Thanks to our friends at Norfolk County we had the chance to explore the agricultural landscape of Ontario’s garden on a perfectly curated farm tour! It is always great to connect with farmers and better understand each step of the process that gets food on our tables. From vegetable farmers to goat farmers, we got a true taste of the farming life on this trip.
We have to agree with the folks at Local Veg 4 U and their slogan ‘If it’s not local, it can’t be fresh.’ With the ?Harvested Date? proudly displayed on the front of all of their lettuce greens, they are not cutting any corners. Founders, Diego and Oliver are committed to sourcing everything locally, including the packaging for their salad greens. Their entire team is from Norfolk County and they wouldn’t have it any other way!
Farmers, Brian and Jessica DeHooghe are the only employees of this family cattle farm, managing a whopping 400 cattle. He is a 7th generation farmer and she is a 6th generation farmer so it’s safe to say it is in their blood. They are part of the Ontario Corn Fed Beef Program and their cattle feed is regulated by a nutritionist. The cows eat 40.5 lbs of food per day (!!!) which consists of straw, corn silage, cod meal, corn, oats and minerals. The Dehooghe family has a goal to ‘keep it local and not ship it far’. They sell to VG Meats and other local butchers.
Jacklynn and Jason Ryder run a double operation at Ryder Farms. Not only do they farm onions, asparagus and horseradish but they also own multiple bunkhouses for off shore employees. The bunkhouse we visited was home to 34 men from Jamaica, Mexico and St. Lucia. The Ryder family provides clean and safe living conditions for their workers.
Our next stop, Carolinian Hop Yard in Simcoe, is owned by amazing duo Tim Wilson and Melanie Doerksen. While Tim is a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Western University, Melanie is a culinary professor at Fanshawe College and proud member of Slow Food. We know what you’re thinking….how do they find time to farm? Not only are they hop farmers but they are also planning to open a nano brewery, Charlotteville Brewing Co., on their land! They currently have 9 varieties of hops including bitter hops and aroma hops. You can find beer made from their hops at Feast On designated, Blue Elephant Craft Brew House!
Next stop on our tour was for a delicious local lunch at Golden Leaf Estate Winery. The property is an old tobacco farm and the vineyard was one of the first in the area to develop into a full scale estate winery. With a seasonally changing menu, the restaurant is a great spot for a bite. They also boast an amazing selection of wine and are in the middle of one of the best seasons for grapes, so the best is yet to come!
The first blueberry bush at EZ Grow Farms was planted in 1975 and they now have 30 acres and 11 varieties of blueberries making them one of Ontario�s largest blueberry growers. Father and son team, Darryl and Dusty Zamecnik, explained that 70% of the blueberries are hand picked. Wow! Their blueberries are sold in the one of a kind WAKI (What A Krazy Idea) pints, invented and engineered by Darryl to increase shelf life. The family farm also grows strawberry plants which they ship to Florida. Interesting tid bit: 1/10 of the strawberries we eat from a Florida supplier (Wish Farm, Sweet Life Farm, Gulf Produce) is from a plant grown in Norfolk County!
Our next stop was an interesting addition to the lineup. Maricann is a medical cannabis company built by a team of professionals with extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry. The company produces marijuana for patients seeking a safer and more natural alternative to conventional medical treatments. They are continuing to grow as demand for medical cannabis increases.
Goat farmer, Pieter DenHartogh, tends to 800 goats on his farm but explains that with an increased demand for goats milk in Ontario, there are not enough goats to keep up! With goats being very disease oriented, 30-40% of young goats are lost in their first year. Pieter is working in collaboration with Guelph University to find better vaccinations and antibiotics for the goats in hopes of eradicating some of the common diseases. On a side note, they are very adorable creatures with winning smiles.
While originally a tobacco farm, this family run business has transformed into the largest popping corn farm in Canada. They use all non GMO seeds to create eight different varieties of popping corn, including white, red, blue, purple, yellow and ancient grain. Fun fact: these different types look exactly the same when popped, but have a slightly different taste and texture. In addition to their conventional corn farm, they have 35 acres of organic corn!
While Scottlyn started as a small family farm in the 90’s, it has become one of Ontario’s largest farming operations with recent expansion to Florida and Georgia. In Norfolk County, they have 880 acres of pumpkins and 1100 acres of sweetcorn, while also farming watermelon and asparagus. Owner Scott Biddle takes pride in ‘produce being harvested on day one and ending up on store shelves on day two.’