For the people in Grey Bruce County the 100 mile diet is nothing new. When a crop makes its first appearance of the year, news spreads like wildfire – the sap is running, asparagus is up, peas have arrived, and the strawberries are ready. Local market stores and roadside stands showcase the changing bounty from the spring to the end of fall when the frost arrives.
Grey Bruce County is ideally situated for tourists to take advantage of sandy beaches and renowned sunsets along 850 kilometers of coastline, as it is located only 2 and a half hours northwest of Toronto, west of Collingwood. Bordered by Lake Huron, Georgian Bay and the Niagara Escarpment, the population experiences huge growth in the summer as cottagers, campers, and boaters enjoy its amenities. History buffs can visit all the lighthouses, and for hikers, there is the 885 kilometer long Bruce Trail, Canada’s oldest and longest footpath.
Weekly farmers markets are sprinkled throughout the county, in tiny hamlets like Lion’s Head to larger markets in Owen Sound and Keady. Complementing the markets is a growing number of market stores that offer seasonal produce and local goods 6 days a week, year round.
For the owners of these stores, the focus on local food is synonymous with community. Anne Finlay Stewart, owner of Around the Sound Market in Owen Sound believes that “Eating locally means support for your local economy, and for your neighbors. It’s about seasonal treats and learning something new and supporting the people who do the hard work. And it’s about recommending the things you love.” While providing a connection between urban eaters and their producing neighbors is the reason for the store, it is the community created within the store that makes it special. Producers tell customers about their products, customers share their favorites with each other, and staff helps customers find both the information and products.”
Around the Sound market epitomizes eating local in Grey Bruce County. Every time I read the chatty, detailed newsletter, I want to load up with fresh veggies, locally sourced meat, and gather my foodie friends round for a feast. The newsletter mentions farmers and suppliers by first name, reminiscent of a letter from home mentioning family and friends. Even though the newsletter announces what’s coming in fresh and in high season, “there are always surprises by the time I open the door on Wednesday” says Anne.
For Barbara Harper, owner of the 100-mile market in Meaford, the most important part of the local food movement is not the food itself, but “the fact that food is the catalyst for building community – healthy community. Not just by providing healthy diets, but it brings the community itself together in a vibrant and healthy way. Customers get to meet their neighbors and farmers who are growing the food they eat. The store provides income to many different families and has inspired a number of new business ventures and collaborations. “
The 100 mile market brings together local producers with local consumers. The focus was local at first, then natural or organic, working with producers in Meaford, and moving further afield. They are fortunate that there are many interesting and unique food producers within 100 miles.
Occasionally there is a problem with distribution, easily rectified by community involvement. A local teacher who lives in Meaford also teaches in Flesherton, so she picks up the bread order at the Flesherton bakery to deliver to The 100 Mile market. The bakery supplies the teacher with bread in return, and the 100 Mile Market supplies her with elk meat. This is old-fashioned bartering at its best.
There are no issues with distribution at Hi Berry Farm store in Saugeen Shores, as they only sell what they grow on their 120 acre property. With some fancy agricultural footwork, Norm Charbonneau, the owner is able to fill their farm market store with 40 different fruits and vegetables six months a year. In Grey Bruce County, that is no easy task. With delayed and staggered plantings, they have been picking strawberries since May 28th this year, and are still going in August. Delayed plantings are visible in the field with stair steps of short and tall corn, growing simultaneously which allows them to plant and pick at the same time. With the lake having a moderating effect, they will have corn into late October. They have 18 separate staggered plantings of peas to insure a long picking season but if one planting has a problem, there aren’t any peas for several days. Nora Charbonneau says “Customers need to realize and come with an open mind. Customers usually plan the menu and go shopping, but in Europe, people shop and then plan their meals around what’s in season and available.” They spread out the plantings to a large extent to extend the season, which is not a unique exercise, but to the vast extent Norm practices it, it is. They start planting as soon as the snow melts, and finish planting at the beginning of August.
Listening to what local consumers need was the momentum for opening the market stores.
The 100 Mile Market in Meaford , a small grocery store that brings together local producers with local consumers was inspired by the book the 100-Mile Diet, as well as by the need for continuation into the winter months of goods offered at the Meaford Farmers’ Market. As Barbara and her late husband already owned a commercial building in the town of Meaford, it seemed logical to open a year round store. They started with 11 vendors and now represent over 80, some seasonal only. The prices are lower than most expect. Barbara says “people have to get away from the concept that just because it’s organic or local, it doesn’t equate to being more expensive.”
Around the Sound Market started as the result of a discussion at the local Farmers Union meeting in November 2008, when the economy collapsed. Talking about something new and innovative to support the local economy, the conversation went from “If we had a store” to “when we have a store” to “Ann will open a store”. Besides regular suppliers and producers, neighbors bring freshly dug veggies from their garden to sell in the store. The day I visited Ray Raciot brought in the surplus from his wife’s garden in Desboro.
When Nora and Norm Charbonneau moved to Saugeen Shores from Kent County, there were few farm market stores offering a large variety, prompting the opening of theirs. Norm came from a farm background, but Nora admits to no experience growing fruit or vegetables when they arrived 25 years ago, and says they “started out doing everything wrong.
Eating locally means knowing more about your food – when things are in season, how your meat is raised, why the baker uses spelt. People with special diet requirements or tastes can speak to the producers – could they make a vegan cookie or gluten-free bread with blueberries? Already this year growers have planted more specific things to meet the demands of consumers at farmers’ markets and stores. It also means that customers need to have realistic expectations of local foods. Norm Charbonneau, Hi Berry Farm is adamant that consumers should “give the local producers a break, especially if they don’t want us to use pesticides. Customers have to accept there will be superficial imperfections and have realistic expectations and standards.” For example, they don’t spray for bacteria on potatoes, so there may be tiny black spots on the surface of the potato. The black spots will come off with washing, or if you age them one day. Norm adds that “standards are escalating because of customers buying imported produce. Cut us some slack, we only have so much time. Let us be as organic as we can be.”
Culinary treats are abundant in the area including family run bakeries and farm markets selling homemade breads, pies, cinnamon buns, and butter tarts as well as jams and preserves.
Around the Sound, 685 6th Street East, Owen Sound., open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 until 7 and Saturday 9 until 5. Call 519-370-2333, www.Aroundthesoundfood.com
The 100 Mile Market, 55 Trowbridge Street, Unit 2, Meaford, Ontario, www.the100milemarket.com, 519-538-1522, opens Thurs 9-6, Fri 9-7, Sat 9-6
Hi Berry Farm , Highway 21 between Port Elgin and Southampton. Open everyday from 9 to 6. Tel: 519-832-5283 www.hiberryfarm.com
Farmers Markets are located in: Collingwood, Flesherton, Keady, Kincardine, Lion’s Head, Markdale, Meaford, Owen Sound, Paisley, Walkerton, Wiarton, and Williamsford
More information on farmers markets in the area, as well as the” Field to Fork” Grey Bruce Agriculture and Culinary Map and the “Buy Local, Buy Fresh” Map: www.foodlinkgreybruce.com