Flavourful -- and local
Something about the succulent, piping hot roast you're carving is different from the previous one. You bought this one at a local farm, so as you cut into it and the aroma swirls about the room, you remember your jaunt to the country. You recall the interesting conversation you had with the farmer, you picture the hayfield, and know that in addition to boosting the local economy, you're doing something that reduces excess transport, processing, and packaging -- something that helps protect local agricultural land by encouraging viable farms.
What makes for unique flavours?
What unique flavours can you expect? Perhaps it's something less common, such as ostrich, bison, or elk. Or perhaps a heritage breed such as the Berkshire pig, which has a meat that is darker in colour, with a different flavour than commonplace store-bought pork. What better way to preserve heritage breeds than to raise them for specialty meats, maintaining genetic diversity and agricultural heritage? The feed used can also affect flavour, with grass-fed animals having a different flavour than grain-fed ones -- and anyone who has had free-range chicken can attest to the difference in flavour of both the chicken and eggs.
Buy locally, Canada-wide
While certain parts of the country are known for beef, some for pork, there are farmers country-wide producing interesting products that are sold directly to consumers. Here is a taste of what you might find:
Learn about raising sheep and growing hay, then sit back for a leisurely hayride at Springwater Farm on Prince Edward Island. If you don't know what goes into animal feed, visit a farm where feed is milled on site, then ask questions. With its own feed mill, Maple Lane Farms in Nova Scotia, raises chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, hogs and grass-fed cattle. Do you prefer the flavour of grass-fed meat, or believe that feeding grain to livestock is wasteful? At Ferme Borealis in Quebec's Eastern Townships, the highland beef cattle and bison are fed only grass and forages, with no grain used in the feeding program.
Red meat from a bird? Hold an ostrich egg and learn about a little-known red meat at White Rock Ostrich Farm in southern Ontario. At Century Game Park near Warkworth, Ontario, learn about buffalo and elk while taking a safari truck tour amongst them. Do you know that different breeds of cattle have different amounts of fat? The Belgian Blue cattle breed raised at La Gantoise near Ottawa, Ontario, is known for lean meat.
Learn about livestock while on a ranch getaway at Bloomin' Inn Guest Ranch in southern Alberta, amongst the cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys and geese. Have you tasted pastured pork -- pork not raised on a grain diet? Gold Forest Farms in Alberta raises pastured pork, along with free-range chickens and heritage turkeys (remember that free-range means they eat grass, bugs, and anything else that appeals). Take tea and visit the animals at a water buffalo dairy -- Fairburn Farm on Vancouver Island produces both dairy products and naturally lean, water buffalo meat.
Where to look
A good place to start looking for locally raised meat is the farmers' market. Try local producer networks. And look for websites run by provincial associations or governments:
Meeting the producer is not only a social activity, it's a great way to learn about how you want your food to be produced.
A passionate gardener and a horticulturist by training, Steven Biggs has a special interest in finding, preparing and enjoying local food. His work in horticulture and agriculture spans western Canada, Ontario, Quebec, and England. You can visit his website at www.stevenbiggs.ca