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The Ottawa Valley

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The North Gower Farmers’ Market is one of dozens of Valley farmers’ markets that have begun catering to the strengthening trend in agri-tourism.

Rural evolution
Experience the changing landscape of agriculture in the Valley
Story by Matthew Talbot



Learn more:
• The Canadian Atlas Online: Learn more about this region

External links:
• Harvest Ontario — Explore, Experience, Enjoy Agritourism
• Agritour
• Farmers’ Markets Find a local Ottawa Valley market.
• Find out about “Urban preservation
• Read “Treatise of an urban farmer
• The Canadian Atlas Online: Learn more about this region

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.


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GO ORGANIC!

Farm capital in the Ottawa Valley exceeded one billion dollars — one-fifth of Eastern Ontario's total farm capital.
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.

“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.

"What is a country if it can't feed its people?"
- Pat McCordick,
Twin Mill Farms
“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.

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.

AGRI-TOURS

"Children who visit the farms often have not seen a live duck, or goat, and have not picked an apple right off the tree."
- Dennis Taylor,
Cannamore Orchard
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.

“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 evolution.


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