If you have the means and the time, there is little better than going to where the food really comes from and meeting the often amazing people who are committed to growing and producing it.
By Jason Allen
Published February 03, 2012
February is Farm Month, and if you eat on a regular basis, you should probably think about joining the celebrations.
Those of us who regularly shop at farmers' markets may think of FIFM the way devout Christians often look at Easter ('Isn't that every day?'), but one cannot overstate the need to spread awareness of the importance of farms among people who think meat originates in Styrofoam packages.
Late last year, my family embarked on a 'farm visit' program where the intent was to visit a local farmer/producer once a month to see what they did, how they operated, and hopefully bring along a substantial food order from seven or eight families.
It was my intention to do a write up at the time, but life ran away with me. Then I thought: what better time to recap the experience, than FIFM?
So without further ado, I'd like to report on my wonderful visit with the good people at Oak Manor Farms, at 756907 Oxford County Road #5, Tavistock ON, N0B 2R0.
Just to clarify, Oak Manor is not a farm at all - it's a grain mill that uses as close to heritage milling techniques as possible, and purchases only Ontario grown (with at least one of their major providers being within 5 km) organic grain, lentils and beans.
For those of us who spend a lot of time visiting farm/small producer websites, the Oak Manor website is something to behold: well designed, well laid out, and a shopping cart that's easy to navigate and understand.
So imagine my surprise when I phoned Oak Manor and my call was answered by what sounded like a fairly elderly gentleman, who admitted to no knowledge whatsoever about email, and then passed me off to his wife, who encouraged me to fax in my order.
Not knowing what to expect, I hit the road to just outside Kitchener, with an order submitted for well over 150 kg of organic flour and beans from about eight families.
It was a snowy day, and the turnoff was a bit hard to find, but when I got there and made my way into the tiny storefront, I had the pleasure of bumping into Alison Reibling, the daughter of the couple I had spoken to the day before.
A smiling blonde lady of obvious Dutch heritage, she admitted to never having seen the fax. She explained the ins and outs of a farm in transition as she compiled my order.
The gentleman who had answered the phone was Dave, the dad, of course. He had one foot in retirement and one still in the business. Along with his wife Ann, he had built it up from virtually nothing, including custom refitting almost all of the equipment on site.
"When we hire mechanics for our equipment," Alison explained, "We can't hire them based on any knowledge, because we have customized it to such an extent that there really is nothing like it anywhere. Instead we hire for aptitude, and teach them the nuts and bolts." Advice any small business owner would be wise to follow.
She explained the ups and downs of organic grain production. Organic spelt flour was a major boom industry in the last decade or so. With farmers soon realizing they could command a higher price for organic spelt than for organic wheat flour, the market had no trouble finding a ready supply for this increasingly popular grain.
Much of what Oak Manor produced was in fact being shipped to Europe, where demand seemed insatiable...at least until European farmers caught on.
Now, the business is largely run by oldest son Perry, who spends much of his time on the road delivering to a number of restaurants and businesses, as well as having a thriving retail/wholesale trade.
It's easy to taste the end result of their flour at establishments in Hamilton such as Cake and Loaf Bakery and Earth to Table Bread Bar, and you can buy the flour and beans at stores like Goodness Me and Horn of Plenty.
After our lovely chat, I backed the car up to the warehouse, where Alison tossed the 20 kg sacks into the hatch of my Aveo like they were bags of microwave popcorn (I was suitably impressed). Then I headed back home.
This, our first farm visit was a resounding success. Buying in bulk (20-40kg at a time) enabled all of the families to save a bit of money, and buying direct ensured all of the profit stayed with the producer. The only extra time for me was an evening with my kitchen scale divvying it up, and all was well.
Tromping out to farms an hour and a half from Hamilton isn't for everyone - half the people in our bulk buying group don't own cars, for instance - but if you have the means and the time, there is little better than going to where the food really comes from and meeting the often amazing people who are committed to growing and producing it.
Check out the FIFM website for more details on how you can celebrate local food and local farmers.
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