by Andrew Coppolino | June 2023
Waterloo Region is renowned for its vibrant agricultural and farming communities that are both urban and dotted generously throughout our four beautiful townships: Wellesley, Woolwich, Wilmot and North Dumfries.
Fresh produce and meats and other food products make their way into restaurants, stores and specialty retailers in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo – but you can also explore the highways and byways of the Region and discover for yourself a bounty of hidden treasures. As you drive, they announce themselves suddenly on charming no-nonsense hand-painted signs: farm-fresh eggs, duck (and duck eggs), maple syrup, asparagus, fresh flowers, corn and just about everything else you might want to find on your supper table.
Become familiar with roads like Carmel Koch, William Hastings Road, Hessen Strasse Road, Ament Line and New Jerusalem Road, and you will find farmgate sales and the unique and quaint honour boxes (see our map for both) where you can purchase the freshest and best-tasting local produce and at very reasonable prices: that’s because you are buying directly from the producer – the farmers who grew the crops and raised the livestock – and there are no “middlemen” in the transaction.
Out of dozens of possibilities, here are three farm gate locations to add to your Summer Road Trip itinerary (when possible, please check with individual venues for hours of opening and produce availability).
Remember, with Waterloo Region farmers, seasonal rules the roost!
3 Road Trip Worthy Farm Gates to Check Out
Eby Manor Milk
A generational farm producing Golden Guernsey milk and other dairy products starts with the beautiful bovine at Eby Manor Milk located between St. Jacobs and Conestogo. It’s a milk that great for baristas, because it froths so well, and for people with lactose intolerance. “It has higher Omega-3 and beta-carotene,” says farmer Jim Eby. “The milk is also A2 beta-casein, which is non-reactive to people sensitive to casein.” But you’ll come to see that Eby Manor milk has a unique and delicious flavour too.
Drive to the on-farm retail store and check out the various milks they sell: super popular 4% chocolate milk, 2% homo milk, 10% cream and unique non-homogenized 4.8% whole milk — with the luscious old-timey cream top. There’s also their Cheddar and Havarti cheeses and Balkan-style yogurt. Popular Waterloo ice-cream maker, Four All, uses Eby Manor’s whole milk.
Some newer cheeses have arrived in the past few months: The Udder Way Artisan Cheese company, located south of Hamilton, uses Eby Manor’s Golden Guernsey milk to make Eby Manor cheese curds, Brie and a Blue cheese available at the on-farm market.
Nith Valley Apiaries
Established in 1914, Nith Valley Apiaries have hives across the countryside of Waterloo Region and Perth and Oxford counties: that’s dozens of hives and hundreds of thousands of bees producing delicious honey.
You can visit this very active apiary, operated by Mike and Erika Roth, along with Joe Lass, on Christner Road in New Hamburg. There’s honey on tap from a stainless-steel tank, so bring your own clean and dry container and fill up. Customers can experience a self-guided tour of the working apiary and homestead (there’s chickens strutting around too).
The honey changes as do the season’s flowers thanks to the diversity of nearby foraging grounds for Apis mellifera, the honeybee. The first honey of late June and early July is usually driven by the prevalence of wildflowers that the bees visit.
“Every couple of years we get basswood honey in late July then its summer blossom honey, which is milder,” says Erika Roth.
Sometimes there is unique honey from Ellice and Gads Hill Swamps, a large natural wetlands covering 1,700 acres near the area: so when you’re at Nith Valley Apiaries be on the lookout for the occasional batch of “huckleberry swamp honey.”
Aside from bringing home some delicious honey, it’s important to take away a greater understanding of this working apiary and their “best practices” approach as they continue to grow their knowledge-base from other beekeepers and the scientific community when it comes to these wonderful pollinators that are critical to ensuring we have food: a significant percentage of what you eat has been touched by a bee.
Walch Family Strawberries
How does one write about fresh produce in Waterloo Region at this time of the year and not mention strawberries? The annual favourite fruit is an early harbinger that the summer season is upon us, and you can find strawberry patches, large and small, in many places here.
Walch Family Strawberries has locations in Cambridge and Kitchener (no you-pick in Kitchener), as well as on the road to Stratford. When you arrive at Walch locations, the high-quality and locally grown strawberries have been picked that day, so they are as fresh as they can be. Make sure that you call their “Berry Hotline” (519-696-3411 for Kitchener and Cambridge) for up-to-date availability and picking conditions. And check their Facebook page and Instagram to get real-time strawberry updates.
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.