If you’ve eaten at some of the restaurants highlighted in this issue’s food feature, then you’ve probably read the name Mariposa Farm on the menu. Just east of Ottawa, in Plantagenet, the farm is famous for its Barbary ducks, but it also has a flock of 100 Embden geese, which, at the end of their lives, become — in part — foie gras.
What you may not have realized is that Mariposa is one of the few businesses in the world to produce foie gras naturally (actually the correct term for their version is blond goose liver). Mariposa’s Ian Walker and Suzanne Lavoie do not restrict the movement of their geese, nor are they force-fed (also known as gavage) by using a pipe — both of which are common practices among most foie gras producers, which has led them to be targeted by animal rights protests. Instead, the geese roam freely, eating as much corn as they want, which the animals do in the wild, increasing their caloric intake as migration time approaches. The proclivity of the geese for gluttony also enlarges their livers and makes them fatty — perfect for foie gras.
Although this natural method doesn’t yield the quantity of foie gras most farms produce, it is “a thousand times easier,” Walker says. It’s actually more work to restrict the movement of geese and forcefeed them rather than letting them eat at their own pace, according to Walker. Plus, it appeases some animal rights activists — though Walker says alleged animal cruelty does not factor into Mariposa’s decision to raise geese naturally.
With the new trade deal between Canada and the EU now in effect and Europe positioned as the world’s largest producer of foie gras, could an inundation of European foie gras threaten Mariposa’s business? Walker doesn’t seem all that concerned. “How will it affect me? I don’t really know. We’re a small distribution company and we’re a small farm. Our client base is mainly people who think similar to us ... and our mission statement has always been local.” —Matt Harrison