Last Thursday a couple of events coincided. The Ecological Farmers of Ontario (EFAO) held their first-ever fund-raising dinner at the The New Farm, which is just 45 minutes away from us. It was also my birthday, so I strong-armed Mr. Ferdzy into going as a birthday treat. Since we were in a wild and reckless mood, we took my Mom too. At $150 each, that was a bit wild and reckless. Still, I think this is about the second time in 30 years together that I have made Mr. Ferdzy take me out for my birthday so on a pro-rated basis he has not done badly.
We arrived in the late afternoon and enjoyed some drinks and nibbles before dinner, which was to be served in the barn – you can see one of the tables at the far right of the photo. We didn’t know too many people so we milled around for a while. People seemed to be pretty friendly, and being the world’s dorkiest conversationalist, I tried to break the ice by asking, “So, are you a farmer?” There were some, but mostly people weren’t, is my impression.
Guillermo, one of the chefs from Richmond Station restaurant, passes out appetizers and chats with some of the guests. Guillermo – gosh I hope I have that name right, somebody please correct me if I don’t – actually works at the farm, growing vegetables in the large (laaarge) kitchen garden, which then go to the restaurant in Toronto. Except for the ones that are eaten on the spot, of course. The New Farm has a very efficient and attractive cooking and dining set-up and meals and events happen there regularly.
I can tell you who two of these people are; Mr Ferdzy and the famous Mom, both on the right. The man in the violet shirt is Thorsten Arnold, who told me that “his wife is the farmer, he just helps some” and not that he is the Strategic Initiatives and Fundraising Coordinator for EFAO. But I guess it serves me right; I asked him if he was a farmer.
A couple of the chefs haul vegetable scraps out to the poultry pen. The chickens are plainly prepared for this routine, and mobbed the scraps as soon as they were dumped.
Gillian Flies (left) and Brent Preston (centre) are the farmers behind The New Farm. They introduced themselves and the event, and then we heard a few words from Ali English (right) who is the executive director of EFAO.
Next Gillian and Brent gave a tour of the farm. They talked about their conversion to a no-till system, newly implemented, and the changes they are already seeing. Behind them is one of their fields, recently mown, in which a “cocktail” cover crop had been grown. Sunflowers, radishes, and an assortment of other plants were grown to pull up nutrients from the depths of the soil and provide organic matter. They will compost over the winter then provide improved soil for spring planting.
The New Farm started as a mixed vegetable farm, but has evolved to supply mostly salad greens to mostly restaurants (about 70 of them, between Toronto and Collingwood) and a few markets; about 20 of those. That white streak in the background is another field of greens, being kept under row covers to keep the pests out.
One of the new features of the no-till system is the use of tarps to prepare planting areas, by killing the weeds, and possibly warming the soil. Although as Brent said, that has not exactly been an issue this year. The photo above makes it clear that there are surprising differences between the covered spots and the uncovered spots. Ignore the lettuce on the right and focus on the spinach seedlings in the centre. The ones on the right were planted in the area that had been covered by a tarp. The ones on the left were planted in the area which was not covered. There was a very distinct line between the two!
The tarps they are using are made of a plastic film, actually for use with silage on dairy farms, as it is readily available and affordable.
Next we all trooped over to the “kitchen garden” The woman in the front there is Fran McQuail, one of the founders of the EFAO, of Meeting Place Organic Farm. She is looking at the beds of carrots, which are being grown as part of a trial of carrot seeds. EFAO does a lot of farmer-led research, which it turns out is a lot more complex, expensive and generally not done, than you would have thought. Because ecological farmers don’t tend to be big consumers of industrial farm products, they don’t tend to have much research done on their behalf. This is one of the real benefits of belonging to EFAO.
Guillermo and Katrina McQuail in the garden.
And then, it was time for dinner. I took a picture of this first plate that was brought out, a delicious sign of things to come, with hummus, quinoa tabbouleh, roasted tomatoes, arugula and amazing little homemade pita breads – the extra touch that let us know that dinner, by chef Carl Heinrich of Richmond Station, was going to something out of the ordinary.
After that the dishes came fast and furious, and I was too busy eating and talking to our neighbours to take any pictures. There were some really delicious beets with yogurt and mint (yes, there was a definite middle-eastern vibe going on); there was charred eggplant with yogurt and corn; stuffed pattypan squash; and a fairly simply cooked pastured chicken with grilled scallions. It was all so good!
At the very end I remembered to take one more picture of the very impressive peach shortcake which finished the meal, as we listened to a short speech from Tony McQuail. It wasn’t quite as dark as the photo makes it out to be; but I did need to use the flash. After that we headed out, as we still had a bit of a drive to get home. It was a very enjoyable evening and I was sorry to see it end.