What a Day, OFVGA!

You can only imagine how excited we were to be going to the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) Annual Farm Tour and BBQ.  The name of the event can give you, the reader, an idea of what this entailed, but experiencing it went beyond our expectations.  This year the Tour was held in Niagara Region.  The area is well-known internationally for a unique agricultural profile that makes it perfect for growing tender fruits and a wide variety of vegetables.  And, of course, everyone knows Niagara luscious and world-famous wines, nature trails, and a particular waterfall.  It’s not possible to visit all of the farms and facilities, but the tour gave us and the 75 or so other guests a literal taste of the many agricultural activities in the region.

We started our tour in St. Catherine’s, where the whole group divided to 3 yellow school buses (complete with the friendly drivers you remember from elementary school) and drove off to Andrewes Farm in Beamsville. This family farm has been successful in growing several varieties of peaches, nectarines and pears for 5 generations.  They are

 a proud member of the Vineland Growers Co-op, which helps them and other tender fruit producers market and distribute their products.  The harvest of peaches is coming to an end this weekend, so we were lucky enough to see the production chain in full swing.   Each of us even got a whole flat of the peaches we saw cleaned and packaged to take home! 

The next stop was Tawse Winery in Vineland– a certified organic and biodynamic vineyard and winery, and winner of 2010/2011 prestigious Winery of the Year Award at the Canadian Wine Awards.  We toured the gorgeous grounds, savouring a different wine at every one of the 4 stops.  The winery tries to be as efficient and carbon-neutral as possible which involves some pretty innovative practices, including horse-and-buggy ploughs and sheep for a very interesting purpose.  Their 33-year-old Riesling vineyard is one of the oldest in Niagara, which according to my taste buds is the perfect amount of time to perfect the art.  According to Tawse’s loyal followers, the organic practices rea

lly make a difference in taste.  Admittedly, none of us here will claim to be wine connoisseurs, but all the same we’re inclined to agree!  After having a beautiful lunch ‘sandwiched’ between the winery and vineyards – which are named after the owners’ children – we loaded back onto our buses and moved on.

 

Cherry Lane was our next stop, a family farm and fruit processing facility that has been known for its products for more than 100 years.  The tart cherry season is over, so we had to imagine the processing equipment in action.  They are also the only producer of tart cherry concentrate in Canada, which we were told has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving qualities, and is a natural source of melatonin.  We did get to see the peach processing facility in full working capacity, with technology and people working in harmony to bring perfectly peeled, sliced, and otherwise-processed of fruit to us in various forms.   Our takeaway here?  Cherry and peach tarts with cherry lemonade of course!

Of course, a visit to the Niagara Region would not be complete without a significant amount of time spent at The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.  Horticulture is a deeply complex and exciting science.  We gained a much deeper appreciation for the tireless and innovative efforts of scientists and technicians to make Ontario-grown food a viable business and a delicious option.  Throughout the last few years Dr. Michael Brownbridge and Dr. Valerio Primomo, together with their teams, have been adapting various foreign varieties of crops to Ontario growing conditions in order to supply this province’s wonderfully diverse population with foods they know and love from home.  The Centre has also launched an apple breeding program under the direction of Dr. Daryl Somers, focused on developing a high quality apple by comparing consumers’ taste preferences and apple DNA sequences.  Keep your eyes open for the perfect apple, and Ontario-grown okra, eggplants of all colours and shapes, and yardlong beans in your nearest farmers’ market or grocer.

After being blown away by all the innovations and creations done by our researchers and farmers, we were exhausted.  In perfect time we got to kick our heels up with some Ontario beverages and a delicious dinner featuring some of the world crops from the Vineland Centre, while enjoying the company of some of the wonderful people that we come across in this business.  Such a perfect way to finish such a full and illuminating day. 

Thank you to the OFVGA, Andrewes Farm, Tawse Winery, Cherry Lane, and the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre for your warm hospitality and this amazing opportunity to gather and see the highlights of just one of Ontario’s bountiful and enchanting regions.  And thank you to our friendly bus drivers, who we became more grateful for after the abundance of food and wine!  We look forward to the Farm Tour and BBQ 2013.