PRO­DUC­ERS BRING THEIR MES­SAGE TO CON­SUMERS

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

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - FAISAL ALI

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 agri­cul­tur­al­lythemed 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.

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 cre- ate 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 / THE OBSERVER]

Lo­cal dairy farmer Vanessa DeBoer will be at the Taste of Wool­wich to talk about the changes to the in­dus­try in her pre­sen­ta­tion “Dairy farm­ing: then and now.”

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

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