalists spend hours cultivating home-based gardens, coaxing plant life by digging, hoeing and watering. Their “hands in the dirt” efforts are rewarded by watching wee buds that peek their way up through freshly laid topsoil grow into full-fledged plants by early summer. This appreciation for plant life indicates a general awareness that the micro efforts of the home gardener act as a reflective mirror for the collective grander scale of the agricultural husbandry of local food producers throughout Hastings County and surrounding areas.
In the 1960’s, Toronto children went with their parents to buy fresh produce in vegetable stands located just a short drive up any of the main roads that intersected with the local farms on Highway 7. It was great fun to pick up fresh corn, tomatoes, myriad of fruits and vegetables. Pints of strawberries never made it home. It was common practice to jar, can or freeze these items for use during the winter months.
But like all great fortune not personally earned, the urban population took for granted their access to fresh produce. So, as decades passed and development creeped in to smother these fertile farms, the loss of this local, sustainable agricultural base that fed their city‘s population began to be noticed. Too little, too late, this realization ironically coincided with the gradual erasure from the palate the distinguishable taste of the fresh tomato. This serious and irrevocable error in land management is one that counties such as Hastings and the surrounding areas are working hard to avoid.
In a concerted effort to educate the public about the importance of the independent farm, the community of Hastings County came together to develop Farmtown Park, a living museum of agricultural heritage located in Stirling. Farmtown Park depicts village life of the 1930’s through 40’s, where guests walk through eight buildings, one that that features cheese making right through to a barn with dairy cows and ducks. The volunteers who offer their experience encourage visitors to enjoy a guided tour which highlights how farmers produced our food in the past with an eye to the future.
In addition to the living museum, community response to urban development of farmland has been to encourage people to purchase local, sustainable foods directly from the agriculturalist. Known as the Farm to Table movement, it’s a fresher take on an age-old practice of buying food in season, from local producers and preparing these fresh foods to serve at your dining table. There are several advantages for buying directly from the farmer: it keeps the money local, which generates income for the local economy; the food is fresh, usually sold within 24 hours of being picked; buying local reduces your family carbon footprint; it keeps us in balance with the natural flow of seasonal change and growth cycles of our foods; and generally, buying local is less expensive.
And although you might not expect it, a visit to local producers and markets will offer your family a wide array of organic vegetables and choice meats. Haskap berries anyone? Need a fresh goose for Christmas? Perhaps you’re keen to try a variety of craft vinegars? Would you like to discover a cornucopia of garlic varieties? And, of course, the coveted local honey and maple syrup are special treats.
But the real secret—the best part of the Farm to Table movement, is that it’s fun to have conversations with the producers of the food you’ll be preparing. And that, over time, a relationship can develop where you know each other’s name. And then there’s the added bonus of knowing that the power of your hard-earned purchasing dollar has been directly spent in support of Hastings County and the surrounding areas independent farming community.
The local producers highlighted in this issue are offering the public direct access to purchasing their fresh produce. If you haven’t gone to a local market, or bought directly from a farmer, why not give it a try? They would love to meet you. Nothing says summer like a fresh tomato sandwich: stack slices of a fully ripe beef steak tomato between two pieces of freshly baked bread smothered with real butter, a wee shake of salt and pepper. Pair it with a salad of in-season fruits, and a fresh cup of mint tea. The perfect summer luncheon—from Farm to Table: delicious, fresh and local.
Before visiting local food producers or markets check with the provider for their hours of operation. For more information on food producers throughout Hastings County visit www.harvesthastings.ca