Farm Workers

Here at the farm, we have been hiring workers from Mexico since 1989. The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program is essential to not only Barrie Hill Farms, but also to horticultural producers across Canada.

The Canadian Horticultural Council has produced an excellent short film telling some of the personal stories of this program. It’s really well done, and I would encourage you to take a half an hour of your time to watch it.

Over the coming months, I will highlight some of the stories of our workers, and what buying local means for them and their families back home. Thanks for choosing local!

Farmer Morris

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca7rnkj3TTw&feature=youtu.be

Bees

Bees

There always seems to be quite a lot of news about declining bee populations. Here at the farm, we aren’t experiencing anything of the sort.

For many years now, we have been working with Koppert for the pollination of our blueberries. You may have noticed these boxes in shady areas around the fencerows of the farm. These are Koppert “Quads”. Each box contains 4 bumblebee colonies with a queen and around 250 workers, that have been reared indoors ahead of time by Koppert.

These are native bumblebees – Bombus impatiens (Common Eastern Bumblebee). So why do we need to purchase them? Well, naturally, when blueberries are blooming in late May, only queen bumblebees have emerged from overwintering. Queens are foraging and preparing to raise a colony of their own, but no worker bees are present. So in nature, there are only queen bumblebees out and about when pollination is required.

Koppert has developed a system of rearing bumblebee colonies indoors, ahead of our pollination requirements. After having placed our order early in the new year, Koppert delivers the bees to our farm in mid-May – just before the blueberries begin to bloom. As soon as flowering begins, there are plenty of worker bumblebees ready to help pollinate the crop.

Bumblebees have several advantages over honeybees, when it comes to pollinating blueberries. Their biggest edges are that they are bigger and stronger, and are therefore able to work under colder, cloudier and windier conditions. Because of this, they are sort of like an insurance policy against poor weather when the crop is blooming. Each blueberry flower remains viable for only about 4-5 days. This means that each flower requires a visit from a bee during that time period, or else a blueberry will not develop. The bell shape of the flower prevents wind pollination – so bees are vital. If the weather turns too cold, windy or cloudy during this time, honeybees will stay in their hive and refuse to work. Bumblebees will not. So in poor conditions, pollination can continue.

After having used these Quads for many years, there is a noticeable increased bumblebee presence on our farm. New colonies of bumblebees, descended from the imported Quads, are continually forming in the fencerows and forest edges around the farm. Next time you’re out picking berries, have a look around and see if you can notice some bumblebees flying around. We bet you can.

So thanks to our partners at Koppert, and all of our blueberry customers, we’re doing our part to keep bee populations healthy.

Thanks for picking local food and keeping Ontario green!

Farmer Morris

 

The Farm Has NOT Been Sold

Rumours.

For many years, people have been telling me that they have heard rumours that the farm has been sold. Now that we’re finally into spring, and as I look forward to a season full of bountiful harvests, I thought it would be appropriate to put those rumours to rest for once and for all. The farm has NOT been sold. It is still 100% owned and operated by the Gervais family. And the farm has in fact expanded a little over the last few years. In 2012, I was fortunate to be able to purchase a neighbouring farm, and it’s on that farm that the new apple orchard was planted. This has enabled us to provide you with a complete season pick your own experience, starting in May with asparagus, and ending in October with pumpkins and apples.

My chosen career, my vocation, is to be a caretaker of the land during the time I have left here on earth. Each spring, I like to take a walk to the very back of the farm – a corner of the farm that is not easily accessible because of hills and ravines. It’s one of my favourite spots. I can remember going on spring walks here with my parents in the early seventies. For some reason, there are still some very large white pine trees remaining here. My guess is they are around 200 years old. They must have been too small to harvest when the area was logged in the mid 1800s. And ever since then, they’ve been left alone, because it would be tough to get them out as logs. What’s the natural life span of a white pine tree? 400-500 years? Well these trees are around halfway there. They are majestic and tall. Almost as big as a few I’ve seen in Algonquin Park. And right here, just outside of Barrie. Wouldn’t it be great if they could escape the developer’s saw and make it to maturity? You and I will never see it. But maybe, just maybe, if I work hard, and you continue to choose local, we can all do our part to give them half a chance.

The entire team at Barrie Hill Farms is here to help you choose great tasting, healthy food and fun farm visits that will “Trump” the imports, while keeping Ontario green for future generations.

With your continued support, my family and I, and the whole team, look forward to caring for this land – the fields and the forests- for many more years to come.

See you soon – won’t be long now and asparagus will be ready,

Farmer Morris

First Day of Spring!

The farm is up and running again and today is the first day of spring! Last Thursday, we welcomed four of our most senior workers back to Ontario from Mexico, and on Saturday we began pruning apples. Today they are working on our Honeycrisp apples. You can learn more about how they prune the trees here

Together, these men have a lot of experience and dedication to the farm. Francisco (second from left in the photo) is our longest serving employee. He has been with us since 1989, so this year will mark his 31st season. For Jesus and Marcelino, this will be their 12th seasons, and for Antonio (second from right), this will be year 9. They are happy to be back, and we’re extremely happy to have them!

Happy Spring,

Farmer Morris

PS – Only around 50 more sleeps until our own fresh Ontario asparagus is ready!!!

 

Will Ontario Buy Ontario?

What does Farmer Morris do in the winter? Today I’m in downtown Toronto attending a Greenbelt sponsored seminar discussing how Ontario’s healthcare sector can purchase more local food.

Sounds crazy right? Why should this even need to be a discussion eh?

Well, for a myriad of reasons, our own governments feed our own citizens imported food, while many sectors of Ontario agriculture struggle to compete against foods from all over the world.

I was advised by a colleague in the local food distribution system not to attend this day. ”Probably a waste of time” was how it was put to me. I struggled with that for several days. Because I agree with that.

But I am trying to remain optimistic. So here I am. We’ll see how it goes. Please, nobody hold your breath!

Making the Most of Your Fresh Ontario Produce: Use Your Clean Kitchen Scraps

Kitchen produce scraps

Are you trying to make the most of your local Ontario produce, to reduce your food waste, or to save a few dollars? There are many reasons to try and cut down on kitchen waste, but whatever your reason there are many ways to get the job done. From repurposing kitchen scraps into meals, regrowing vegetables or even using those scraps as compost materials – it’s not difficult to find a method that you can easily work into your lifestyle.

Recipes using Kitchen Scraps

It’s easy to throw out those little scraps of food that don’t seem to have much value like potato peels, parmesan rinds, and old berries. We even throw away vegetable pieces like broccoli stems, onion peels or cauliflower leaves that we don’t usually eat because most people don’t know all the different ways you can use them. Once you start reusing those little kitchen scraps, you’ll be amazed at how much you were throwing away before.

Some of the easier ways to use up those kitchen scraps include: flavoured salts (use leftover lemon peels, or herb stems), stock (can use up almost any scraps), pasta sauce (can use scraps, or even the pulp from juicing), and bone broth (you can use frozen or fresh bones).

There are many parts of vegetables that we usually discard that we can make use in some unexpected ways. Cauliflower leaves or the outer leaves of brussel sprouts can be crisp roasted and salted for a nutty healthy snack. Broccoli stems can be spiralized into noodles, potato peels make crispy thin fries, apple peels can be dried for snacks, and swiss chard stems can be pickled.

If you want to put a little more effort in, you can make jams from too-soft berries, or bread from old zucchini, squash or bananas. You can even make some tasty limoncello using leftover lemon peels, or a fruit shrub to be sipped in the hot summer months.

Grow Your Own Local Food

There are quite a few fruits and vegetables that you can use the ends of to replant and grow yourself, either indoors during the winter months or outside in your garden. This helps reduce your kitchen waste, continues the local food cycle, reduces your grocery cost and helps keep them on hand when you need them.

Depending on your garden set-up you may only be able to regrow window herbs, but even this small step can be rewarding. Another unexpected food you can grow indoors are mushrooms, they love dark, cool and moist environments like your basement or under your sink. If you have a larger outdoor space you’re able to set your sights higher and get a little more ambitious. Vegetables with a base are usually the easiest to try and regrow such as lettuce, celery, and onions. Simply leave a good base on it and stick it into water, after some time you’ll notice tiny white roots starting to grow and you can carefully transfer it into a pot or the ground.

Another way to continue the local food cycle at home is to collect seeds from vegetables like pumpkins, peppers, bean sprouts, apples, peaches, lemons or chestnuts. Germinating them is the first step, then plant them in your outdoor space!

Compost your Local Food Scraps

If you have kitchen scraps that you can’t repurpose, a great alternative to throwing them away is to create a home composter. Placing your composter in a sunny location with good drainage that is easily accessible year round.

Compostable Items

  • All vegetable and fruit wastes
  • Coffee grounds and paper filters, tea bags
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Grains
  • Corn cobs and outer husks
  • Anything made from flour (bread, noodles, pizza crusts etc)

Non-Compostable Items

(These items will attract rodents and maggots, will cause your compost to smell, and will create an imbalance in the breakdown process.)

  • Any kind of meat or bones etc
  • Any part of a fish
  • All dairy products (cheese, butter, yogurt etc)
  • Grease or oils

Thinking Local is Good for the Environment

According to a report from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, every Canadian on average throws away 170 kilograms of food a year. That makes Canada one of the biggest food wasters on the planet, higher than both United States and Mexico. Buying local at farmers markets, picking your own and repurposing food scraps are all ways to reduce food waste, while at the same time helping yourself and your family. We hope to see you back here at the farm soon to enjoy more delicious local Ontario produce.

5 Ways to Preserve your Local Ontario Produce

Preserving fresh fruits

Many of us are doing our best to eat local Ontario produce, but one of the major difficulties in the Canadian climate is how to continue this throughout the year. Whether you’re buying your fruits and vegetables from farmers markets in Ontario or you’re growing your own, preserving the nutrient-rich produce is a concern. Try your hand at food preserving this year, and read on to find out our top five ways to preserve your food.

Fresh Food Storage

The easiest way to store you local produce is by fresh storage. All that this straightforward option requires is a cool, dark space such as a root cellar, basement or garage. Produce such as onions, garlic, root vegetables and apples last a long time in conditions like this.

Fridge Food Storage

Using your fridge is a similar storage option to fresh storage, but the temperature and moisture levels are lowered. Food items like carrots and beets do very well in this manner of storage. You can place them into large freezer bags and eat them as you need.

Freezer Food Storage

Freezing your local produce is a great option that will preserve the closest flavour and texture to fresh. If you are planning on using this option often, it is recommended that you use a chest freezer because it doesn’t have the usual defrost cycle of a kitchen freezer.

Some vegetables will require you to blanched or steamed first to stop the enzyme action (which will cause loss of flavour, colour and nutrients), but others can be stored raw. Foods such as peppers and kale store great in freezer bags or containers.

Pickling or Fermentation Storage

This is a little more of an involved storage option, but one that can help foods last for over a year in fridge storage. Fermented foods retain a lot of their nutrients in storage, more than canned foods, and has the added benefit of bacteria that is excellent for your gut health. Pickling options that work the best are cabbage, onions, carrots, eggs, and cucumbers.  

Canning Storage

The final, but most complex storage option is canning. Using a large stockpot with a lid you’ll cover your jars with water to sterilize them. You can use this method to preserve your fermented foods longer, as well as jams and jellies, or tomatoes. You can use a pressure canner for lower acid foods such as carrots, beans, sauces, broths and soups but you will need to purchase one specifically for this.

Local Produce is the Best Reward

Keeping your fresh foods as delicious as the day you brought them doesn’t have to be a difficult as you might think. Choosing which storage option appeals to you most can make this process easier and thus more likely for you to continue. Being able to eat your home grown foods in the depths of winter will be a satisfying reward for your hard work. We’re looking forward to seeing you back on the farm in the spring.

What do you do in winter – part 2

This weekend, with the help of my two younger children, I made some nest boxes for American Kestrels, which are small falcons that prey on mice, voles, grasshoppers. earthworms, songbirds and other small prey. They are beautiful birds, and will be returning to our area once again in late March or early April. Females (left) are larger and have brown wing feathers. Males (right) are slightly smaller than females and have blue/grey wing feathers. Having them around the farm is a great way to naturally keep mice populations down. Mice can do significant damage in the apple orchard by chewing the wood around the base of the trees.

We built two boxes, and I will try and build a couple more to erect near the orchard. Starlings like to use these boxes as well. If kestrels really want a next box, they will evict the starlings. Having more than one box, however, will allow the starlings to have nesting boxes to use as well as the kestrels, and save the kestrels the trouble of fighting for their preferred box.

Now that the boxes have been made, I will need to put them up near the orchard in February or March before the kestrels return from their wintering locations in southern North America and Central America. I’m fairly confident we will have a pair nesting this coming spring. I’ll try to get some photos, and at the very least update you on the project.

Now I’m off to continue with ordering seeds and plants for spring!

 

What do you DO all winter?

That’s the most frequent question I’m asked once the farm is closed for the season. What do you do all winter? So as a new year is upon us, I’ve decided to post weekly (hopefully) blog updates to let you know what goes on behind the scenes here at the farm.

Today, I’m beginning to get plant orders placed. Just before the New Year, I had some quiet time in my office to get field rotations planned. The only fields that never change are the blueberries. Dad planted his first planting of blueberries in 1982. We have since planted again in 1990 and once more in 2004. Every year I order a few more to replace the plants that have died or have been removed due to disease, and a few to sell to home gardeners. The blueberry plants I order will come from a nursery in Michigan. The main large blueberry nurseries are all in the USA. It’s important to start off with the healthiest plants possible, free of virus and disease. I have been ordering from DeGrandchamp Farms for many years now. They provide high quality plants and are friendly to work with. In order to import plants, I must first apply to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for an import permit that lasts for 5 years. My permit expired last year, so I will need to do this once again early on 2019 to be ready to import the plants in April.

All of the other crops except apples, are planted in different fields from time to time. Changing what is planted in each field, each year, helps with disease control, weed control and soil fertility. In the photo below, you can see I have the fields all marked out using Google Earth. This is a really great tool that helps me know just exactly how many plants to order. Using Google Earth’s ruler function, I can measure my fields exact length and width. I can determine the number of rows per field and number of plants per row.

So I will start by ordering blueberries strawberries and raspberries. Apple trees were ordered last fall. Next week I’ll get on to seed – peas, beans, sweet corn and pumpkins.

Only about 130 more days until the farm opens with fresh asparagus!

Farmer Morris

Best Spots to Eat Local in Barrie

Best Places to Eat Local Food in Barrie

With our abundance of farmers markets in the Barrie area, eating local in the summer is an easy and delicious task. Once winter arrives it can get a little harder and your creativity will have to come out. There are still plenty of options however, and with a little planning ahead you can provide yourself with canned, jarred or pickled fresh local foods to feast upon once the snows come.

Winter Farmers Markets

Winter meals have traditionally been focused on roasted vegetables, slow cooked stews, colourful veggies and fruit thawed out of the freezer, or preserved items. But where to find these items if you haven’t had time in the summer months to squirrel away your own supply? In our area there are two main farmers markets that stay open year round and simple move their goods indoors: the Barrie Farmers Market, and the Orillia Fairgrounds Farmers Market. At either of these places you’re able to find plenty of options to fill your winter pantry, as well as crisp fresh foods that are grown indoors that will help keep you healthy during the darker months.

At the Barrie Farmers Market, located in the City Hall rotunda on Saturdays 8am-12pm, you’ll be able to browse from over 42 different vendors including local farms, chefs, bakers and specialized artisans. What better way to celebrate the holidays and supporting your community than by giving locally made foods and gifts. The Orillia Fairgrounds Farmers Market is located near the entrance of the Agricultural Society on Saturdays from 8am-1pm. They have over 37 different vendors that provide a variety of local goods including vegetables, maple syrup, preserved goods, baked items and specialty made products such as soaps and woodworking.

What Local Foods Can I Buy In the Winter?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are so many delicious local food options in the winter months, but taking a look at Foodland Ontario monthly availability guide will help you to plan before you head out to the farmers market. Many of these options come from indoor greenhouses, and by adding in these fresh items you’ll help to keep your immune system healthy and your taste buds from getting bored with stews and soups. Take a look through some of our recipes to find ways to incorporate local foods into your meals.

Even unexpected items like rhubarb are available fresh in Ontario from January to June. Called ‘forced winter rhubarb’, it used to be so common that at one point there were over 60 winter-rhubarb farmers in Ontario alone. Since the 1960’s the general public has forgotten about this tangy and crisp treat but it’s beginning to make a comeback. Grown indoors in darkened areas, the lack of sunlight means that it doesn’t develop it’s usual bitter taste, and stays red all the way through. A perfect mid-winter treat to bring out and amaze your family and friends.

Non-seasonal local foods like eggs, oils, honey, jams, maple syrup, fresh and cured meats, wine, cider and beers, cheeses, and fermented, canned or jarred foods are always available from Ontario farmers markets.

Farm-to-Table Restaurants

In the Simcoe and Barrie area there are several restaurants that serve dishes made using locally sourced ingredients. Why not spend your night out at an establishment that supports the community, the environment and your health.

Era67 is an Orillia based restaurant whose menu focuses on food that is in season and locally sourced whenever possible. They make all their dishes daily, do not use pre-packaged foods, and source their ingredients from local farmers markets and vendors.

Craving’s Fine Food & Market is a Barrie space that provides to-order foods and catering options. Their carefully curated menu uses local foods and in-season ingredients to create dishes that will satisfy everyone.

Ripe Juicery has two locations in Barrie, and one in Muskoka. They create cold pressed organic juices that strive to improve their customer’s health, and supports their local community by using local farm sourced ingredients.

Mad Craving’s is a modern bbq and bakery that creates mouth-watering foods from scratch using hormone and antibiotic free meats, and local produce from farms in the area.

The Globe Restaurant  is based out of Alliston and stays connected to its local farms and neighbours by using a farm-to-table menu inspired by seasonal food availability and sustainability.

Eat Local Year Round

Eating fresh and local year round doesn’t have to be impossible – even in our cold Canadian climate. From preserving your own local fruits and vegetables, to trips to the local farmers market, or a night out at a farm-to-table restaurant, you’ll be surprised at how easy eating local in the winter can be. We look forward to seeing you again at Barrie Hill Farms in the spring when our our farm market opens.