Farm to Table, Ontario Style
If you're looking for local produce, you're probably not going to do a whole lot better than Orono, Ontario - a town in the Municipality of Clarington with a population just under 5000. It's just under 100km from Toronto, and I can say with sincerity that I met some warm and kind people out there. I suppose the million dollar question is what in the world I was doing out there, right?
As my previous post on Durham Region suggested, since I've been back I've had a keen eye out for places that are looking local, and doing things the right way from a culinary standpoint. I had the chance to attend a dinner on a historic farm called Hayfield Farm, and I just couldn't resist the urge to drive out there and eat what's fresh and what's farm-raised.
Not to mention, I knew I could squeeze in a visit to the Orono Fair, which has been around for 165 years, so, you know, just a touch longer than Canada has been a confederation. It takes place every year the first weekend after Labour Day, and it's a memorable time. For me especially, what with having spent the last three years in Turkey, I was just taking it all in, walking around with a pleasant smile. For me, the spectacle was the tractor pull competition at the end of the night. It felt truly as Canadian as it gets! Before I move on to talking about the meat of the article (no pun intended), I'll just share one photo that I think sums up the fair well.
So What is Farm to Table, Anyway?
This phrase is one of those rare instances where it really is just as simple as it sounds. It's a social movement which is all about getting local food into local establishments and cutting out the middle man. It's about being able to clearly trace how your food got from point A to point B. In many ways, It's a clear backlash against the culture of frozen food, and thus food travelling thousands of miles in a freezer just to get reheated and placed onto your plate. When you think about it, it's a crucial movement for a province like Ontario which has such growing potential and needs to support its farmers.
In many cases, eating locally and focusing on this farm-to-table/farm-to-fork mentality can be cheaper for the consumer and better for the producer. It's mostly just that you've got large scale fast food conglomerates who pay big money to ensure you don't think too closely about that. Since I've been home, I've been getting to know my friends over at the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance to better arm myself about how I can eat well, eat smart, and share that information with my readership. Thankfully, the notion of farm to table is becoming increasingly popular and important to your average Ontarian consumer, and that's good news all around.
Chef Charlotte Langley's Menu Comes to Orono
The menu that myself and others were going to be trying that evening on Hayfield Farm was designed by up and coming chef Charlotte Langley. She's known for her emphasis on local ingredients and her style is often described as "maritime chic" seeing as she hails from Prince Edward Island, Canada. When I caught up with her to talk about the menu beforehand, she politely noted that "maritime chic" really means "east coast hospitality with a touch of Toronto sass!" She also didn't mince words when I started talking to her about the farm to table movement.
"Sourcing local ingredients is the only way.. How we got so far off the path disappoints me. The more farmers that get love, the better."
Before we were finished our conversation she said something that I thought was pretty spot on, "All I can do is share my love for people, products and life and hopefully others will catch on." I think that is indeed what she tried to share through her menu. Her executive chef is the one who executed the menu for us at the farm, but it was a pleasure catching up with Charlotte beforehand. I should note then that the title "Ontario style" really references the fact that all the ingredients were sourced from around Hayfield Farm, not necessarily that Charlotte's style is Ontarian by any means
The Farm to Table Dinner on Hayfield Farm in Orono, Ontario
It would be a mistake to only just talk about the food when the location was, in my humble opinion, heaven on earth. The first thing I did when I arrived was take out my camera and explore the grounds. Where I ended up was inside a historic barn from the 1860s, chasing around a barn cat...as you do. It was in all likelihood the coolest barn I've ever been in.
From the barn, I followed my nose to the scent of cooking food and, in particular, meat on a grill. The cooking was happening over a large fire with cinder blocks, and it was a sight to behold as it was tucked right beside a picturesque orchard.
The farm to table meal was taking place in a large, white tent which was equidistant from the orchard and the barn. It was filled with three long tables, joyous conversation, and beaming smiles. It was a local dinner for local folks, and I just felt lucky to be along for the ride.
To start, we had peas on a half shell with wild leek mignonette & pomegranate, and that was followed up with harvest vegetable bread with parmesan and cold pressed olive oil, both of which were a delight. The half shell of peas was nice, light, and refreshing, while the bread began to politely fill my grumbling tummy. We then dined on a sweet potato salad with grape tomatoes and mashed avocado, and a spinach, carmelized pear and ricotta salad. If that wasn't good enough, we then had the main event, roasted chicken with a peach bbq glaze and roast pork with maple and Algoma cider (served on a bed of sauteed mushrooms) from nearby Kendal Hills Farm. Finally, for dessert, we had roasted Allin's Orchard pears and apples with vanilla cake and custard. I think it's safe to say that you don't feel bad for me at this point. The best part was that everything knew where everything came from - absolutely everything.
It all came back to the fact that I could more or less gazed into the distance and see where my food came from. I could swear it tasted even better, but it really should when you think about it. In North America, we've come to this crucial moment in time when it comes to food. Now, for one reason or another, we're still idolizing terms like "farm to table" and "organic" and so on and so forth. However, the idea is that we get to a place where we expect our food to be locally sourced, or we go and locally source it ourselves. We let things get to a place where local was a term we used when we gave out driving directions, not when discussing food. But that's changing.
I love that supporting local means supporting neighbours, and I (obviously) love that supporting local means eating scrumptious food. I'm not here to preach from the pulpit, I'm more here to remind everyone what the cost is when we support those food oligopolies who for years haven't worried too much about nutrition, but only focused on profit. We've come to a beautiful moment where the mentality has shifted, and all we need to do is pay a bit more attention to the farm fields on our left, than the service centre on our right.
This post was a collaborative effort with the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance and the Durham Regional Tourism Board. The opinions expressed are my own. In the comments below, let me know what you thought of the article. Would you want to visit this farm? Have you ever been to Orono or the Orono Fair? What dish looks the most appealing to you? What are your thoughts on the farm to table movement? Any and all comments are welcome and, as always, I'll respond to each and every comment individually!
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