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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Getting down to the business of going local with food choices

A Taste of Woolwich helps food producers bridge the gap between farm and urbanites

Long supporting the region’s local food producers, the Taste of Woolwich is back for its 12th year next weekend. With a number of attractions, demonstrations and fresh produce on offer, the event aims to connect farmers in the region with their local markets.

It’s a tradition that has helped to raise the profile of local producers amongst residents, giving them a taste of the thriving agricultural practice available right in their own backyards.

“It started out because we were trying to get people interested in the farmers, and [for] the farmers to demonstrate their wares,” explains Vivi Mervyn, chairperson for this year’s Taste of Woolwich. “We wanted local people to eat local foods.”

And it seems that many people have been doing just that. According to the last agriculture census in 2016, over a quarter of farms in the townships of Woolwich and Wellesley reported selling their produce to visitors at  the farm gate. That’s far more farmers than the provincial average of 15 per cent who sold at the gate.

Of course, to buy farm gate and support the local economy, residents have to know where to look. Fortunately, helping to generate that awareness of the local options is the organization Foodlink Waterloo Region, which attends the Taste of Woolwich each year to launch its latest Buy Local! Buy Fresh! guide map.

The map gives the locations of dozens of farm gate operations across the Waterloo Region along with a detailed list of the products they sell. A comprehensive chart also advises consumers to when their favourite produce is in season over the year, ensuring they can get their goods fresh.

Even secondary attractions on offer, from “pick-your-own” farms, where visitors hand pick the fruits and vegetables they wish to take home, to corn mazes and pumpkin patches are listed. It’s an invaluable little tool that helps to put the township’s farm gate businesses, quite literally, on the map.

“That’s really the mission of Foodlink, of making those connections between everyone from the food producers to the farmers to the processors, retailers, right on through to the consumer. The whole gamut, all the links in the food chain,” says Anna Contini, project coordinator at Foodlink.

This year’s Buy Fresh! Buy Local! food map will be available at the Taste of Woolwich event, though impatient foodies can already find copies at the local township office, amongst other locations.

However, it would be well worth a visit to a Taste of Woolwich to pick up a map, if only to enjoy the educational and entertaining fare on offer. Each year brings something new to Taste of Woolwich, and this year’s event is no exception.

Throughout the day, there will be agriculturally-themed demonstrations from locals in the industry. Andria Fromeger, the greenhouse manager at St. Jacobs Country Gardens, will be providing an educational seminar on edible gardening called “play in the dirt.” Nutritionist Amy Sonnenberg, meanwhile, will be asking people to pucker up for some strawberry-rhubarb parfaits.

Coming from a family of dairy farmers, DeBoer has seen the changes in her line of work first hand over the years.

Vanessa DeBoer, an Alma-based dairy farmer, will be leading event-goers on a retrospective journey of her practice. She grew up on a dairy farm and has seen the changes over the years, and it’s her own personal experience with those changes that she hopes to bring to her narrative.

“I’m going to talk about my own experiences being raised on a dairy farm. I love it, I’ve got a huge passion for it and for farmers in general, but I’m going to be talking a lot about dairy farming in particular,” she says.

“I’m going to talk about how my family emigrated over from the Netherlands in the late ’70s, early ’80s, and then just how farming has changed and progressed.”

For DeBoer, events like Taste of Woolwich are an important way for farmers to bridge the large gap between urban and agricultural communities. At a time when people are especially wary of what they consume,  connecting farmers with their consumers has never been more necessary.

“So how do we create that relationship, that open relationship … [where] everybody can know exactly what’s going on on a farm, and where their food actually comes from? Because we all have to eat!” she says.

“Events like this are a great way to make those connections happen, and in turn remind everybody that we need each other.”

The Taste of Woolwich is being held on June 23 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Elmira Farmers’ Market, in the parking lot off Maple Street behind the Woolwich administration building.

Faisal Ali
Faisal Alihttps://observerxtra.com
Faisal Ali is a Reporter/Photographer at The Observer.

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