whole foods eggsMy daughter Kate and I headed out last Sunday afternoon to Kitchener to hear about a new – and what I consider very different – food service being debuted at the storied Walper Hotel.

Up the staircase through the doors of the second-floor terrace ballroom, 250 curious guests were lining up at more than a dozen food stations positioned throughout the long, rectangular room.

The stations were being steadily replenished with something seldom seen at the Walper – that is, someone else’s cuisine.

On this day, management relaxed what area entrepreneur Anne Marie Heinrichs said is an our-kitchen-only food policy, so she and her chef Paul Pinarello from Taste Fine Foods could introduce the community to a bold and unique service, called From The Farm To My Table.

As the name implies, From The Farm To My Table is intended to cater to people who not only can’t get to farms to supply themselves and their families with homegrown food, but as well, don’t have time to prepare it if they did.

Heinrichs hopes they’ll instead buy meals from her.

So what’s so unique?

Well, to start with, she’s offering chef-prepared local food meals. It’s the first time I’ve heard of such a service — I don’t recall anyone taking such measures to muster a small army of top-name local suppliers, prepare their products and match them with others, then deliver it all to consumers’ doorsteps.

The suppliers are among the best that the area has to offer. At the Walper, gluten-free specialists Portions from Guelph offered up something tasty and very different: butter chicken, without butter or flour in the recipe. They also served gluten-free cupcakes. Cindy and Mike Wilhelm of Dragonfly Garden Farm from Chatsworth brought in the meatiest pork sausage imaginable— made without wheat filler — along with green beans perfectly cooked in bacon and onions. And local food pioneer Rowe Meats showed why its beef rivals all others in taste, at a chef station located right at the front of the room.

However, From The Table To My Farm isn’t just about the food, it’s about the way it’s grown, too

Heinrichs is determined to work within some pretty restrictive boundaries to maintain her definition of sustainability.

For example, From The Farm To My Table is all organic. Heinrichs considers a sustainability requirement. Onstage at the Walper, she spoke openly against modern farming approaches to pest control, crop protection and livestock production.

To me, that’s bold — and unfortunate.

I’m not against organic food. Recently, I was proud when one of my former students asked me to offer advice about writing and producing a story collection about Ontario organic farmers.

But organic farming versus conventional farming is a very old, very tired slugfest that has driven a stake into the farming community’s heart. Many farmers too are weary of the fight, and are satisfied co-existing as long as one’s practices don’t impinge on the other.

And think about it: positioning any food grown locally, in Ontario or anywhere in Canada as bad or inferior because it’s not organic, casts a disparaging light on a whack of farmers – in fact, on most of them, because few farmers are organic.

I’ve never met a serious farmer who didn’t consider himself or herself to be sustainable. People wrestle with a precise definition of the term, but overall, it’s easy to describe – that is, farming in such a way that the operation will be environmentally sound, productive and profitable, now and for generations to come.

It doesn’t say organic, or otherwise. It doesn’t have to. Put your own spin on it, but it always comes back to the same basic approach of not environmentally, economically or morally bankrupting the farm.

I admire From The Farm To My Table’s dedication to local farmers. Now, I’m waiting for the day it becomes more inclusive.

Meanwhile, I wish it a successful launch.

4 thoughts on “Sustainable Food Production Comes in Many Forms, Not Just Organic

  1. Interesting article, Owen. There’s a similar outfit in Ottawa called The Red Apron (www.redapron.ca) that has been wildly successful. By taking a much less restrictive approach to their food sourcing, they’ve become one of the largest buyers of locally-grown products in the region. (Full disclosure – they buy tons (literally!) of my organic vegetables.)

      1. Owen, i like your notion of “practices that don’t impinge upon neighbours”. i can attest to the non-existence of such a policy or practice. twice, i’ve had 25ac of corn or oats killed and /or contaminated by neighbours’ spray programs. legally, i’m left alone. lost certification of the field is another cost. and, last year, a neighbour sprayed fungicide on his corn with a helicopter; these apply at 60mph and 100ft to get a broad coverage – the drift caused a bee kill in 2 seperate yards -60 hives, 4 million bees. and i’m left to complain to the PMRA which is considering it’s 4th renewal of a ‘conditional registration’ for the neonics complicated in the bee kill. there is no insurance for such losses. i do wish your notion would come true!

  2. I would be a lot happier if all research started and ended with what is best for the soil. If you apply anything that upsets the balance of the microbiology of the soil then it can not be used, that would put an end to a lot of controversy. That means research done by independents not the companies trying to sell products!!!!!!!!!!

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