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Melissa Baer has spent most of her life on the farm – and she followed in her father’s footsteps as she owns and operates her own business, Vibrant Farms in Baden, Ontario. Baer has seen an evolution in farming and consumers in that time period, however, and it is one that she strongly supports.
“In the 1990s, my father sold purely to export markets for his organic crops. All of the farmers in the area who were farming organically and grass-fed were selling their animals into the distribution model of selling to markets, brokers and resellers who bought them to sell them to companies that process. The consumer got some version of it at the end,” says Baer.
“We’ve come a long way since those times, and I think there is still further we could go,” she adds. “Along with the farm-to-table movement there has been a health movement, and I don’t think that is by mistake. If you get closer to your food, you’re bound to get healthier food no matter what diet you happen to be following.”
Farmers have always grown food and people have always eaten food, notes Baer, adding that is has been the distribution piece that has often been the problem.
“It has always mystified us,” she says. “I think with the combination of technology and the commitment of many Waterloo Region chefs we’re starting to think differently about how we source our food. That often means how we schedule our day to ensure we can prepare meals as well as how we schedule our week to ensure that we can get local food.”
Baer points out that the consumer and customer plays just as much of a role, if not more, in a thriving local food system. “It’s been exciting to see how much this has shifted from when I started Vibrant Farms to now. There is a much more educated food consumer that is looking for local food, and more of them.”
One of the ancillary aspects of her business was motivated by the curiosity for farming and a growing interest in her dinner on the farm events – “Dinner with the Farmer’s Daughter” – and being able to give customers a glimpse into the farm world. “It’s a world of abundance,” Baer calls it, “that I have been so blessed to grow up with.”
She teams up with Chef Adam Brenner, who also has his own garden, and they have been working together on the dinners for some time now. “I first met Adam at his garden a few years back when he was primarily focusing on preserves. Growing up rurally, he understands the wealth of food we have available to us just outside our door. There is something pretty magical about a chef being able to tell you he grew all the ingredients in his food,” exclaims Baer as she looks ahead to forging new paths in healthy, local food.
“It takes all aspects of the food chain to step up and create a thriving local-food community,” Baer adds. “While we have much further to go, I’m also quite proud and excited about how far we’ve come.”