Foodlink event is all about going local

Taste Local! Taste Fresh! returns for its 14th year, hosted at Steckle Heritage Farm

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Foodlink Waterloo Region manager Anna Contini and Krista Edwards from Edwards Family Organics are gearing up for Foodlink’s 14th annual Taste Local! Taste Fresh! event on Sept. 10 at Steckle Heritage Farm in Kitchener.
Foodlink Waterloo Region manager Anna Contini and Krista Edwards from Edwards Family Organics are gearing up for Foodlink’s 14th annual Taste Local! Taste Fresh! event on Sept. 10 at Steckle Heritage Farm in Kitchener. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]

Foodlink’s annual culinary showcase and fundraiser, Taste Local! Taste Fresh! is back for the 14th year on September 10.

As Foodlink’s only fundraiser, proceeds go directly towards the organization’s mission to promote local food. The grassroots, non-profit organization promotes local food and local farms within Waterloo Region, and is well known for its annual Buy Local, Buy Fresh map that shows consumers where to source those items.

“We like to kind of think of ourselves as the pioneers of local food,” said Anna Contini, manager at Foodlink Waterloo Region.

The event is a sampling of the region’s local farmers and chefs that sees guests enjoy a full afternoon of live music, mingling with local providers and a take home artisanal pottery plate. It brings together 17 area chefs and some 20 farmers and producers from the region, welcoming both new and returning partners each year.

Each year participants from the prior event are asked if they would like to return, while Contini seeks out new prospects as well. Chefs have first dibs on what they would like to work with for the season, while Contini partners up the remaining group.

“We pair up local chefs with a farm or producer partner,” she said, noting that in some cases they pair two partners up. “So each dish will feature that local food, whether that be beef, tomatoes, carrots, chicken, whatever.”

She notes that although some of the participant may not be directly based in Woolwich or Wellesley, it is likely that their products are available in the area through retailers or local establishments.

The afternoon is all about giving guests the opportunity to sample original food creations showcasing local foods and farm-fresh products prepared by the chef-farmer teams.

“Folks go around to each station and they are served whatever the dish is. While being served, they can chat,” she said. “The idea is that they can learn more about how the food was grown and how it was made. So, really, the whole event encourages relationship-building between the farmers the chefs the consumers, and awareness about where the local food comes from.”

Part of the draw each year is receiving a handcrafted pottery plate by the Waterloo Potter’s Workshop on which food is served.

“They are so beautiful,” she said. “I think myself it is one of the highlights of the event.”

At just three hours long, the celebration of food is a packed affair, with relationships developing throughout.

Beyond educating consumers, the event gives chefs from local restaurants the opportunity to work with local foodstuffs and build relationships with producers.

“Many of the chefs are now aware of not only their own partner but other local food partners in the event as well, so a lot of longer-term relationships have come out of that,” she said. “And then, of course, for the consumer to know where they can source local, where they can purchase farm gate, even a lot of our retail stores have local food – so really that is what it is all about.”

Wellesley producer Edwards Family Organics, a first-time participant, is partnering up with Borealis Grille & Bar. They will be supplying the head chef with lamb for a smoked lamb terrine with roasted tomato jam, beet pickle and collard chips.

“We produce everything on our farm, it is certified organic,” said Krista Edwards, co-owner of Edwards Family Organics with her husband Mike, noting that in addition to lamb they also farm pork, beef and chicken.“It’s just a little bit different niche.”

Newcomers to the event, the couple just recently opened up a retail store on their farm and felt the partnership would be a great way to raise awareness of their niche organic products.

In addition to Edwards Family Organics, OK Egg Farm, Top Market Meats, Eby Manor, Snyder Heritage Farms, Stevanus Family Farm, Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, My Sister’s Kitchen, Stemmler’s and Block Three Brewery from the townships will all be active at this year’s offering.

For those who are vegetarian, Contini says just over half of the dishes would be suitable.

“We have a really nice variety of things this year,” she said. “What we like to do is showcase the variety of food that Waterloo Region is known for – it’s like a little snapshot.”

Contini is coming into her tenth anniversary with Foodlink.

“It is kind of neat to see the evolution of local food and all of the partnership that have evolved over the years,” she said.

Over her time with Foodlink and the event, they have played host at a handful of locations but feels they have made the right connection working with Steckle Heritage Farm.

The venue plays host to heritage barn dating back to 1840, holding the bulk of the event, a working farm with animals, vegetable gardens and a sunflower field – all located directly in Kitchener.

“They have this heritage barn, it is a working farm in the city, it is a really lovely venue for the event,” she said.“It just seemed like a nicer fit to reinforce the farm to fork connection.”

Playing through out the grounds will be local Gypsy jazz musician Juneyt.

“He is pretty well known on the local scene here, we have had him for five or six years and we love him so we keep asking for him to come back,” she said.

Taste Local! Taste Fresh! takes place on September 10 from 2-5 p.m. at the Steckle Heritage Farm. Information and tickets can be found online at www.foodlink.ca.