Archive for February, 2015

Two great little stores that are all about community and country living

General stores and markets have always functioned as places of local commerce, but they are much more than that. Indeed, there is a palpable desire in small towns and villages to bring people closer together as the world’s stage becomes more threatening. Recently I paid a visit to two unique stores that provide an unparalleled service at the very heart of their communities.

Kimberley General Store

You can still see the names of boys and girls etched in the bricks of the Kimberley General Store going back a century. In the last four years this little gem has come back to life with gusto as the vision of the owner, Stacie Howe, has come to fruition. Whether you are a resident of the Beaver Valley, a tourist driving by, walking the Bruce Trail, cycling or downhill skiing, the friendly staff encourage you to feel at home.

You only have to go up the wooden steps onto the patio and peer through the large original windows to know that not much has changed since the store first opened its door in 1905. The prerequisite wooden floor, large lighting fixtures and high ceiling (which will be getting an original tin finishing soon), the wood stove in the corner, heaps of vegetables from local farmers in the spring, summer and fall, and homemade fare from pies, sandwiches, and butter tarts to locally crafted chocolates make for a cosy setting for this colourful, community-oriented store.

In 2015, Kimberley General Store more than lives up to the expectations of a store at the turn of the twentieth century: it has all the essential provisions – and much more – that a self-reliant community would have needed to get by before the automobile made it possible to go over to a larger centre such as Collingwood to shop. Like all general stores it sells flour, tea, eggs, milk and other staples, but it also boasts a variety of locally made frozen entrées, cheeses and yogurts, ice cream, hats, bird seed, soaps, essential oils and kitchen needs, all in a small space with a warm and welcoming ambience. On certain days of the week home-cooked foods such as soups, cinnamon buns and pizza are also available. There are delightful and quirky presents to buy and engaging books to read, and an excellent array of teas and locally roasted coffee to enjoy while you peruse one of the daily newspapers. A catering service is also available.

Now that the store has bought the adjoining land and built a covered patio, Stacie believes more people will be coming by to shelter in inclement weather and sample the new pizzas with such enticing names as Mamma Mia, Cherry Bomb and Smokey Delight that come out of the wood-burning oven on Friday nights.
Stacie says: “Come by the Kimberley General Store for a taste of village life. Beautiful setting at the base of Old Baldy rock face, with hiking trails close by. Light lunches, curiosities, groceries, local and organic selections. Strong coffee and treats.”
The store is located in the village of Kimberley, 235304 Grey Road 13, in the centre of the Beaver Valley, 30 minutes from Collingwood and 20 minutes from Thornbury.

For more information and store hours see www.facebook.com/KimberleyGeneralStore or call 519 599 3451.

Ravenna Country Market

“Since opening our doors just over five years ago, we have grown into what you, our customers, have asked for: a destination where you can come for nutritious, delicious, homemade treats, lunch, dinner-to-go or to just grab an energy-boosting snack during an active day. If you have not yet stopped in to visit, we hope to see you soon.” Monica Wolf, co-owner of Ravenna Country Market

The little hamlet of Ravenna hasn’t changed much since the Walter family arrived in the 1840s and the following generations kept it thriving. Although it is only 15 minutes from Collingwood and Thornbury, the elevation of the land, the proximity to Kolapore Wilderness and the pure farming character of the place make it still feel that Ravenna hasn’t yet joined the twenty-first century.

After you ascend from Georgian Bay on Highway 2, it is gratifying to see a welcoming sign inviting you into Ravenna Country Market. At first sight or even after looking at a map it may be hard to believe that a store that is located in such an out-of-town place could find such a following of people prepared to make the windy journey. For most of us who do, it is exactly what we wish to find: an oasis of plenty and good cheer. Perhaps an energetic bicycle trip or a car ride out to the country makes those pies and soups even more enticing, but whatever the reason for dropping by, the market is a resounding success.

My visit on a Sunday in February found the store bustling with people sitting down for soup and sandwiches as well as others coming in to choose from the wide assortment of pies and other baked goods for sale. It is clear that the market’s customers are interested in having high-quality food, whether to eat in or to take home with them. There is an impressive range of gourmet frozen entrées, all made on the premises, such as goat cheese stuffed chicken, braised beef short ribs, salmon fillet, Sicilian meat loaf, osso bucco and lamb shanks. The menu changes weekly. These takeaway meals are the mainstay of Ravenna Country Market. Happily, vegetarians will also find a good selection there.

Monica Wolf, who is co-owner of the market with Roy Genoe, gave me a good insight into how the store has evolved since she and Roy bought it in October 2009. Besides carrying out a top-to-bottom renovation of the space itself, the owners have kept up with the need to expand their business to cater for an ever-widening spectrum of visitors. This spring and summer will find many more places to sit outside to accommodate the hundreds of cyclists who stop to have a drink and something to eat. Monica described to me their plan to have freshly pressed vegetable and fruit drinks available.

Besides home-cooked foods, there is a colourful assortment of local jams, honey, maple syrup and even clothes for sale. Monica and Roy also offer an extensive catering service for both large and small events.

The market is located at 495972 Grey Road 2 and is open seven days a week. For more information, visit www.ravennacountrymarket.ca or call 519 599 2796.

Eating Well: the Resurgence of Organic Farming in Georgian Bay

“With the average age of farmers steadily increasing and the massive environmental impact agriculture can have on the life-support systems of the earth, it became apparent to me that we need more ecological food producers than ever before.” – Mike Reid of Kolapore Gardens

There is a real revitalization of our rural area happening. I had the chance to visit two farms to take a look at how their newly established ventures were progressing, and I was impressed to see and feel their dedication and passion for what they wish to achieve on their land. Amy and Patrick’s farm is high on a hill overlooking Heathcote and the Beaver Valley while Mike’s farm is nestled away next to Kolapore Wilderness area. What links Patrick and Amy Kitchen’s Sideroad Natural Farm with Mike Reid’s Kolapore Gardens is their mutual emphasis on growing food organically and respecting the fragility of our biosphere.

After having lived in the Beaver Valley for 34 years I have begun to notice a recurring story in our area: young people are rapidly moving in from other places in the country. Patrick and Amy had gone to school out at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia but found it difficult to buy land out west. The fact that family was in Ontario made the choice uncomplicated: good land that was far less expensive than could be found in B.C..  Mike also came to Kolapore from Godrich, and he also has family close by.

Visits to the farms revealed real care, determination and love for the land. It hasn’t been easy setting up shop either. Both farms needed infrastructure and the ubiquitous poly-tunnel was built on both farms. Why are these plastic greenhouses showing up everywhere?  It has a lot to do with climate change. In the past 10 years I’ve watched knowledgeable older farmers build these greenhouse-tunnels to be able to insure that the now increasingly common severity of weather doesn’t destroy their crops. They simply can’t take on the plethora of risks to their livelihood due to climate destabilization without making necessary changes to how they grow their food.  Water has to be plentiful so Sideroad Natural Farm took up the task of putting in two ponds for irrigation of the crops. Climate change can pose a real challenge when water scarcity can be definitely an issue.

Both farms try to sell their vegetables at our farmers’ markets that range from potatoes, spinach to the more exotic kohlrabi. Sideroad Natural Farm also prides itself on the flowers it grows, as Amy is also a fine flower arranger, and flower decorations for weddings is an expanding part of their business. Patrick showed me a dozen hearty healthy pigs while Mike Reid’s Kolapore Gardens sells free-range eggs. At the moment the pigs are fed with non-GMO foods and the Kolapore chickens have organic grains. Both farms let their animals forage. These farms are as far as you can get from the industrial-type farm that Canada has been so criticized for recently by World Animal Protection. If you like vegetables you’ll be able to buy arugula, leeks, broccoli, squash, tomatoes, kale and more.

For some time now community-supported-agriculture (CSA) has been extremely important for organic farmers. What does CSA mean? By committing to buying a basket of food for a set number of weeks it allows the farmer to have an ‘insurance policy’ as they can depend on a basic weekly salary by knowing how many baskets of food will be bought. The contents of the basket will change week to week. It is much more than that: communities become more self-reliant when local purchasing of food becomes a reality. For new farmers this is also a way to be a part of the community. Amy feels a connection already to our area. By and large these farms prosper when communities buy and in many instances volunteer to help grow the food. People who volunteer can be local or from other countries who wish to get a flavour of rural farming life. Amy agrees: “Support for local, organic food continues to grow. It’s an exciting time to be farming and we can’t wait to get out in the field this spring.”

Please visit the websites www.sideroadnaturalfarm.com and www.kolaporegardens.com to learn more about our wonderful farmers and their organic food. Support them by being a part of the CSA initiative or visit the farmers at a few of the farmers’ markets located in Collingwood, Clarksburg, Toronto and Meaford.