Went for a ride with Cheryl Barnes of Inn The Pines Market, in St Catharines. Cheryl runs one of the more popular farm markets in the region. She grows lots of vegetables on her 14-acre farm and for the rest, she gets fresh produce directly from large farms – right from the sorting tables, now you can’t get much fresher than that!
On her farm, Cheryl grows garden veggies like celery, 30 types of tomatoes, 10 types of peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, and more. In addition to her vegetables, Cheryl raises chickens for eggs, cattle for beef and pigs for pork. Her friend, Dale Cable fishes and Cheryl sells fresh frozen perch from her stand.
Cheryl’s a great foodie. All summer long she’s putting food away like corn for winter corn bread or corn chowder. She has her pork bones smoked for winter dishes like soups and stews.
Today I’m shopping for the market with Cheryl and our first stop is at Pleasant Berry Blueberry Farm in Brantford. Tony and Grace Gdyczynski run the 2.5 blueberry patch. He’s been growing blueberries for too long, he thinks 16 to 17 years. I have refrigerator of blueberries at home and I can’t resist buying more, They’re ultra sweet and bursting with blueberry flavor. It’s both a U-Pick as well as ready picked. It’s a very neat and pretty little patch. We load up Cheryl’s truck with blueberries before heading to the next farm.
Next stop was Welsh Brothers. Peter and brother Wayne are 3rd generation to farm this land with their children. We go from the office barn and drive out to the corn patch that is being harvested. We pass asparagus fields and pumpkin patches and more corn fields. They grow 500 acres of premium sweet corn and pick 5 acres a day. Planting different varieties of corn at different times insures a continual corn harvest until – weather permitting, Thanksgiving.
Out at the field, the picking machine is hard at work. We climb on board. Five to six workers pick furiously in the field and throw the corn into a suspended hopper that leads through the field. From the hopper a conveyor belt moves the corn to the sorting and packing line where another eight workers sort the corn and bag it. The bags are then piled high in a trailer that is pulled behind the sorting line.
The full trailers now go to the barn that houses 6 cooling rooms. Three to four trailers fill one room and the corn is rained on with ice water until the internal temperature reaches a very low temperature. This stops the conversion of sugar to starch and keeps the corn tasting fresher longer.
We pass another cornfield that’s being irrigated with well water. Peter loves sweet corn but admits to being a traditionalist. He likes to boil it, but if he’s hungry in the field, he’ll eat it raw. Of course the only corn you can eat raw is fresh local corn. For Peter, sweetcorn can be an entire meal and he loves eating it cold the next day.
Both Peter and Cheryl lament consumers tendency to pull back the corn husks and leave the corn because the rows of kernels aren’t perfectly straight. In fact corn kernels are seldom perfectly straight and when striped corn is tossed aside, no one else wants it either and the farmer looses. Food, like people is far from perfect, but it’s still good! Both encourage their customers to know their food and their farmer.
Next stop was Steve and Paula Fett, Fett Farms and they grow lots of potatoes; red, white and yellow. Now they’re growing gourmet fingerling potatoes from Russian, Pink and French to All Blue and White Creamers. Fett is a large enough farmer to sell to grocery chains so look for them in the grocery stores.
On the Fett farm they have a sorting table, washing station and cold storage for their potatoes are available year round – or until they last. Steve explains one of the biggest potato myths is if you wash potatoes, they won’t keep. They do, the secret to storing potatoes is a constant cool storage temperature. They’ll keep very well in a cold cellar but rarely will they keep under a sink (apparently this is where most people store potatoes).
With a quick lunch at Harmony Bakery we were off to Berkel’s Greenhouse for beefsteak tomatoes. The 8-acres of greenhouse Ted Berkel grows some cocktail and yellow tomatoes as well as his mainstay – beefsteak. Cheryl buys the large tomatoes that don’t fit into shipping flats. I guess you could call them the rejects, but they’re the perfect size for a thick slice of crusty Italian-style bread. Rub the bread with garlic and lay one thick slice of tomato on top with a bit of salt. Options are a bit of mayo and shredded basil leaves – it’s the quintessential summer meal!
We were done our day of shopping at farms, Cheryl had enough food to stock her shelves and I had enough to share with my neighbours. There’s lots of fresh produce out there right now, get out there and find your fill.