by Andrew Coppolino |April 2023
Waterloo Region is truly a “farm to fork” experience when it comes to food. You can enjoy a piece of apple strudel at a café in the heart of downtown Kitchener and with a 16-minute drive be standing at Shuh Orchards in West Montrose where those apples were grown. That’s true farm to table, and it’s an experience that locavores can savor in Waterloo Region.
It’s partly our unique geography. Like the spokes and hub of a wheel, the townships of Wellesley, Woolwich, North Dumfries and Wilmot surround and “hug” the urban centres of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo – and deliver to them locally grown farm-fresh ingredients. It makes Waterloo Region like no other.
Now, a new series by Ballinran Entertainment and available on Bell Fibe TV1 tells the story of our Region’s farm to fork food culture.
FARM TO FORK provides an insider’s glimpse of Waterloo Region as a true food lovers culinary destination and offers firsthand, honest-to-goodness farm-to-fork experiences. In the video series, chef, restaurateur and local food advocate Nick Benninger introduces you to the farmers and businesses that represent a network of the Region’s farm and agriculture specialists. If you’re looking to experience genuine local cuisine, Waterloo Region restaurants use these artisanal ingredients – and you can buy many of the products themselves when you visit the venues in person.
“The video series was a chance to visit with and work on the farm with these producers. This was a lot of fun to be part of, and it’s informative too,” says Benninger. “I think for people who want to experience true farm to fork, Waterloo Region has got to be at the top of the list. In one direction you can see the farmers’ market, and from the other you can see the tractor in the field!”
He adds that the legacy of agriculture in Waterloo Region is second to none as well.
“Some farmers are third, fourth and even fifth generation, working right alongside new modern farms established by up-and-coming young farmers. It’s genuine and diverse and that makes us unique.”
Watch FARM TO FORK on Bell Fibe TV, channel 1 and the Fibe TV app. Or better yet, plan a culinary road trip to Waterloo Region to meet the producers featured in the show, and sample their Must Try foods as recommended by Chef Nick!
Mountainoak Cheese, New Hamburg
Benninger takes you back five generations of dairy farmers to today with a visit to New Hamburg’s Mountainoak Cheese, owned and operated by “Gouda masters” Adam and Hannie van Bergeijk. Many restaurants use Mountainoak cheese for their menus, plus the dairy has a retail store with nearly two dozen cheeses – several award-winning – and other local products.
“All their cheeses are amazing, but I just love the three-year-old Gouda. Incredible crystal texture and nutty flavour. And make sure you come and try the Friesian, a mature cheese with a cumin and cloves. So interesting! As is Adam and Hannie’s story of relocating to Canada from Holland and building this remarkable business. They even produce the milk for their cheese on their unique on-farm dairy. ”
Fall Harvest Farm, Wellesley
Hidden away in quaint St. Agatha, but only 20 minutes from the city, rustic Fall Harvest Farm is a seasonal gem that grew from a simple one-person roadside stand to a charming country store nestled peacefully in the woods. Run by a family who bring a wide range of crops and seasonal produce from their fields including honey from their own bees. Opening mid-June. Look for asparagus, beans, peas, lettuce, zucchini, garlic, tomatoes and potatoes.
And of course pumpkins and pumpkin-themed and pop-culture displays; they claim to have “the best pumpkins in the region” – and who’s to argue with these multi-generation farmers?
“The produce is awesome, and the store has evolved into a quaint and comfortable shopping experience. Go there for pumpkins. It’s probably accurate to say that they must have 20 types for sale and each one has a sign that describes how to use it: ‘Great for Curries,’ or ‘Stands Up Very Well to Cooking.’ You can use the whole pumpkin, and it’s not just for decoration.”
Shuh Orchards, West Montrose
They won’t be open again until the fall – prime apple season! – but Shuh Orchards is run by fourth generation apple farmers tending 62,000 trees on 50 acres of some of the finest land in southwestern Ontario – or all of Ontario for that matter.
Locavores can visit the farm and its modern trellis system that helps the family care for the trees, land and natural resources – but it also grows really, really good Gala, Ambrosia and Honey Crisp apples, some of the best anywhere. Among their goals – as it is with Waterloo Region farmers – is to be stewards of the land and to care for and use its resources in the most efficient way possible.
“The apples are fantastic. The Honeycrisp is one of my all-time favourites. Sure, it’s a very popular apple these days, but it’s a darn good apple. I have to say, too, that the relationship between the farm, the family and the workers who pick these apples is amazing as well.”
Oakridge Acres, Ayr
There is a majesty and an historic, rural beauty to the rolling-hill landscape with its herds of massive roaming bovines roaming: the grass-fed bison tended on the ranch by the Gerber family at Oakridge Acres Country Meat Store are immense – and immensely popular as a healthy, naturally-raised protein choice chosen by local food lovers in Waterloo Region and surrounding areas.
Cared for by a family committed to sustainable agriculture, Oakridge Acres is Ecocert Canada-certified organic and a regular destination for the Region’s Indigenous chefs sourcing bison from the on-farm retail store as they explore and present the foodways of Turtle Island. There are also a wide range of locally produced foods from neighbouring farms and growers as well as their kitchen’s homemade soups, heat-and-serve entrees, meat pies and desserts for purchase.
“Their ground bison is fantastic. And their bison bone marrow is intensely rich.”
FARM TO FORK is a new food and lifestyle television series that follows renowned Waterloo Region chef and culinary entrepreneur Nick Benninger as he explores some of the best farms the region has to offer. Through Chef Nick’s culinary skills and passion for locally sourced ingredients, viewers will develop an appreciation for the value and quality of locally sourced produce. They will not only experience the producers’ passion for their products, viewers will also be treated to a tutorial on how to cook these delicious ingredients as Chef Nick prepares a meal using the produce sourced from the local farms. Watch it on Bell Fibe TV, on channel 1 and the Fibe TV app.
Andrew Coppolino is food columnist with CBC-KW and Metroland newspapers. The author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press), he is the 2022 “Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence” at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @andrewcoppolino.