Spring into the Asparagus Tour
It was a perfect spring day for the Asparabus tour to Norfolk County. The event was organized by the tour guide extraordinaire Steven Hellman, Founder of Foodies on Foot along with Bernie Solymar, Executive Director of Asparagus Farmers of Ontario (AFO). On this lovely Friday in May, the Asparabus was home to a group of foodies and food writers (including me) for a culinary tour and taste of Ontario’s Garden. This event was extra special for me to be back in Norfolk County three years after I lead an eight month long project Local Foods to Health Care Facilities. At that time, Norfolk County was named Ontario’s Garden.
With the sun shining, blue sky and the spring gardens blooming, it was a treat and a much needed break from the office and computer screen. To help celebrate Local Food Week in Ontario, I’m thrilled to share with you the highlights from the Asparabus including the Welsh Brothers Farm, Norfolk Tourism, Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery with local chef Tracy Winkworth.
Welsh Brothers Farm
After a few fun asparagus riddles on the bus, we were at our first stop Welsh Brothers Farm where we met Bernie Solymar (AFO) and Charlie Welsh, owner of Welsh Brothers Farm. We were fed some fast asparagus facts by Bernie and Charlie. Did you know with ideal weather conditions, an asparagus shoot, or “spear”, can grow 25 cm (10 inches) in a 24-hour period? Now that’s a fast asparagus! Or that asparagus is more than a $25 million crop for Ontario. The asparagus harvesting season goes full throttle in May and June. We walked the asparagus fields and watched as the spears were picked by seasonal workers from Mexico. We snapped pictures and listened to Charlie give us more asparagus facts including asparagus is a long-lived crop that can be productive for 15 or more years if given proper care. After picking, the asparagus is transported to the production facility on the farm where the spears are rinsed, sorted, sized and packed. Then they are ready to be shipped to retail, restaurants and speciality food stores.
Back on the Asparabus, a short drive away we arrived at Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery where we were greeted by my former colleague Ted Willey, Business Development Coordinator of Norfolk County who gave us some background about Ontario’s Garden. Ted emphasized how Norfolk County is pleased to meet with food writers for events like the Asparabus Tour to showcase Ontario’s Garden. Some fun facts. Did you know watermelon is grown in Norfolk County? And the Norfolk County Fair & Horse Show is in its 175th year, and is the fourth largest fair in Ontario. One of my own fun facts, in addition to asparagus, another delicious crop from Ontario’s Garden is sweet potatoes (harvested in the fall). Now it was time to turn our attention and appetite over to the Fairly Fats Guys (Norfolk County’s Chef Ambassadors) who were grilling up asparagus and pork on the BBQ for us to sample.
Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery
I had the pleasure of meeting Anita and Steve Buehner three years ago, when I was leading the Local Foods project. They are a wonderfully enthusiastic, hard working team that have re-purposed their family farm to Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery after moving away from tobacco in 2008. Today the farm is filled with apple orchards, lavender and the newest addition, wine grapes. They have a beautiful venue with a boutique that retails their lavender, apple and wine products including the Folkin’ Hard Cider that we got to sample during the Asparabus tour. They offer wine tastings and eco tours of their property including the natural wetlands. It was the perfect location to be treated to a delicious asparagus filled lunch headed up by chef and local entrepreneur Tracy Winkworth. After more than a decade, Tracy decided to close down her restaurant Belworth House in December to pursue her dream of becoming a culinary teacher with Liaison College. With this new pursuit, Winkworth has the exclusive right to offer cooking courses under the Liaison banner in Norfolk, Oxford, Haldimand and Brant counties. Tracy and her team of students put on a beautiful, delicious lunch that not only featured Ontario Asparagus but Ontario Pork too! After a trip to the boutique, an Ontario Garden gift bag and 11 lbs of Ontario Asparagus we were back on the bus for a few more asparagus facts and exchange of recipe ideas for all that asparagus before heading home!
That wraps the fun and sun filled Asparabus tour. It was wonderful to catch up with the Norfolk County gang, meet Bernie and Charlie, and connect with other foodies while hearing about Ontario asparagus, eating delicious food and drinking Folkin’ Hard Cider. Thank you again for the invitation and I look forward to the next Foodies on Foot tour.
Wishing Everyone a Scrumptious Local Food Week!