Mediaplaneet: What is the biggest benefit to eating local foods?

Meredith Maywood: There are many benefits: your health, health of the environment, and support of the local economy. 

I think the one benefit that people don’t recognize right away is how being connected with where your food comes from brings enjoyment and a sense of community.

Wander through a farmers’ market and take in the vibrancy — from colourful produce to delicious aromas. Meeting and having a personal connection with the producer can actually be a stepping stone to people venturing out of the city to see where their food is grown. Oxford County’s Goedlie Family Farm is a regular at Toronto’s Bloor-Borden and East-Lynn Park farmers’ markets. The relationships they have developed with their customers has resulted in many coming to visit their farm in Norwich Ontario to see where their food is grown. Tourists visiting our region have many questions about what the crops are in the fields and how they are harvested. 

MP: What are some fun ways people can experience local foods?

MM: Ontario’s Southwest, with its long growing season and wine region, has been a popular tourist experience for years. People see the roadside stands with fresh peaches, apples, and more and want to discover more about their food.

Throughout the province you will find culinary trails which are a fun way to explore and enjoy local food. Our region has the Oxford County Cheese Trail with over 100 years’ heritage in cheese making and home to award winning cheese producers. Travelling a culinary trail with artisanal cheese, history and artisans is an exciting and fun way to enrich your food experience. Being located only 1.5 hours from Downtown Toronto makes us an easy destination for people looking to get out, explore a wide variety of culinary attractions and restaurants featuring fresh, local ingredients.

 MP: How can we get more attention on the local food movement?

MM: Our future is our children, so get kids interested in where their food comes from. There are great venues to introduce children to farm life. I think this is why farm attractions are growing in popularity. In Oxford County we are home to 4 farm attractions which have become an annual tradition for many families. These locations are full of entertainment, from pig races to wagon rides.  Kids also learn, whether it is trivia and riddles while wandering through a corn maze, helping plant the fall harvest of pumpkins, seeing maple syrup being collected, or asking “farmer John” questions. 

Also make local food part of social gatherings.  When dining with friends choose a Feast On certified restaurant. Use local oats and maple syrup in the cookies you bake for work. Food makes a great hostess gift — my sister is always amazed and appreciative when I bring her local strawberries at Thanksgiving. When I am invited to a party we always bring local food and let people know a little bit about where it came from so they make the connection.

MP: What makes Ontario’s food unique?

MM: Ontario’s climate, heritage, and multiculturalism give us a diverse mix and variety of local food options. 

Oxford County is located in the ideal climate of Ontario’s southwest and is blessed with a long growing season and rich agricultural lands. Our climate and soil works not just for farmers, but encourages home gardeners to plant new varieties of tomatoes, legumes, and fruit with success. This season is extended even further with use of cold frames and greenhouses, allowing us to enjoy tomatoes, fresh lettuce, and herbs for most of the year. Southwestern Ontario has the perfect environment to produce award winning wines and hops for craft beers. 

Across Ontario settlement patterns are evident in local menus and the fusion of multiculturalism.  In Oxford County alone we have wide diversity from German cooking in Tavistock where you can buy smoked pork chops, traditional English pub fare in Woodstock, Dutch bakeries to the south and throughout the area where cheese factories produce old English cheddars, Swiss varieties, Dutch goudas and sheep’s-milk cheeses.  

MP: Why should Ontarians support local food initiatives?

MM: The local food initiative is like a crop: support it, tend to it, and it will grow and prosper. In Oxford County our motto is growing stronger together. The more support and interest there is in local food, the more it will grow.  Get out and support your local producers, festivals, and events that celebrate local food as well as restaurants that have connections with area producers. 

We celebrate our producers and chefs every September with Oxfordlicious, which encourages people to dine, shop, and cook local.  People visit area restaurants for special local food menus, with more restaurants showcasing local ingredients every year. Woodstock’s Six Thirty Nine recently became Feast On accredited, recognizing their commitment to local food and buying direct from farmers. This is a testament to a good working relationship between chefs and farmers and what can happen when you support local food.