Friday, 19 September 2014


As I noted in my last post, the Ontario government has stated that farmers' markets are an extension of the farmgate.  Foods prepared for sale at a farmers' market may be made in one's own home.  Foods prepared for the farmgate must be prepared in a commercial kitchen.  When I tell people this, I get incredulous looks.  "Why?"  They ask.  "Health and safety regulations," I reply.  "Yes, but...what does that have to do with health and safety?"  

When I asked the ministry in a letter, for an explanation of this seeming inconsistency,  I was informed that the minster is aware that Ontario produces some of the highest quality food in the world....the government is keen to work with farmers like us to ensure that Ontario continues to produce the highest quality food in the world....and I was advised that if our prepared foods contain more than 25% meat, not only would we be requires to produce them offsite, in a commercial kitchen, they would need to be produced in a licensed meat plant.  The minister emphasized again how important it was to his government that they work with farmers like myself to ensure that Ontario continue to make great food, and so on and so forth. 

Ours is not a culture that makes starting and running a small business accessible and viable, given the regulatory burdens that are not plain and straightforward, designed to address issues in a way that makes sense and is reasonable. 

As small farmers, we feel squeezed by the constant demands of regulations which are costly to meet, as well as by the indifference of the general public.  At markets, we present our wares, and engage with customers, but the good humour sometimes belies the tiredness that comes from the pressures that are never really eased.  Regulations change and are made on whims without farmers' input.  The place of the small farm in our culture is a precarious one.  

Friday, 12 September 2014

Back to School!

This week marked the first time I was back on campus in more than a decade.  Amidst all of the fresh-faced, stylish young folks with text books in one hand, the other hand texting friends, I felt a bit our of place...when I last spent a full day on campus, there was no texting, it was the early 2000's, and I was expanding my mind with full days of courses and a lunch break in the old student's union, with its Subway, its greasy Chinese food takeout counter, its taco booth.  Come to think of it, it was mostly junk food, but there was no Tim Hortons or Burger King. Subway seemed out of place.   By today's campus standards, it was quaint. I usually brought a bag lunch with me anyway.

Queen's has a mall-style food court, with an array of cheap, nutrition-deficient food vendors dressed up as upscale ethnic eateries, along with the usual international faves.  And coming back to why I was on campus - I am not taking courses, I am a vendor in the farmers market.  We were set up along a busy stretch of sidewalk outside of the student library and near the food court building.   I sat at my table for the 7-hour stretch, under the canopy, my wares spread out.  We had our dim sum advertised, and people did stop and ask for some, but when we told them we were not allowed to sell it hot, presumably because it may infringe on the business of the existing food vendors, and it would have to be given to them fresh out of the refrigerated cooler, they frowned and said "oh."  Then they smiled politely and said, "okay, I was hoping to eat it hot."  Then they walked away a bit self-consciously.

As farmers we are constantly up against little rules that add up and become a patch of choking weeds. Health units enforce supply management rules (the health inspector will fine a farmer for selling chicken eggs, but not for selling duck or goose eggs, for example, even though there is no reason that chicken eggs are less safe than any other egg.  They are, however, a supply-managed commodity.)  Prepared foods must be kept below 4 degrees or above 60, even if they are foods that are best enjoyed at room temperature, foods that will not perish in the four hour strech of a farmers' market. There is no room for judgment, and no room for a steamed bun sitting at 5 degrees.

A farmer may prepare foods in his kitchen if the items are sold at a farmers' market, but may not sell these items at the farmgate, even though the farmers' market is defined as an extension of the farmgate.  Items sold from the farm itself must be prepared in a commercial kitchen.  This means the farmer drives twenty minutes, hauling all of his or her ingredients, to a kitchen at a community hall or a church, cooks, packs up, hauls it home, and sells his or her farmfresh food.  These facilites generally require liability insurance on the part of the farmer, which can be around $100/month, cutting out any chance of profit.

As I sat on campus, I did some studying.  I read a bit of "The Meat Racket," a new book on the American meat industry, which has changed dramatically over the years into a handful of companies, which are vertically integrated and which control nearly every aspect of their production.  The only aspect they do not take on is farming.  They contract the raising of their animals to farms so that the farms can take on the massive capital investment required to run a factory farm, and then the farmer takes the loss on a bad batch of chickens.

This is a time when an education in food issues is more accessible than ever.  There are countless books, from The Omnivore's Dilemma, to the Hundred Mile Diet, to Locavore (and books like the Locavore's Dilemma, which offer an opposing, more upbeat view of the industrial food system), to Organics Inc...and films like King Corn and Food Inc. and the Botany of Desire.  There is much to be learned and discussed around the issues of food production and consumption, which are, after all, ever-pertinent issues.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Long Road Celebrates 1 Year

We have made it to the end of summer.  There are a couple of big ripe watermelons in our field ready to harvest, and a few more on the way. There is a second, very tenacious crop of strawberries as well.  The pigs are digging up a portion of field that we plan to use next year, and I am pleasantly surprised to see that they are doing a bang-up job.

We hosted a concert to celebrate the anniversary of the move.  The turnout was perfect - we did not break any fire codes with our attendance, but it was enough for a great sense of camaraderie and also enough to notice a rise in the room's temperature.  It was enough people to encourage us, but beyond the number of people, it was wonderful to know that we have connected with some quality people.

We made a buffet of farm-fresh snacks and chatted amongst ourselves between sets, and played a mixture of folk/roots originals, songs by the Beatles and the Guess Who (which my siblings and I grew up listening to) and a few brilliant trumpet numbers (we were fortunate enough to have a world class trumpeter in the lineup, and no that is not a joke).

Me and the band (my siblings who helped make the evening a memorable one)

A year ago our land was still unimproved hay fields and woodlot.  The vast majority of our land is still just that, but there are three lush gardens now.  We fretted about soil depth, about having to spend on raised beds, but the soil is serving us well.  We began the spring intending to sell vegetables and meat, but have expanded our operation into Frontenac county's only Dim Sum joint.  Recapping the year, it would be fair to say we have had some modest success - in any case, I am still writing this blog and the farmgate sign is still going up each day to welcome visitors.