Ontario’s Salad Bowl – at a Cineplex near you!
My husband and I went to the movies on Friday night – and during the ever longer pre-movie showcase of commercials and ads, I was quite pleasantly surprised to see one featuring the Holland Marsh and Ontario farmer Jason Verkaik.
Verkaik owns Carron Farms near Bradford, where he grows a wide variety of vegetables, although specializes in carrots and onions. It was Carron Farms that hosted the Eastern Canada Farm Writers Association for their annual meeting last month, and where we had the chance to learn a bit more about the Marsh, a wonderfully fertile area only 40 minutes north from down town Toronto.
The Holland Marsh is the greatest concentration of farms and farmers in Canada, says Jamie Reaume, Executive Director of the Holland Marsh Growers Association. It encompasses 12,000 acres and 51 different crops – but inspite of that, the Marsh only consists of about 115 farmers today. The largest farm in the area is 1200 acres, which is run collectively by five families. Fifteen years ago, over 530 farmers grew crops in this area.
The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation have just launched Greenbelt Fresh, a new online market for Greenbelt farmers and consumer looking for local foods coming from the Greenbelt.
The Greenbelt is a 1.8 million acre area around the greater Golden Horseshoe area of southern Ontario intended to preserve farmland and green spaces. But the Greenbelt Act is just one of many pieces legislations that directly affect farming in this area of richly black soil – one of 21, to be exact that come from 14 federal and 23 provincial ministries. Not surprisingly, that can make navigating the bureaucratic waters a tough job.
Farmers in the Marsh used to export most of their vegetable production but came together in 2008 to form the Holland Marsh Growers Association as a way of tapping in to the local marketplace. And with the Marsh less than an hour north of Toronto, there’s a huge market at their doorstep who is clamouring for fresh, quality, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Last year, I had the chance to visit another farm in the Holland Marsh along with a gathering of Toronto area food writers – you can check out the blog post and photos here.