Farm gate sales and “honour stands” are a part of the countryside. The county lines and township roads are chock-a-block full of laneways which lead you to honey, summer sausage or sweet corn and where you leave your money in a box and “on your honour.” And just as visible are the signs “No Sun Sales,” a hallmark of local food fresh from the fields but which will not be sold on Sunday in the religious observance of farm families of Mennonite faith. It’s a unique aspect of Waterloo Region’s rural communities.
Esther Weber has been selling extra produce from her farm that’s located between St. Jacobs and Elmira. She says over the course of 15 years it has continued to be a popular business venture that makes her a little additional money.
“It’s a small extra income,” she says. “And it’s nice to talk to visitors. They’re usually looking for fresh produce with no additives.”
Even just a short trip over a few hundred metres along Northfield Drive in Woolwich, which eventually takes you past Scotch Line Road and Line 86 and near West Montrose and Conestogo, can have a significant yield of a variety of farm gate goods such as maple syrup, maple butter, apple butter, rhubarband summer sausage. Head west and pick up Herrgott Road and journey south and you’ll be in the area that shows signs for Wallenstein, Hawkesville and St. Clements: be on the look-out for asparagus, honey, pies, free-range brown eggs and pepperettes, among other goods depending on the season.
Weber says she usually sells strawberries, rhubarb, peas and corn. She adds that many other farms in the area do the same, often giving the children responsibility for the production and sales.
(One interesting note: at 19 Ruggle’s Road in Floradale, in Woolwich Township, a block or so from the popular Bonnie Lou’s Café, there’s a roadside stand for homemade tortillas, a foodstuff from 4,000 kilometres away firmly ensconced in the heart of Mennonite country. In the 1870s, traditionalist Mennonites from Manitoba moved to Mexico to establish traditional colonies; many eventually migrated to Canada, including as recently as the 1980s.)
Recently, the traditional farm gate sales stands and honour boxes have given way to more formal but small on-farm stores. Emerson Bowman has a 100-acre farm on Line 86 west of Elmira. He and his sister have run the “retail” side of the business together for about a decade.
“People come in looking for this and that. I’d say it is still very popular by the volume of sales that we do,” Bowman says.
They sell their own beef, summer sausage and free-range poultry and eggs. “We get a lot of regulars from Elmira and K-W, but we also have people from Toronto, Oakville and Hamilton,” adds Bowman. As is the case with his farmgate sales, these are generally cash-only (sometimes cheque) businesses.
Check out Hessen Strasse Road, Ament Line and New Jerusalem Road: the names themselves conjure a less familiar era and geography where time moves a little more slowly – and where, in just a few square kilometres north of the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, the bustle of hundreds of thousands of people at work and play in an urban setting gives way to a relative calm, where the hay and soy beans blow in the wind alongside the gravel road that leads you to some of the freshest, purest food in the province.