Farm-to-Table Dining in Waterloo Region Relies on Relationships

Farm-to-Table Dining in Waterloo Region Relies on RelationshipsFarm-to-Table Dining in Waterloo Region Relies on Relationships

Farm-to-table is a mindfulness, a way of thinking – but it is also a way of eating, and usually a delicious one. Proponents are clear that farm-to-table, or field-to-fork, makes a difference in flavour, in nutrition, and in supporting a local economy, at least compared to a piece of produce that has been reefered and trucked in from several hundreds (or thousands) of kilometres away from Waterloo Region.

The irony is that, though it has most often been called a “social movement,” farm-to-table is not new; it has long been a part of communities in which people visit farmers’ markets and shop directly from the producer. While there has been a recent explosion and renaissance in the movement, farm-to-table in Waterloo Region has been a strong component of our food landscape and continues to grow. Trevor Herrle-Braun of Herrle’s Country Farm Market sees the movement as having settled in nicely.

“The local movement has always been big in this region. We were front-and-centre on local food, and it has been ingrained in many people,” says Herrle-Braun. “That’s been going on for 15 or 16 years. People know what to expect and what to look for, and I don’t think they need to be reminded of what we have here.”

Herrle’s grows much of the produce they sell, but they also sell other producers’ goods. It’s the relationships that are important, Herrle-Braun says. With the volume and scale of what is sold, those relationships have to be key. “People would be absolutely shocked by the amount of peaches that we sell, for instance. We have relationships with growers over the past 40 years that allow us to be able to ensure we have the quality, consistency and amount of product that we need.”

Researching and growing new varieties of produce is part of how the field-to-fork movement does grow, Herrle-Braun indicates. “We’re always trying new things, and it’s important to recognize that certain varieties do better in certain climates and in different seasons.” That means home cooks and restaurant chefs alike can benefit from the farmers’ experiments with what works best.

For Herrle-Braun, an understanding of the farm-to-table movement is the norm around here. “It might be a newer initiative in some other places.”

At Oakridge Acres Country Meat Store in New Dundee, co-owner Cindy Gerber is sure that the concept is here to stay. She says people want “to eat clean” – their beef is ethically raised and antibiotic-free – and are concerned about their health and how food has an impact on that.

“It’s doesn’t feel like a fad,” Gerber says. “People are coming from all over wanting to know where their food is from and wanting to see the animals and how they are raised. People search the Internet looking for farms like ours that they can travel to and talk to the farmer. It’s very exciting.”

Restaurateur Nick Benninger of Taco Farm Co., Uptown 21, Harmony Lunch and Marbles says farm-to-table has certainly evolved in his experience in the cooking industry, especially over the last decade or so – but he agrees that it also requires a solid connection between partners.

“Farm-to-table has grown a lot,” says Benninger. “It’s become the expectation that most if not all independent restaurants buy local. But this doesn’t automatically mean farm-to-table. That requires that there be a relationship between the farmer and the chef that’s more than the restaurant ordering Ontario pork from a food supplier. It has grown in the right direction over the years and more and more has become the norm that chefs are using local and seasonal when they can.”

Melissa Baer of Vibrant Farms with a cowIn Baden, Ont., Melissa Baer has been involved in the farming end of things for most of her life, following in her father’s footsteps who was an organic farmer beginning in the 1990s. Since she started, she’s become a food entrepreneur who operates Vibrant Farms and has been dedicated to growing her own businesses at the same time as advocating for the movement. She’s watched more and more restaurants in Waterloo Region climb on board and build relationships.

“We’ve been blessed to work with several restaurant companies over the last few years, most recently Abe Erb,” Baer says. “They’ve demonstrated a huge commitment to sourcing their food locally. It’s very inspiring to see the innovative steps that they are taking to make sourcing locally work for them, the consumer and the farmer.”