Friday, October 9, 2015

Norkfolk County Farm Tour Day


Who:       Food writers, dieticians and home economists
What:      Ontario Agriculture Week Farm Tour
Where:    Norfolk County, Simcoe
When:     October 8, 2015
Why:       Tour 3 Ontario Farms for Ontario Agriculture Week and #loveONTfood 

I spent a glorious sunny fall day in the country this week visiting 3 Ontario Farms thanks to the partnership between Farm & Food Care Ontario and Foodland Ontario and the generosity of local farmers.

This is an event scheduled to coincide with Ontario Agriculture Week October 5 to 11, 2015.

Ambrosia apples from Schuyler Farms
 I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to go because we had to meet up to board a couple of buses in an Oakville carpool parking lot,  but thanks to the great organization by Jennifer MacKenzie from Farm & Food Care, who arranged carpools for me and a few others to be able to get to Oakville and back I was able to do the tour.  I was also fighting a cold and hoped that it wouldn't get in the way.  I think the fresh farm air helped a bit.

We arrived at about 8am and there was a table set up in the parking lot with muffins, scones, apples and tea and coffee.  Then we boarded the buses and departed for our 3 farm tour.

We toured Berlo's Best, Bonnieheath Estate Lavender & Winery and Schuyler Farms Ltd.

Berlo's Best Farm

Peter Van Berlo & son 
The first farm was Berlo's Best which is the largest sweet potato grower in Canada. Their new facility was built in 2006.  They harvest, store, cure and pack all of their own sweet potatoes and provide over 10,000,000 lbs of potatoes annually.  It is owned by Peter Van Berlo Sr. who operates it with his 2 sons.  They own 1800 acres and employ 100 workers.  Growing sweet potatoes was a learning process and along the way they designed and built their own specialized equipment to do the job of harvesting better so that they could make it easier to harvest quickly without injuring their workers.  They decided to grow sweet potatoes because the tobacco crops started going down and they didn't want to step on any other farmers toes in producing the same crops.  I would say they made the right decision and sweet potatoes is a lot better for people than tobacco is anytime.  They also grow Ginseng and about 80% is exported to China.

Bonnieheath Estate 
We boarded the bus again and headed over to Bonnieheath Estate Lavender & Winery for a tour and for lunch.  Owned by husband and wife team Steve and Anita Buehner since 1990.  Also affected by the shrinking tobacco market in 2006 the farm owners decided to diversify and they developed a well rounded business to weather some of the seasonal inconsistencies of owning a farm.  They grown Lavender and sell Lavender products in a little shop in their Winery. They also grown grapes, apples and grains and have their own wines that they sell on site.  On the day we visited it was Steve and Anita's Anniversary as well as Steve's Birthday so I would say we were there for his Birthday lunch which was excellent. The lunch was catered by The Combine.

Bonnieheath Lunch

Our delicious local lunch Menu:

Welcome:

  • Warm Norfolk Apple Cider spiked with Maple Vodka
  • Grasslands meats longhorn beef Corndog Bites with grainy mustard and smoked tomato ketchup
  • Sprouts for Life Kale Cups, black kale, radish, fennel, black peanuts with Pristine gourmet dressing


Lunch

  • Norfolk Caprese Salad with Sovereign Farm heirloom tomatoes, Pristine gourmet olive oil and Fior de latte
  • Local pickles, asparagus, cauliflower and garlic scapes
  • Housemade Focaccia served with Pristine gourmet oil and vinegar
  • Grilled Y U Ranch Longhorn Beef with Burning Kiln Winery jus
  • Caja China Leg of Lamb from Schuyler Farms with stuffing and lavender jus
  • Berlo's sweet potato casserole with Jensen cheddar and toasted Ontario pecans
  • Warm Spiced Norfolk golden beets
Dessert
  • Bonnieheath lavender beignet, salted chocolate dipped beignet with lavender pastry cream
Everything was fantastic, I think my favourite things were the sweet potato casserole and the tender beef and of course the beignet hit the dessert sweet spot.

Schuyler Farms
Brett Schuyler
The last stop was Schuyler Farms Ltd.. Also family owned and run and we were hosted by newly married couple Brett and Carrie Schuyler.  It's Brett and his whole family that owns and takes care of all of the aspects of the Sheep, Apple, Cherry and Grain crops. The farm is over 150 years old and they have about 3000 acres. It has also gone through modifications and modernizations.  They employ 100 seasonal workers and 6 full time workers.  They are very concerned with sustainable practices and use about 2,000 to 3,000 tons of compost.  Their Sheep live in an open field and are protected by an electric fence and 2 well trained guard dogs that live outside with the sheep.  They are bread for this job and their thick coats allow them to be outside in the winter.  They have another Irish dog named Dell that lives with Carrie a certified Sheep Herder who works with Dell to round up all the sheep.  It's an amazing sight to see them in action. 


We learned so much about all of the individual farmers practices and how they had to adapt to the challenging farm market by creating new equipment or extending retail products to their operations or just rotating different crops.  The Ginseng for example can't be replanted in the same spot after harvesting it.

Farming is difficult work and there are no guarantees that the weather will cooperate and a crop will be successful.  It's a calculated gamble for some farmers that have had to be smart to stay afloat.

We were given so much information that if I wrote about all of it in this post you wouldn't be able to read it all.  I encourage you to think about doing a Farm tour if you are able to and meet the farmers and see how your food is grown and processed and thank them for what they do.  Without them you would sit down to your dinner table with nothing on it.

Think about eating Local this week and as much as you can year round.  It's a good thing for you, it's a good thing for the local economy and it's a great thing for the environment.
I picked up a bag of Berlo's Best sweet potatoes and I have one roasting for my dinner right now and it smells fantastic. They are sold to Sobeys and also small bags at FreshCo so see if you can find some.

For more information:

Berlo's Best Sweet Potatoes  www.berlosbest.com
Bonnieheath Estate Lavender & Winery  www.bonnieheathestate.com
Schuyler Farms Ltd.   www.schuylerfarms.ca
Foodland Ontario www.foodland.gov.on.ca/english
Farm & Food Care Ontario www.farmfoodcare.org

To see more photos from our farm day tour on twitter and instagram check out #loveONTfood

Disclaimer*  The tour and lunch were complimentary but all photos and opinions are my own.

Berlo's Best sweet potatoes



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