It's fair and festival season across Eastern and Central Ontario, a blinding array of potential selections in music, theatre, agricultural antiques and local food.
I've attended a bunch of them, from the Spencerville Stampede to the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival in Prescott and the Tall Ships Festival in Brockville, with several stops in between. Sadly, I missed the annual Steam Fair in Athens but, happily, I did get to the Cumberland Heritage Power Show back in May.
I'm embarrassed to say that, except for Maxville, as of this writing I haven't been able to take in any other farm fairs because of time constraints. I'll rectify that shortcoming to some extent Aug. 2-5 with a prolonged visit to the Lombardy Fair, and I'll definitely be on hand Aug. 15-18 for the South Mountain Fair where a vintage International Harvester parade is being pulled together. Organizers are expecting up to 40 entries of every description and condition.
"As long as it's running and it's IH, it's welcome in the parade," says Hope Cooke of Reis Equipment, Winchester, one of the event coordinators.
As for food festivals, other than the expanding Prescott and Brockville farmers' markets, I've missed out so far this season. As everyone with an appetite knows, fresh local food is a hot commodity and is being celebrated in increasingly elaborate ways.
One of the most innovative approaches to opening the door to mouth-watering eatable products grown "chez nous" is Foire Gourmande Outaouais-Eastern Ontario that has as central gimmick the fact it's staged in two provinces simultaneously.
Sponsored by the Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network, the fourth edition of FG will be held Aug. 23-25 at Lefaivre and across the Ottawa River at Montebello. The two shores will be linked by ferry with visitors crossing back and forth to enjoy the wares available in either direction.
Without getting political about it, organizers like to see FG as a means or "uniting" the Quebec and Ontario sides of the border, facilitating the creation of links and exchanges between neighbouring regions. Hopefully, the language police won't ticket the ferry for some inadvertent English-only notice while it's in Quebec waters.
Diane Clement, lead organizer on the Outaouais side, calls the event "base-building", a unifying project that after only three years is the premier promoter of local agri-businesses.
"It reinforces the sense of belonging within our beautiful region and contributes to its long-standing reputation through the development of agricultural and culinary savvy as well as our rich agri-food heritage." Would somebody please hand these comments to Pauline Marois!
I was unable to attend the media briefing July 23 at the Lafaivre Community Centre where my colleagues were invited to "taste the savours" of FG. But I plan to make up for my absence when I arrive at the actual event by tasting the savours like there's no tomorrow. They're going to have to throw me overboard to get me to stop eating.
Since it was launched, this particular food festival has grown mightily in popularity and expanded to a three-day eat-a-thon, attracting discriminating consumers from far and wide. On the Friday evening on both sides of the river, a "huge feast" will take place with musical accompaniment, one of the ways FG organizers are trying to provide more foodie options. There's nothing like good tunes to help the chow go down.
More than 60 exhibitors will crowd the riverbanks, guest chefs will conduct cooking demonstrations and culinary workshops, and non-food related activities such as face painting will also be offered.
The chief organizer on the Ontario side is former winery operator Carole Lavigne, co-founder and president of the agri-food network, calls it a unifying event for all ages. As an indication of the level of acceptance and support enjoyed by FG, Lavigne cites 40 municipal, provincial, financial and business partners based in both provinces.
In contributing $15,000 to the project, John Candie, executive director of Prescott-Russell Community Development Corp., said FG is of major importance to small and medium-sized agri-food businesses within the United Counties. The event validates a recommendation in the counties' Strategic Economic Plan to secure and promotes the agri-food sector.
Prescott-Russell Warden Rene Berthiaume is proud of FG's ongoing success: "What better example of an alliance in terms of economic development. The strength of this cooperative event is in raising participants' awareness about the quality of our local products and the importance they have for the regional economy."
Tourisme Outaouais has tossed $8,000 into the pot to help with FG expansion and another $10,000 has been kicked in by the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food which says the event ties in perfectly with the province's policy of "food sovereignty."
You mean, all Quebec ever wanted was food sovereignty? Why didn't they make it clear and we could have avoided all the fuss!