By Chad Ingram
There’s a joke about Haliburton County and farming, the punch line being that the poor settlers who came to the area in the 19th century with visions of bountiful crop yields found the only thing they could harvest from the hills of Haliburton were rocks.
While it may be true the area doesn’t exactly lend itself to the fertile fields suitable for large-scale production that can be found not far to the south, the county’s not adverse to agriculture.
In fact, a recently completed community food assessment report suggests that agriculture is the fastest-growing sector in the Highlands.
The assessment was completed by consultants hired by a partnership of local organizations that, moving forward, will work under the banner of Harvest Haliburton.
It shows a growing number of food producers in the community, some reclaiming family farms, others drawn in by the county’s relatively cheap agricultural land.
There seems to be a movement in the West that’s been blooming for the past few years, a trend moving away from mass-produced, artificial-flavour-laden, genetically modified foods, towards those that are grown and produced on a small scale, in areas close to consumers.
People want to know where their food is coming from and what’s in it.
And that makes a whole lot of sense.
Locally, the number of community gardens has grown from two to 12 and the Haliburton County Farmers’ Market Association, established in 2009, has grown to include three popular summer market locations in Carnarvon, Haliburton and Minden.
As Harvest Haliburton is quick to point out, not only are there health benefits to consuming produce that has not travelled thousands of kilometres to one’s plate, there is local economic benefit as well.
According to the food assessment report, for every dollar spent on locally produced food at a farmers’ market, 73 cents stays in the community versus the 43 cents that stays in the community from food purchased at a chain.
There seem to be new growers and vendors all the time, joining the garlic growers and maple syrup producers who have been selling their locally created products for years.
While the county may not be ideal for cornfields, its topography is suitable for other things - keeping goats and sheep, for example.
An OMAFRA rep at a recent forum by the Haliburton County Farmers’ Association explained how small ruminants – goats and sheep – are one of the most affordable ways to get into farming, and how supply in the country cannot keep pace with demand.
Canadian farmers supply only 42 per cent of the goat and sheep market in Canada.
With local restaurants becoming cognizant of the appetite for local food and with culinary attractions part of Haliburton County’s three-pillar tourism strategy, it seems the local food system in the community will only continue to grow.
Now if I can just convince my better half to let me get some goats . . .