Founded in 2005, Farmers Feed Cities is committed to increasing the understanding of the value that farmers contribute to Ontario’s economic physical and social health, and ensuring a sustainable future for farmers. Farmers Feed Cities is an initiative of Ontario Grains & Oilseeds — a coalition of Grain Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Bean Producers’ Marketing Board, Ontario Canola Growers’ Association, Ontario Coloured Bean Growers’ Association and Seed Corn Growers of Ontario. Collectively these groups represent more than 28,000 farmers.
Recently, the organization hosted its second educational dinner at Garlic’s restaurant, called Fresh From the Field. Chefs Chad Stewart and Jonathon Fevens collaborated with several local farmers to prepare an evening of spectacular cuisine using their locally-produced ingredients. The event featured a three-course meal: each course accompanied by a thoughtful presentation by the farmer who grew the food being served.
The farmers talked eloquently about animal husbandry, ethics and animal welfare at their individual farms. Among them was Lyle Renecker and his wife Teresa, who raise quality Ontario purebred elk on their heritage farm near Stratford. In response to venison’s resurging popularity, the Reneckers’ sell directly to clients at the Stratford Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Don Donaldson, of Ever-spring Farms, raises and processes ducks — which I have heard him describe as “alternative poultry” — just north of London. Ducks and geese have been a passion at Everspring Farms for over 20 years. Farmers/founders Dale and Marianne Donaldson started the operation as a hobby with a flock of 200 geese in 1985. Today, Everspring has an alliance with a network of breeder farms and growing operations to produce geese and ducks of several breeds in a natural yet bio-secure environment.
Dianne McComb, a third generation egg farmer from Lucan (and whose family supplied my former restaurant with eggs for a decade), talked about the science of chicken and egg farming and provided guests with many insights and interesting facts. Did you know that weight determines whether eggs are graded as medium, large or extra-large? Typically, it takes 3 to 7 days for eggs to get from “farm to table.”
My dining companion and I shared dinner and conversation with cheese-maker George Taylor, from C’est Bon Cheese just outside St. Marys. After retiring from a career in television, Taylor famously swapped a flock of sheep for a herd of Toggenburg and La Mancha goats, and began crafting cheese by hand, using only the milk from his own herd to create a handful of cheese varieties including chèvre. Today, C’est Bon Chèvre is a well-known and respected family-run, micro-dairy known as Transvaal Farm.”
The evening started with a vanilla-honey martini made with Garlic’s rooftop honey. The farm-to-table menu consisted of a choice of three appetizers: a delicious bisque made of slow roasted garlic (from Sun and Wind Farm) and onions; or Slegers’ greens roasted Portobello with C’est Bon blue cheese crouton, smoked bacon and marrow vinaigrette; or whole roasted Sun and Wind garlic with tomato chutney and baguette chips.
Main course choices included: Renecker Farm’s rich and hearty elk osso bucco with slow roasted root vegetables, russet potato purée, and Ontario red wine reduction; or Everspring Farm’s duck leg confit with squash and sage risotto, bacon mulch and spiced pear compote; or C’est Bon chèvre potato gnocchi, marinated mushroom, local sweet potato and roasted cherry tomato.
The dessert offering was a Bosc pear and Ontario rhubarb stew with McComb Farms eggs, vanilla custard and cinnamon tuille.
The evening was a both a culinary and educational success. On one level it reminded all of us that the Farmers Feed Cities campaign helps forge strong links between farm and non-farm families by talking about the things we all have in common — enjoying the benefits that we receive from a healthy agriculture sector. On another level it encouraged us to embrace products that are locally conceived, locally controlled and as rich in local content as the distinctive terroir and time-honoured ways of preparing them of any given area.
BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Writer at Large.