Food Day Canada kicked off in 2003, starting life as The World's Longest Barbecue. Its purpose was to spearhead a nationwide response to sanctions placed on Canadian beef exports by our biggest trading partners and cast a spotlight on the impact the boycott had on Canada's agricultural community. That first event was a huge success and has evolved into Food Day Canada, an annual mid-summer celebration on the Saturday of the August long weekend.
This annual celebration of Canada's rich culinary heritage is the brainchild of Anita Stewart, University of Guelph's food laureate and member of the Order of Canada among many other accomplishments. Food Day Canada features the best-managed food system in the world, includes our delicious northern bounty, and of course, the farmers who produce the food we enjoy.
Fewer farms and increasing farm sizes are well-established trends in Canadian agriculture. According to the Canadian Census of Agriculture, the total number of farms has declined from around 600,000 in 1951 to just over 200,000 in 2016, while average farm size has increased from 279 acres to 820 acres over the same period. Much of this growth in farm size is attributable to economies of scale, and technological advances associated with major crops such as canola, cereals, corn and soybeans.
But, there's a new trend that in many ways is taking us back to the future. Smaller farms are producing batch quantities of high quality, value-added, niche products to serve the demands of health-conscious consumers. It's now a well-established trend that consumers have an increasing appetite to know how and where their food is produced. They are engaged in learning about the benefits these novel products can offer and are willing to go out of their way to find and buy these products.
For example, a Seaforth, Ontario farm is tapping into a renewed interest in sprouted ingredients. Husband and wife team Dale and Marianne Donaldson established Everspring Farms back in 1985. Initially, they sprouted barley to use as feed for their ducks and geese. Eventually, as people rediscovered the benefits of sprouted grains and they started trending, local bakeries and private individuals sought them out for all manner of food applications.
They now carry a complete line of sprouted grains, seeds and beans – positioning them as a wholesome inclusion in a variety of food products, offering functionality, taste and texture improvements, as well as enhanced digestibility. The Donaldsons have expanded their business to meet the growing consumer demand, and their two daughters are on board to help guide the on-farm business into the future.
Then there's Lufa Farms in Montreal. Lufa's stated goal is to create a "local food engine," according to the company's greenhouse director Lauren Rathmell. Two rooftop greenhouses drive the operation – currently totalling 1.75 acres – that produce a range of vegetables and herbs. Produce is packaged with locally sourced goods like handmade pasta, fresh bread and dark baking chocolate, and delivered to approximately 4,000 customers (known as Lufavores) each week.
Another local farm and food company that's making a name is Black Fox Farm and Distillery just south of Saskatoon. It's not a typical farming operation – they produce award-winning spirits and flowers. Owners John Cote and Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote proudly grow the ingredients that go into their distilled spirits (casked gin is a specialty), and they claim to have created the largest cut flower farm on the prairies. The Cotes also host tours, events and festivals.
Canada is brimming with innovative and delicious food products. Check out http://fooddaycanada.ca/ to find out how you can join the celebration of Canadian cuisine on August 3, and discover why small is beautiful again in Canadian agriculture.