Experience the changing landscape of agriculture in the Valley
Story by Matthew Talbot
Farms in the Ottawa Valley have come a long way. A short drive through
the Valley’s rural oasis will yield a variety of pleasant surprises.
Alongside piles of organic produce and lumbering livestock, the savvy
consumer can find luxurious alpaca wool, sample ice wines and fresh
goat cheese, or choose from a variety of free-range duck delicacies.
Many Ottawa Valley farms are taking advantage of their close proximity
to the nation’s capital and farming’s increasing trend
toward specialization and agri-tourism.
Agriculture has always been a prominent part of Ottawa’s history,
from the first settlers carving fields out of the white cedar forests
in Richmond and Stittsville, to the pockets of lush ancient riverbeds
dotting the Valley from Hawkesbury to Pembroke. Although farms have
changed over time, their importance to the area has not. In an agricultural
survey of Ottawa done by Statistics Canada in 2001, it was reported
that farm capital in the Ottawa Valley exceeded one billion dollars – one-fifth
of Eastern Ontario’s total farm capital.
Modern-day Valley farms have diversified their farming methods and
crops, specializing in non-traditional farming such as organic productions
in deference to the wants and needs of a growing urban market.
Terre-a-Terre Farm, on the edge of the lower Ottawa Valley, in Ripon,
Quebec, has been certified organic for 18 years and
is among the oldest organic farms in the area. Every Saturday the farm’s
owner, David Charette, takes his farm’s bounty to the Ottawa
Organic Farmers Market, behind the Ecole Parsifal School in Ottawa’s
southeast end. He sells his wares of organically grown carrots, beets,
broccoli, potatoes, onions, garlic, spinach and lettuce to a receptive
public. As people crowd around the stalls in the hot morning sun, it
is obvious that they love coming here. It is equally obvious that Charette
loves it, too. He sees the farmers market as his time to relax.
|Farm capital in the Ottawa Valley exceeded
one billion dollars — one-fifth of Eastern Ontario's total
“You have to have the right mindset,” says Charette. “It’s
about what you believe in.”
LOCAL IS BETTER
The Ottawa Organic Farmers Market is one of dozens of farmers
markets in the Ottawa Valley. Celebrating its 11th season,
the North Gower Farmers Market, found in the city’s southern-most
rural edge, has worked hard to maintain its small-town appeal – and
has succeeded with style.
“It is important to support Canadian farmers,” says Pat McCordick, owner
of North Gower’s Twin Mill Farms. “What is a country if it can’t
feed its people?” Twin Mill Farms specializes in among other things all-natural
beef, and is one of dozens of producers in the Ottawa Valley that sells their products
to consumers right off the farm.
|"What is a country if it can't feed
Twin Mill Farms
There are many arguments for buying local. On average, the distance
food travels to get from the farm to your table is 2,400 kilometres.
This means the food is picked before it ripens, loosing much of the
vitamins and flavours it would get upon maturity. Also, there are more
preservatives and packaging used to keep the food from spoiling during
transportation. Not to mention the toll on the environment with the
added carbon dioxide emitted to bring the products over the great distances.
Offering all-locally produced goods, the North Gower farmers market
has expanded its offerings to include arts and crafts. Some of what
the weekend shopper can find are quality fruits and vegetables, as
well as quilts, cedar-branch furniture, baking, and cut flowers — all
by local vendors. It is a market that caters to those who wish to experience
the complete culture of a local market, and all of its offerings, with
music, children’s activities and pancake breakfasts.
Touring Ottawa's farming community has evolved into a culture of its
own. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)
defines agri-tourism as the economic activity that occurs when people
link travel with agricultural products, services or experiences. Agri-tours,
a two-weekend festival in September celebrating the lower Ottawa Valley's
unique farms, tours over a dozen non-traditional farms that specialize
in everything from deer and pheasant, to apples and wine. For 10 years,
Agri-tours has taken OMAFRA ’s definition of agri-tourism to
heart. Visitors can take a peek at how cheese is processed on a working
dairy farm outside of St. Isidore, Ontario, get involved in cooking demonstrations
at La Gantoise farm, or pet an alpaca at Domaine Pré d'Or farms.
|"Children who visit the farms often
have not seen a live duck, or goat, and have not picked an apple
right off the tree."
“The purpose of the tour is to allow the general public to
visit a local farm and see first hand what goes into producing the
food and food products which so many have lost touch with over the
last few generations,” says Dennis Taylor, owner of Cannamore
Orchard and one of the founders of Agri-tour. Taylor states that when
the tour first began it spanned only one weekend, but due to increased
traffic and interest in locally produced farm products, the organizers
decided to increase Agri-tour to two weekends.
“People are more interested in how their food is produced and
want to meet the producers and talk with them about what goes into
food production,” says Taylor. “Children who visit the
farms often have not seen a live duck, or goat, and have not picked
an apple right off the tree.”
They can do all this and more at Cannamore Orchard, which has expanded
into what are often called "entertainment farms." These farms
cater to what Taylor calls "the pick-your-own crowd," offering
not only regular farm products, but also mazes, open-pen animals, train
rides, picnic facilities and, of course, pick-your-own apples.
With over 1,800 operators on over 1,300 farms, Ottawa devotes just
under half of its 2,779 square kilometres of land to agricultural use.
With all of this fertile land in such close proximity to the bustle
of the nation’s capital it is not surprising that the urban and
the rural mix, giving the area a taste for both in its agricultural