By definition, cuisine develops in relationship with the land. Without differing weather patterns, soil quality, and geography our ingredients could all be the same and our meals monotonous. It stands to reason then that farmers play an important role in Canadian cuisine, bringing those many, diverse ingredients into existence and ensuring they end up in our kitchens.
If you want to connect with your regional cuisine this Food Day Canada, connect with a local farmer suggests Kara Pate of Brantwood Farms. Producing asparagus, strawberries, sweet corn, apples, pumpkins and hothouse tomatoes on the edge of Brantford, Ontario, the Pate family sells their produce in the farm store and at six farm markets in the region. This model has allowed the family to both help their customers learn more about regional bounty and given the family a chance to grow and adapt with their customers needs.
“We help people learn what’s growing when and the range of produce available and they get a chance to see that for themselves when they come on the farm,” Kara says. Customers can pick their own strawberries, pumpkins and apples, and the farm hosts events centered around harvest, such as Fall Festival Weekends, for locals to visit the farm.
Importantly, Kara emphasized that in addition to helping their customers learn about the bounty of Southwestern Ontario, they’re also listening to what customers want to better serve their cuisine needs.
“Farmers can also help further diversify Canadian cuisine by growing more of the items customers want,” she says. Kara says that because new Canadians, and Canadians moving from other regions across the country, want to incorporate familiar ingredients into their cooking, her farm has added new fruits and vegetables. Fiddleheads are now a staple each spring, and requests for local eggplant have encouraged Kara to begin researching how they could successfully incorporate the crop onto their farm. “We’ve seen produce go from scarce to mainstream.”
Research backs up Brantwood’s adaptations. A University of Guelph team found that markets exist in Canada for locally produced ethnocultural fruits and vegetables, but there wasn’t yet enough supply when the study was conducted. The lead researchers, Drs. Bamidele Adekunle and Glen Filson identified that a stumbling block to providing for those markets was a lack of information available about growing them in Ontario climates.
The Pates actively participate in many Ontario research programs on the crops they grow, such as strawberries, to help the industry as a whole improve. They’ve also participated in studies on cover crops and rotation trials to improve their farm’s sustainability.
As for celebrating Food Day Canada, Kara knows exactly what she’ll be having this long weekend. “To me, the August long weekend is the best time to indulge in the cornucopia of seasonal produce. There’s peaches and plums but personally sweet corn is the highlight of this time of year.”