KAWARTHA LAKES - They sniffed. They nibbled. They compared. They listened. They tramped.
And Kawartha Ecological Growers is betting that most importantly, they remembered.
They' were some 30 students, keen, ambitious and inquisitive, from the George Brown College Culinary Arts program field tripping to this city recently to experience the origin of foods grown here.
And experience they did, learning how eight inches of June rain can affect a market garden operation; how pigs can replace tractors, how a successful Amish operation works and most importantly, how that story can be told through the presentation of a delectable lunch plate.
With a delicious luncheon of foods sourced from the tour stops as his opening act, Eganridge Inn chef Steve Moghini explained that eating local has become a part of the Kawartha vacation experience.
"People are willing to pay extra when you can tell them where it came from," he said... "Don't come here for sushi." "Here" is a posh country inn with a golf course nestled high above the Exclusive Stony Lake.
"Every region in Ontario is trying to put local culinary tourism together," he said, explaining that the challenge is working with local farmers to have some flexibility.
"I buy local as much as I can," he said explaining that 25 per cent of his meals are local.
Moghini, born in France, trained in Switzerland and seasoned in the Kawarthas, is sourcing pork, chicken and beef, as well as all matter of greens, fruits, root vegetables and berries locally for the country inn.
"People want to eat prime cuts. They don't want a brisket," he says. That opens the door for him to experiment more with those brisket cuts.
"More farmers want to work with chefs, than chefs work with farmers," he says.
And there's motivation here.
"People: don't forget about the Kawarthas. We want to be better than the Muskokas," he said.
The day had started for the George Brown students at Little Brittain's Stoddart Family Certified Organic Farm where those eight inches of early June rain delayed for three weeks the planting of the farm's income-generating vegetables. Puddles of rainwater still graced the strawberry patch on a humid morn. But smock-dressed, rubber booted little girls gleefully gathered the red fruits offering fresh picked samples, one at a time. Tamworth hogs, Romney lambs and Ancient White Park Cattle, Canada's only herd of the centuries-old British breed, grazed the long grasses of the pasture.
Still, Harry and Silvia Stoddart graciously visited with the future chefs discussing the characteristics of their meats and the challenges of their vocation.
Mark Trealout and Laura Boyd of Grassroots Organics at Argyle discussed their operation with Mark, leading visitors through the rotationally grazed low input garden/pasture. Their farm just purchased its first tractor six years after starting up.
"We get the pigs to work for us by continually rooting up the ground. They're our roto tillers," Trealout said in explaining how that land is then planted to a host of vegetables. The pork, he said, is well marbled.
"Fat equals flavor," he told the future chefs, explaining the hogs will finish at 200 lbs. in six months.
A perennial herb garden complements the operation and Laura, a fifth generation farmer on this former strawberry/raspberry pick your own, also forages for wild edibles including grapes and ginger, strictly following the 10-per-cent rule', on 40 acres of mixed bush.
Standing hay is traded to a neighbor annually for a side of beef.
In addition to the pigs the couple grows white rock meat birds and tiny poussain chickens.
And Kelly Lettner of Kawartha Ecological Growers, explained how the farmers pool their produce sending one representative off to market with the in season proceeds of member farms.
With a host of Laura's preserves on display and fresh vegetables and herbs and spices for sale, the stop sparked enthusiasm from the chefs.
Student Tony Gulyas welcomed the opportunity to "find out what farmers have to cope with."
He was concerned about the impact Bill C 51 will have on the holistic market for those who grow food for inclusion in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
"Diversification is a big issue," he said.
While the networking between Kawartha Ecological Growers and George Brown College is in its infancy, Lettner said that she had already successfully set up a meeting to discuss Community Supported Agriculture with the college.