If you were following the conversation on Twitter on June 14, you would have thought that every food enthusiast in Ontario was visiting a farm that day.
The chatter from more than 100 tweets was generated by a bus load of food writers, bloggers, chefs and professional home economists participating in Farm & Food Care Ontario’s annual Toronto media tour. This year’s sold-out event of 50 included representatives from the Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, What’s Cooking, Fresh Juice Magazine, City Bites and others.
Annually, the tour focuses on different types of crop and livestock farms within driving distance of Toronto. The farm media tour was co-hosted by Dairy Farmers of Canada and sponsored by the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, Ontario Apple Growers and the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.
With Niagara region as the destination, the Ontario Apple Growers’ general manager Kelly Ciceran, set the context with the frost crisis of April. The group was shocked to learn of the frost damage and estimates of a loss of 88 per cent of the 2012 Ontario apple crop. One freelance writer, in her evaluation form, wrote that she was astounded to learn “how vulnerable our farmers are and how dependent they are on the elements like weather.”
Arriving at the orchard of Art Moyer in Grimsby, the group learned about apples, sour cherries, grapes and pears. Pointing to some of the apple trees in his orchard, Moyer noted that trees that would traditionally have 80 apples on them might now have 12 to 15 which makes the production too low for a commercial crop. Regardless of the damage, though, Moyer noted that the trees must still be pruned and cared for as normal through the 2012 growing season so that they’re ready for production in 2013.
During their visit, the group peppered Moyer with questions on such topics as the science behind pruning, pest management (both insects and deer), foreign workers, farm succession planning and research into apple varieties and tree densities.
Leaving Grimsby, the tour continued to the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre to see research plots for global vegetables more suited to Canada’s newest immigrants. Different types of eggplant, okra, Chinese hot peppers, Indian red carrot and yard long beans are just some of the produce that are being adapted for Canada’s shorter growing season.
Michael Brownridge, Vineland’s research director in horticultural production systems, explained that Ontario imports $61 million worth of exotic vegetables per month. If farmers in Ontario could grow those crops, these imports could be replaced by local growers.
Valerio Primomo, Vineland’s vegetable breeder, talked about the centre’s work growing sweet potatoes. He also touched on some of the more unique products such as round cucumbers – an item that spurred a flurry of photographs and tweets.
One food writer tweeted that she was “proud to be Canadian because the Vineland Research Station is doing some great work.” Another noted that they had no idea “of the amazing innovation being pursued at Vineland.”
The group then enjoyed a gourmet Taste of Ontario lunch sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada and catered by Chef Jan-Willem Stulp of the Grand Oak Culinary Market in Vineland and finally a tour of a progressive Ancaster dairy farm.
Farm & Food Care partners annually with different farm organizations to introduce different commodities to the food experts. Suggestions for future tour stops within an hour’s drive of Toronto or Ottawa are always welcome. Email ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org
A second tour will take Ottawa-area writers and chefs to farms near the nation’s capital in September.
Kelly Daynard is communications manager, Farm & Food Care Ontario.