Local farmers say red tape is keeping them “off the menu”

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KAWARTHA LAKES-Michael Bryant owns Drumoland Orchard and Stables in Little Britain. Bryant says it’s one of the oldest farms in the area and his family has turned it into a destination for special events, horseback riding and more. The recent purchase of an old town trolly from the City of Kawartha Lakes means visitors can ride around the farm in old world style while enjoying the Fairy Forest or the 150 year old organic apple orchard.

It was when Bryant decided to sell some of his organic apples to area restaurants for their “locally grown” menu, he was shut down. “I believe there’s a block wall between the farmer and the resaturants, because the restaurants are buying from the major food distributors which bring food from all over the world, like Sysco and Flannigans,” Bryant told Kawartha 411.  “But the problem is if I have apples or chickens and I want to go to a local restaurant the first thing they are going to say is well your not big enough to be accepted by my insurance company. It’s a very very big problem.” And he says the restaurant owners aren’t to blame.

Bryant was one of about 65 people to attend a Forum on Food Tourism in Bobcaygeon on Monday. The Kawartha Lakes is the number one rural food tourism destination for visitors from the GTA. “This is an opportunity to bring the community, the food service industry and hospitality industry in general together and give them an opportunity to reflect on the project to grow food tourism in the Kawartha Lakes.” said Trevor Benson, Director of Food Tourism Development, Culinary Tourism Alliance.

The group is work towards establishing a shared vision and direction for the future of food tourism in the City. The project kicked off in June 2017 and will end on March 31, 2018. It’s currently in the research stage. Next they will identify specific opportunites and then implement the plan.

Culinary tourism is defined as the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences. By combining travel with these edible experiences, culinary tourism offers both locals and tourists alike an authentic taste of a certain geographical area according to the Province. According to the Culinary Tourism Alliance “Food Tourism is any food experience in which one learns about, appreciates and /or consumes food and drink that reflects the local, regional and national cuisine, heritage and culture.”
And it has become big business. The 2013 “American Culinary Traveler Report,” published by Mandala Research, showed that the percentage of U.S. leisure travelers who travel to learn about and enjoy unique dining experiences grew from 40% to 51% between 2006 and 2013. In 2012 it was estimates more than $200 billion was spent on food travel according to a study done by the University of Florida.

 

The City of Kawartha Lakes is looking to cash in on that market and Benson says there’s a lot we have to offer. “Front and centre is agriculture, I think thats something that Kawartha Lakes and all its stakeholders can leverage as a way to attract people from urban areas. I think it’s….come experience the farm country, homemeade, craft made, owned and operated by the people you know behind these businesses and that something you can’t compete with”

Restaurant owners agree but say they need to cut down on the red tape in order to provide truly unique, locally grown, food experiences. “This is a huge problem because we are a very community oriented business,” Diane Reesor, Owner of Sweet Bottoms Cafe in Fenelon Falls told Kawartha 411. One of the things we would like to do is say….Phyllis up the road who makes the most spectacular cookie in the world, we would like to be able to buy from her and sell as Phyllis Cookies but we not allowed to because their kitchen is not certified by the Health Department.”

Bryant says he had about 3000 people through his farm this year and he would have loved to have a restaurant using his apples and chickens on the menu so he could send his clients there. “There really is a huge breakdown between the two and I believe that in Kawartha we should have almost a system where the City fronts all the farms to help us get Kawartha food to all of our guests.”

There are local farm tours already taking place and some have set up as destinations for residents to come experience farm life by picking berries or pumpkins and taking hay rides. All of these experiences could be included in the plan.