cow vg meats

Canada’s Only Tenderness Tested Beef

Did you know that VG Meats is able to butcher custom cuts of beef and dry age them for you, to your exact specifications? Not only that, they breed their own cattle, raise them, slaughter, and then process them? That kind of traceability is quite unique within the Ontario beef industry! As part of this latest in our Sow and Tell series, their Beef Tenderloin Barrels are on sale! The beef tenderloin barrel is one of the most tender cuts of beef and these ones have chain meat removed to create a uniform piece – making it easy for you to turn into delicious, consistently sized portions (filet mignon, anyone?)! This sale runs for all deliveries from May 2nd 2017 – May 5th  2017.

VG Meats is family owned and operated, with four brothers – Cory, Chad, Kyle and Kevin – at the helm of the operation. Their family roots as butchers extends back generations – their grandpa Cornelius Van Groningen worked as a black market butcher in Amsterdam during WWII, hiding livestock from German troops! In the post war years, Cornelius decided to set out to Canada, where he got back into the butchery industry with a slaughter operation in Simcoe (VG Packers). Cornelius’ oldest son, Wayne, followed in his father’s footsteps by continuing the business. In the mid 1990s, the Van Groningen family decided to branch out from solely running a processing plant to delve into cattle farming.

Fast forward to present day, and the four Van Groningen brothers each bring their unique skill set and expertise to the table in their pursuit of beef perfection. Cory and his wife Heidi run one of the farms, and Cory also spends much of his time representing VG meats and the larger beef industry with officials and at conferences. Chad, second born, leads the butchery and processing plant operations, as well as doing outreach and sales. Kyle oversees all their retail operations both in Stoney Creek and Simcoe, and is the point person between the farm, processing plant, and customer. Last born, Kevin, is the food scientist of the family, and Morgan, his wife, is the marketing lead. Kevin studied agricultural science at Guelph, and he was the one to develop their unique tenderness testing method!

It just so happens, we were up at the VG farm and processing plant this week as part of our farm tours. 100km Foods staff, and a group of excited chefs, got to speak to the Van Groningen brothers, meet the cows and see how they’re cared for. Following that, we went up the road to their processing plant and delved more deeply into tenderness and grading beef.

VG Meats have their own bulls from whom they breed the rest of the herd. They put a big emphasis on developing their own genetic stock because the bulls from their farm are acclimated to Ontario’s environment, and they think this creates a resilient and healthy line of beef cattle. They’ve also spent lots of time developing the best feed for the cows – they are out on pasture and being fed grass most of the year, but during winter months, their diet is supplemented with feed mix with includes corn and other grains. They are constantly learning and innovating best practices to ensure their herd is healthy and happy! Not only do they feel it’s ethically important to have a happy, small herd, but beef quality and taste is affected by stress, so they do all they can to make sure the cows lead stress-free lives. VG Meats bring their cows to slaughter based on weight and condition – but most cows are between the ages of 14 months to 24 months, with a carcass weight of around 800lbs.

Now what’s this tenderness testing all about? Kevin is the mastermind behind their one-of-a-kind grading system. The standard grading system is a visual grading system that looks at fat marbling, and is a holdover from the 1960’s. As Kevin adamantly explained during the tour, agricultural and food science research is moving towards different ways of grading beef, and Kevin has innovated their in-house grading method based off new research. And, as Kevin showed to chefs in the hanging room, you can look at two identical cuts of beef from the same cow and have completely different marbling! So at VG, they want to grade their beef using a different, more reliable metric to determine quality: tenderness.

Below is an infographic that demonstrates their tenderness scale – and they will only put steaks and cuts on the market that fall into the “red zone” of tenderness.

So now’s your chance! Get yourself some of these tenderness tested, Beef Tenderloin Barrel cuts on sale and enjoy some beef where health, herd happiness and taste are of the utmost priority! Offer applicable for all deliveries May 2nd to May 5th, 2017.

Thanks to the Van Groningen family for hosting us for a great farm tour and providing all the information, and thanks to Maegan for providing photos!

Milk The Way Nature Intended

Did you know that Sheldon Creek is the only dairy in Ontario making non-homogenized milk, and one of two in all of Canada?! They minimally process it to kill off any harmful bacteria by heating it up to 73 degrees Celsius, for only 16 seconds. This minimal processing allows the natural enzymes needed for easy digestion to remain in the milk – so people who are lactose intolerant can drink & eat their products with no side effects!

This means their whole milk ranges in a high butterfat content depending on the season – between 4% in the summer and 4.5% in the winter. It’s also as fresh as fresh can be: unlike most dairy producers, Sheldon Creek only uses fresh milk from their own herd of cows. From the time of milking to when 100km Foods picks up product it’s often only been 24 hours. So, if you’ve tried any of their products you will understand when we say: Sheldon Creek Dairy is incredibly special and their products are out-of-this-world delicious.

So, you’re in luck because we are featuring Sheldon Creek for this month’s Sow and Tell! For all deliveries next week (March 27th 2017 – March 31st 2017) both brand new products and classic favourites are on sale!!! We’ve added bulk yogurt and labneh, flavoured labnehs, as well as whole and chocolate single serve milks. These are new products we are carrying, so now is an excellent opportunity to try them out! We’re also featuring their kefirs (the plain kefir can be used as an awesome sub for buttermilk), whole milk and chocolate milk in 2L jugs. You can see the full range of on-sale products by clicking the red sale tag on our main website.

We toured Sheldon Creek today, and met with Marianne and her adorable infant son, Wyatt. Marianne helps run the dairy and is a wonderful wealth of knowledge. Marianne’s parents, John and Bonnie Den Haan, own and operate Sheldon Creek Dairy, as well as Haanview Farm (upon which their dairy is located). Marianne is actually the sixth generation dairy farmer in her family!

The Den Haan family farm in Canada began in the 1950’s, when Marianne’s Opa and Oma emigrated from Holland following WWII. They decided on Canada because, at that time, it was being advertised as the “land of milk and honey.” For Dutch dairy farmers, this was a no brainer!

In 1958, they bought their first 4-H dairy cow, Maggie. From there they began breeding dairy cows – 80% of their current herd are descended from Maggie herself. Cows are named after their mothers, so as you walk around the barn, you can see all the “M” named cows and know they are related to that first cow, Maggie. Things have come a long way since then – just a few days ago, John and Bonnie were named master breeders by the Holstein Association of Canada for their herd!

Though they’ve been breeding dairy cows for a long time, they began Sheldon Creek Dairy in 2012 to fill a growing demand for natural, minimally processed whole milk! We really admire how carefully they manufacture milk products to keep it as traditionally made as possible – the yogurt is Marianne’s Oma’s very own recipe. Marianne also explained to us that the strains of bacteria they use to culture the yogurt and kefir are the most traditional they can find – that’s what makes their cultured products so robust both in taste and nutrition.

Marianne and Bonnie work mainly in the dairy, manufacturing, innovating and marketing new products. John and Marianne’s sister, Emily, look after their amazing herd of over 50 dairy cows, as well as grow their feed. In fact, Emily is an animal nutritionist and has worked to grow a perfect blend of feed for lactating cows – silage, some corn, and hay. As Marianne explained, lactating cows have different nutritional needs than other cows who eat just grass or hay – the added corn gives them the carbohydrates needed for them to stay healthy and happy!

The Den Haan family know all of their cows names, faces and distinct personalities. They can actually tell you which cow your milk came from, and that’s almost unheard of in modern dairy production! These cows are a very happy herd – Marianne pointed out that you can tell a cow is happy when she’s chewing her cud. You can see the cud going up and down their throat as it makes its way back and forth between their four stomachs! We watched a cow do this today, and frankly, it’s mesmerizing.

Their cows go outside for a few hours a day during the winter – but as Marianne pointed out – in Canadian winters they’re jostling each other by the barn door impatient to get in after just two hours! They’d much rather be hanging out in their stalls where they can feed and water themselves. Yes, you read that right. A hay robot circles around the barn constantly and each cow has two minutes to grab as much hay as they want (and they have their feed always accessible). Two cows each share one watering bowl which they can fill themselves by hitting the hose with their nose! In the summer, their herd grazes on their lush 600 acres surrounding the dairy.

Marianne is a firm believer in transparency and accountability, and that’s why re-connecting consumers to the farmers who feed them is what motivates her, and the rest of Sheldon Creek, to operate the way they do. They hold educational farm open houses to introduce people to their herd, the dairy and the unique operation they run. They also have a small shop you can go and visit at any time, with an ice cream stand during the warmer months! If you ever get the chance, go by and say hi!

We love working with them, and we value how involved, considerate, and passionate the whole team is at Sheldon Creek. Not to mention, their milk products are damn tasty. So what are you waiting for?! Go order some today!

An enormous thank you goes out to Marianne (and Wyatt) for showing us the ropes, and providing all the information for this promotio

Tapping for Sweet Sap

This year marks the earliest that the Ennis family has tapped trees in the past thirty years! The early thaw this February took them by surprise, and they had to make haste to get tapping before the weather turned cold again. It takes them about five days to get everything ready for tapping – they were set up by March 1st. This weekend is the final weekend for tapping, and now they are working hard on boiling the sap into the syrup we know and love.

Working so closely with farmers and producers means we have the pulse on the ways climate change is already affecting our forests and farmlands. Unexpected, early thaws are one way that we can see the weather patterns are changing. This is why buying local is so important! The more robust our local food economy is, the better farmers and producers can adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Personally, I’m a maple syrup addict, so I am pretty happy that Martin Ennis and his family were able to catch the sap before it was gone! Did you know that Martin’s kids are the 5th generation to be making maple syrup on the Ennis family farm? They are able to tap some of the same trees that Martin’s great grandfather, James Ennis, was tapping during WW2! Pictured below is his daughter Jessica, collecting sap and bottling it.

Martin's daughter, Jessica, collects syrup

Tapping for sap and boiling it into syrup and sugar is an intense process, requiring all hands on deck to move quickly. From what I understand of tapping and boiling sap, timing is everything. Nothing can be left unattended even for a short time, that’s how fast paced the flurry of activity is!

There are also more sustainable methods for tapping trees – maples are able to heal over openings if they are done correctly (they form a clear glue/sap-like substance over the holes). It’s also a good idea to rotate the trees you tap every few years in order to relieve some of the older maples.

Wood evaporator
Wood evaporator

The Ennis family uses other methods to ensure they have a low-carbon impact. They actually bought the first high-efficiency wood evaporator in Ontario for a mid-sized maple farm, pictured above! This way they can use wood fuel from dead trees on their farm instead of using oil. They also have a reverse osmosis machine that removes up to 75% of the water from the sap before they begin boiling it to syrup. This handy machine means they only burn 25% of the wood they would use otherwise, and they can make up to 700L using only one cord of wood! This wood evaporator is nicknamed “The Beast” for good reason!

The grades of syrup they produce – Golden Delicate, Amber-Rich & Dark-Robust – contain the same sugar content at 66.5 brix.

Soon we’ll have a new batch of fresh syrup in from Ennis Maple, and we’re so excited!

Also – don’t forget – we carry Sapsucker as well! This subtle, sweet, clear delicious maple water is a beautiful addition to a meal as a standalone beverage, or can be used in unique ways in cocktails, for a truly Canadian beverage!

Sow and Tell #12 – Mountainoak

“Farming is not only an occupation, it’s a way of living.” – Adam Van Bergeijk

Happy New Year, folks! We’re back and ready to rumble, and we’re starting our year off right with our next installment of the Sow and Tell series.

This time, we’re featuring Rick Mercer’s favourite dairy farmer and cheesemaker extraordinaire – Mountainoak!

Just to recap how Sow and Tell works: for all deliveries during the week of January 24th to the 27th, these delicious cheeses are on sale: Farmstead Mild 400g wedges, Farmstead Gold (both the 400g wedges and quarter wheels), and the Farmstead Smoked 400g wedges! You can find them by clicking the “Sale” icon at the top banner of our ordering website.

Rick Mercer & Adam Van Bergeijk

Mountainoak is located in New Hamburg, ON and is owned by Adam & Hannie Van Bergeijk, and their son Arjo and Arjo’s wife Baukje help to run the farm.  Cool tidbit: the name ‘Mountainoak’ is for the English translation of their Dutch family name – “Van Bergeijk” means “from the mountain oak.”

Originally, Adam and Hannie were dairy farmers from the Netherlands. They became interested in cheese making, and attended an artisanal cheese making school with over 300 years of history in Gouda itself, in the early 80’s. The cheeses they made in Holland grew in popularity, but eventually, they wanted to expand their dairy farm. Thus, they decided to emigrate to Canada, where they purchased their first farm in Wilmot Township in September, 1996. In the beginning, they actually had no plans to continue making cheese, instead choosing to focus on raising their herd.

As Adam and Hannie’s sons grew older and began to take over the farming and dairy herd duties, Adam and Hannie moved back towards making artisanal Dutch goudas. At first this was just for personal consumption, but as the popularity of their cheese grew, they decided to officially go into the cheese making biz!

As Adam explains himself, “everything you do with your cows is gonna be paid back in your milk,” and this is a philosophy they put into practice at Mountainoak. On 325 hectares of land, they grow feed, care for and milk their own herd of over 400 dairy cows, and use the 11,000 litres of high quality milk produced yearly to turn into their delicious artisanal cheeses. By being so involved with each step of the process, they can ensure that their milk has as much flavour as possible and that this is reflected in the caliber of the carefully crafted cheese.

They also care about ensuring the environmental sustainability of their farm and operation for future generations. Right now, their fresh water source for cheese production comes from a well, which requires softening and reverse osmosis to make it suitable for cheese making.  They had an assessment done by the Bloom centre for sustainability in conjunction with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario to see where they could conserve water use and be as efficient as possible. By doing so, the managed to reduce their water use by 25-30%! Once they completed their assessment, their next step is to evaluate other systems to increase water collection, such as recycling rainwater. All of this is done with the aim of reducing the carbon footprint of dairy farming and cheese making, which we’re totally on board with here at 100km!

The cheese varieties being featured this week are delectable and award winning! First we have the Farmstead Gold, a “full flavoured farmstead gouda that exudes hints of butterscotch and caramel,” aged for 18 months. The list of awards this cheese has won is extensive, some recent notables include the Reserve Grand Champion at the 2016 Royal Winter Fair, as well as 1st place in the British Empire Cheese Competition in 2015!

Next, we have the Farmstead Mild, which is aged 2-3 months and is “exceptionally smooth and creamy.” This cheese is A+ for melting, and won 1st place in the Class 4 Semi-Firm Cheese at the British Empire Cheese competition in 2016.

We are also featuring their Farmstead Smoked – which takes the creamy, Farmstead Mild and uses an apple wood smoke to give it a beautiful smoky flavour! This cheese is also fantastic and award winning – they’ve won first place twice at the British Empire Cheese competition in both 2014 and 2015.

Now is your chance to get your hands on some of these amazing varieties of Dutch made gouda! The Sow and Tell sale applies to all deliveries from January 24th to January 27th, 2017. Many thanks to Sandy, Adam and the rest of the team at Mountainoak for participating in this Sow and Tell!

Sow and Tell #11

Vegetable confetti FTW! It’s time for our next Sow and Tell. Heads up – this will be the last one of 2016. As we head into what is forecast to be a very cold & snowy winter, we wanted to pick a producer who is just right for the transition from field greens to greenhouse greens. We’re excited to announce our goldilocks pick: Greenbelt Microgreens!

Super quick reminder of how it all works: For all deliveries spanning from Tuesday, November 29th to Friday, December 2nd, all 250g and 454g/1lb bags will be on sale! This is an incredible deal – Greenbelt has a vast range of products so this is a fantastic opportunity to try out their flavourful micros! You can find them by clicking the red sale tag on our site, or by searching Greenbelt in the search bar.

In 1998, Ian Adamson began experimenting with growing microgreens. Back in the day, microgreens were called ‘vegetable confetti’ by some, which, to be honest, I kind of still wish they were. By 2004, he began selling some of his vegetable confetti microgreens. Ian credits chef Brad Long with being an enormously helpful influence by providing excellent advice and support. Eventually, Ian opened Greenbelt Microgreens in 2010. Their state of the art glass greenhouse is located near Stoufville, ON.

Their operation is quite impressive! They employ a team of dedicated full-time, year-round staff who work hard to grow, cut and prepare organic, GAP certified microgreens. They also pride themselves on their modern, glass greenhouse for it’s energy efficiency. They use automated ceiling curtains to keep warm air from escaping, which allows them to save energy for heating by 35%. They also use these curtains to prevent the greenhouse from overheating on very warm, sunny days, or open it completely to let hot air escape.

They have a dedicated computer that is constantly monitoring temperatures and providing crucial feedback to keep growing conditions optimal, as well as limit their energy consumption as much as possible.

They hand water their microgreens (which reduces waste), and since the microgreens are grown in organic soil, this prevents runoff – a bonus for ensuring that nutrient laden water doesn’t contaminate any nearby waterways! Greenbelt conserves rainwater from their roof in an underground cistern. They wash all their micros with naturally pure water from their well, followed by a quick sanitize and further rinse to ensure that you’re receiving the freshest, most flavourful micro greens possible!

Now for what you’ve all been waiting for: the microgreen vs. sprout debate!

Microgreens are not the same thing as sprouts! Okay, you’re chefs, so I’m guessing you already knew this, but we can all use a little refresh now and again. Microgreens are very thinly seeded in soil, are only watered when necessary and gently, naturally germinate upwards towards the sunlight (whose natural UV rays sterilize any pathogens). After a few weeks, the stems, true leaves and cotyledon leaves are harvested (leaving the roots & original seed behind). This is why microgreens are beautiful, delicate, and bursting with incredible flavour.

You may have also heard that microgreens are very nutrient dense, and a 2012 study confirmed this. Thanks, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry! They studied 25 different types of microgreens and found that they are anywhere from 10 – 40 times more nutrient dense than a mature plant or raw seed. Huzzah!

Greenbelt Microgreens have such a great range of microgreens that are (as you may have surmised by now) meticulously and carefully grown for optimal flavour. They are then cut, washed and packaged for convenience and delivered to your door by us the very next day! So do try their spring pea, their sunflower, their red or green daikon radish, or their fabulous mixes such as spicy mix, crunchy mix, and more!

This sale on 250g and 454g/1lb products runs for all deliveries from Tuesday, November 29th – Friday, December 2nd!

Thank you to Michael Curry and Ian Ritchie for their great information and excellent pictures!

Sow and Tell #10…Downey Potato Farms

What’s YOUR favourite way to cook potatoes?

Because let’s be real – there are seemingly endless ways to prepare and enjoy potatoes and I bet the majority of you reading this right now have potatoes on your menus!

They’re so ubiquitous that I think we’re all guilty of occasionally forgetting how versatile and satisfying potatoes can be, but when we crave potatoes we NEED them. Just think about any time you’ve perhaps been a little drunk wandering home from a bar and the lengths you may have gone to, to secure yourself SOME KIND OF DELICIOUSNESS MADE WITH POTATOES.

Or is that just me?

In any case, potatoes are awesome and I think we can all agree on that. That’s why this Sow and Tell features our newest potato farm – Downey Potato Farms. We went on a wee field trip to visit them this week and boy oh boy do they grow and store a lot of potatoes. They can store up to 25 MILLION POUNDS OF POTATOES, TO BE EXACT. Yes, you read that right: 25 million pounds of potatoes.

Sometimes seeing is believing, though, so here’s some visual evidence:

Before I share with you a bit more about their fascinating history and a look at current operations, lets quickly recap how the Sow and Tell works. For all deliveries from October 25th to October 28th, all of their potato varieties currently available are on sale! You can find these in the “Sale” category on the main webpage. This includes their Chef’s Russets – an ultimate baking or frying potato with a light buttery flavour. Or try their Bistro Mini’s: an excellent mini spud perfect for roasting, grilling, or adding to salads. All of their potatoes are GMO free and their facility is GAP certified, and they also have a line of certified organic potatoes!

Downey’s Potato Farm is primarily located in Shelburne, Ontario. This region is known for having incredibly fertile soil known as Honeywood Silt Loam, and is a longstanding farming community – Downey’s has been in operation since 1924.

It was also the region that was big in the news a few years ago when the Highland Companies bought up a large parcel of the farmland, and then, proposed plans to build a massive quarry for limestone aggregate. Many farmers and community members were deeply concerned about the environmental consequences of this plan, and worked together to protest the proposal and preserve the soil. EXACTLY five years ago this this past week, the protest unified the food community in Foodstock, an event that drew tens of thousands of people to raise awareness about the protest and fight the quarry application. A year following Foodstock, the quarry application was withdrawn, and as of July 2013, the quarry land was sold to new ownership with a focus on preserving the area as farmland.

So, a lot has changed these past few years! Three years ago Trevor Downey, whose family has operated Downey farms for four generations, came on board as the president of Downey Potato Farms following a trip to Peru. There, Trevor spent time with growers and researched some of the tastiest heirloom potato varieties to bring back and grow in Shelburne. These varieties are still a few weeks out from harvest but include Heirloom Masquerades, Heirloom Strawberry Blondes and Heirloom Sweet Cerises.

As we toured the facilities, Trevor explained that he and Josh – who came on a year ago to do sales & marketing – are passionate about growing potatoes that are both beautiful and nicely sized, but also tasty! Trevor and Josh met with some chefs at a chip event at the Drake last year and were blown away by the enthusiasm of chefs about their potatoes. They are really looking forward to having more restaurants in Toronto and the GTA carry their varieties, and love that we are now their primary distributor to restaurants! Most of their potato varieties are available locally year-round, and their operation employs a permanent staff of twenty-five.

Unfortunately, we didn’t visit at a time where there was a harvest ongoing, but we did get to tour their facilities. Trevor showed us the storage rooms – each of which can house 5 million pounds of potatoes. We also got to watch the washing, grading, sorting, and packing process – which is a sight to behold (does anyone remember the carrot peeler machine from Hillside? Watching a massive machine shake and grade potatoes is similarly mesmerizing!).

It was a great visit and we’re really excited to feature them for this Sow and Tell! So remember – all of their potatoes are on sale for all deliveries from October 24th to October 28th!  Our thanks to both Josh and Trevor for being such friendly hosts and participating in this promotion!

Wheat, Beets and Pretty Greens

Do you remember class field trips up to farms when you were in elementary school?

I do. I remember piling into a big yellow school bus, hitting the road for a long drive, and finally ending up at a farm! Now, I spent a lot of time on farms as a kid, but this was special, and not just because I didn’t have to go to school for the day!

I vividly recall being in awe of all the animals, the smells and sounds and sights of fields. I remember feeding goats, looking at chickens and pigs, and even learning how to milk a cow. We then churned that milk into butter – that was a mystifying and fascinating process. To be fair, I may be conflating a farm field trip with Black Creek Pioneer Village with the butter churning… but no matter! It was really cool.

100km Foods farm tours are a little bit like that, but better, because sometimes there’s also beer.

On our most recent farm tour, “Wheat,  Beets and Pretty Greens,” we hit the road in a yellow school bus and went up to the New Farm in Creemore, then k2 Milling in Beeton, and finally Hillside Gardens down in the Holland Marsh. Our aim with these tours is to genuinely provide the opportunity for chefs and farmers to connect to each other and put faces to names. Other opportunities include our annual Meet and Greet, but the farm tours are a hands on chance to actually see where the food we deliver to you is grown and packaged, and it is well worth attending!

The New Farm

If you’ve never been to the New Farm, you HAVE to go. It’s a magical place. Brent and Gil are incredibly warm, welcoming and knowledgeable. Their New Farm Kitchen is also now officially up and running, which is an amazing event and educational space dedicated to connecting kitchen teams, school kids, and members of the community to farming and local food. Many of these events are also fundraising efforts – this year alone the New Farm managed to raise over 150,000 for the Stop Community Food Centre in Davenport!

After checking out the New Farm Kitchen, Brent took us out to the wash shed, which he refers to as the “nerve centre” of their entire farm. There, Brent gave us a quick history on their farm and also an overview of the model of industrial agriculture that dominates the food system of Southern Ontario, which is in essence “go big, or go home.” Brent and Gil wanted to do things differently and their model of “Small is beautiful” is something they have proven actually works by maintaining a highly successful farm by using just 20 acres, but you’ll have to go up there yourself to learn the ins and outs of how and why!

Next, Brent took us out to their fields of greens and educated us about the particulars of their organic farming practices. He emphasized the importance of healthy soil and understanding that it’s a living medium – that is the key. A lot of their farming efforts are focused on regenerating the soil by growing cover crops and rotating fields each season so that essential nutrients and minerals aren’t depleted year after year.

Following that, Brent went over how fields are prepared, sown and harvested. Make no mistake – organic farming is a lot of work and manual labour, and it was eye opening to glimpse even a little bit of the effort and dedication it requires.

Cool fact: Brent said one of the ways they measure the health of their farm is by seeing how many Bobolink nests there are. Bobolinks are a threatened species of bird and when they began their farm only a scant amounts of nests existed. A decade later, their farm alone is now home to over 100 bobolink nests!

As both Brent and Gil explained over the course the tour, their relationship with us as their primary distributor in the GTA allows them to harvest to order. Considering the cost of inputs and labour to run their farm, harvesting to order allows them to cut down on wasted product and save money. Within 24 hours of you as a chef placing your order, they’re cutting the greens, washing them, packing them, our driver picks them up, our team packs the order and the next day our truck shows up at your door with the product! Gil also pointed out that having 100km Foods as their distributor they can focus on doing what they do best: growing incredible greens for you to showcase in your establishment.

K2 Milling

We loaded back up in the bus and zoomed down country roads, eating a delicious lunch provided by iQ Foods, and made our way to k2 Milling.

The mill is such a kickass cool space, so I won’t describe it to you and instead show you this wicked photo:

k2Milling

Inside the ‘general store’ we were greeted by Mark Hayhoe, the owner and operator of k2 Milling, an artisanal mill. There, Mark began the tour by explaining what makes them such a unique operation: the amazing diversity of grains they mill. They do grits, light flours, coarse flours, and more. They mill dried fruits, vegetables, cereals, even quinoa! As Mark pointed out, he never understood why traditional, industrial mills go to such lengths to remove the nutrition from the grains. At k2, his goal is to mill artisanal, high quality product that retains the unique properties of each grain AND the nutrition.

K2MillingInside

Of course, one of Mark’s biggest challenges over the years has been getting consistent flour with a good grind. Like any veteran, it’s taken years of trial and error and he and his head miller are constantly working to evolve and refine the process. Mark himself has an amazing family history – they’ve been milling now for over 125 years! Initially they began as a spice milling operation down at King and Jarvis, and eventually moved out to the country side where in 1935 Marks grandfather decided to make a go of it with flour milling, and that particular mill operated until 2007.

Now Mark has downsized his operation and simplified the milling process, which he affirms is what allows him to create such high quality, small batch products. At the old family mill, they could mill 15 tonnes of grain an hour – now, they can mill 1.5 tonnes of grain per hour. Mark took us through to the actual mill and explained in much more detail about how everything works – again, it’s one thing to read about it and entirely another to see the machinery and listen to him talk, so suffice it to say: it’s well worth seeing for yourself.

k2millinginmill

Hillside Gardens

After hanging out at k2, we loaded back up on the bus and made our way to the final stop of the tour: Hillside Garden Farms.

There, we were greeted by Ron Gleason, who is the owner and operator. Ron was one of the first farmers we worked with, and one of the first people to really see and understand the vision of what Paul and Grace wanted to do for farms and local food.

Ron introduced us to his son-in-law Steven, who facilitated the tour for us from there. Steven gave us the rundown of their history and their primary crops, which we refer to as “The Staples.” They began growing just carrots and onions, but now also grow beets, celery, coloured carrots. They have expanded from primarily conventional growing to include organic crops in recent years, and most of their local produce is available year-round.

There were two parts to this leg of the tour: the packaging and processing facilities as well as the fields.

HAIRNETS

We made our way inside and, equipped with fashionable hairnets, got a closer look at the processing line. What an experience! They employ lots of staff who are set up at various stations: sorting, washing, weighing, peeling, cutting, packing, discarding… it was absolutely mesmerizing! My particular favourite was the carrot peeling machine – that was really neat. I could’ve stared at it for hours. We posted a video of that machine our Instagram so check it out there!

Steven also told us about a great new program they’re involved in: Naturally Imperfect. They’ve teamed up with grocery stores and retailers to change the way consumers think about food. Before, a carrot with even a slight imperfection would be considered “waste” by a store and unusable, even though it tasted just as great as the others. Now, this “Naturally Imperfect” produce is being featured in stores as an affordable option that also cuts down drastically on waste. We’re completely on board with that!

Next, we ventured out to their celery field. They have over 750 acres of farmland, so this field was just a fraction of where they grow! Steven went into great detail about how things are planted and harvested, and echoed Brent from the New Farm’s philosophy that nurturing the soil is what produces such high quality food!

Hillsidefield

All in all, it was a fantastic day and a great learning experience, even for me, and I work here! We will be facilitating more tours in future, including these farms and different ones, so look out for the notice announcing when the next one will be!

Special thanks to Alicia for organizing the tour as well as Brent, Gil, Mark, Ron and Steven for being such gracious and informative hosts.

Sow and Tell #9

What better way to celebrate the first day of autumn than the next installment in our Sow and Tell series?!

Granted, it doesn’t exactly FEEL like fall at the moment (at least from where this blog post is typed in Toronto, where it’s feels like a balmy 34 degrees right now).

REGARDLESS! We are pleased to announce the featured producer for this Sow and Tell is…Top Tomato Farms!

For all deliveries from Tuesday, September 27th through till Friday, September 30th all available varieties of broccoli, cabbage AND cauliflower are on sale!! This includes these super cool looking (but also sweet and creamy!) orange cauliflower.

Top Tomato is family owned and operated with over 55 years of experience. It all started back in 1960, when Vito De Filippis began farming cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli on 40 acres in Uxbridge, Ontario. At that point, most of the produce was sold to smaller supermarkets and down at the food terminal. Vito’s son Dominic is now the owner and operator of Top Tomato, along with his two sons Antony and Vito.

Nowadays, using patience and innovation, their farm has expanded to a much larger scale with a wider range of products including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, beans, peas, and even artichokes! Growing artichokes in Ontario was a process of trial-and-error throughout the better part of a decade until they learned the best way to grow them in the Canadian climate and started to see amazing yields.

10 years ago, Top Tomato implemented a food traceability program as well as participate in yearly audits. Through these tools, they can trace every single seed they planted and use the continuous feedback through their program to make adjustments and produce even better tasting products! More recently, they’ve worked to reduce their waste by investing in reusable, washable shipping containers.

They also pride themselves on being a great local employer, and are constantly striving to provide growth and opportunities for their staff – some of whom have worked for them for over 20 years! They also run the 19th Avenue Farmers Market in Markham, Ontario (if you’re ever out that way, drop by and say hi!).

Once again: all deliveries from Tuesday, September 27th through till Friday, September 30th all available varieties of broccoli, cabbage AND cauliflower are on sale!!

Thank you to Ligia and Nancy for providing the information and pictures for this post!

 

 

 

Betcha Didn’t Know…

Adam Foley

Why should you know who Adam Foley is?  Because he’s one of the many unsung heroes in our network who chooses, day in and day out, to work with local food because it’s the right thing to do. He also uses his catering opportunities to introduce both internal and external patrons to local farms, local ingredients and fresh, sustainable food.

As the Executive Chef at Osgoode Hall at the Law Society of Upper Canada, Adam’s daily menu features an impressive array of expertly crafted dishes using some of the best ingredients Ontario has to offer and inspired by the ethnically-diverse cuisine of Toronto.  We’ve known Adam for nearly 10 years now, and he’s always been a loyal customer who’s proud to tell his customers about us and the local food he prepares and serves.

They also work to reduce food waste in their kitchen and addressing poverty in the city by working with Lawyers Feed the Hungry Program. You can learn more at www.lawyersfeedthehungry.ca.

We’re proud to call Adam a friend and, if you don’t know a lawyer or judge, we suggest you try to get to know one (without getting into legal trouble, of course) so you can enjoy the fine food he’s cooking up. Or just walk right in…Osgoode Hall Restaurant is open to the public!

 

Sow and Tell #8 – ANC Farm!

Welcome back to to our eighth feature in the Sow and Tell series! As you may recall, we didn’t run one of these during July because of our kickass Summerlicious Promotion, but we’re back in business for August!

This month’s featured farmer is: ANC Farm Produce!

For all deliveries from August 23rd-26th leeks, kale, basil and beets (white, red and cioggia) from ANC Farm will be on sale! You can access these items by clicking through to the red ‘Sale’ category on the ordering website, by searching for ANC, or by clicking through to the various vegetable categories.

 

ANC Farm is owned and operated by Rex and Carol, with help from their three children. Their farm is located in Bradford (the Holland Marsh area). Rex and Carol are originally from Guyana, which is where Rex first became involved with farming and agriculture and developed a love for this work.

They immigrated to Canada in the late 1990’s, and established their first farm by renting a 5 acre plot. In the early days, Carol and Rex grew different varieties of lettuce (green leaf, red leaf) as well as radish. Over time, they expanded their farm to 25 acres and now grow a number of other crops including beets, leeks, carrots, kale, and herbs. In addition to distributing through 100km Foods, ANC sell their produce at farmers markets and local supermarkets.

Rex and Carol are conventional growers, but they are determined to grow with as little pesticide use as possible. For instance, they opt to clear weeds by hand rather than use sprays, despite that option being a lot more manual labour!

Currently, their biggest project is to build a family home for themselves on their farm property, which they hope to complete within the next year.

Carol, Rex & children

Carol acknowledges that farming is oftentimes an enormous amount of hard work, but emphasized that Rex feels very passionately about farming and she will continue to do her utmost to support his dream. Carol and Rex are very kind, genuine people and it’s a pleasure for us to work with them!

So, once again, for all deliveries from August 23rd-26th ANC Farm’s leeks, kale, basil and beets are on sale!