For many buy local, buy fresh may sound little more than a hyped-up catchphrase of the moment. But Oxford County residents know better, and tourists visiting Canada's Dairy Capital have discovered those four words represent a year-round way of life - evident in countless agribusinesses enterprises, farm markets, restaurants and grocery stores across the region's economic landscape.
Once a year, the county demonstrates just how important and tasty fresh local produce is through Tourism Oxford's autumn dining experience cleverly named Oxfordlicious - a culinary event celebrated in restaurants with menus comprised of foods straight from Oxford's agricultural community.
"Local is very important to me and my 24-member staff, even when it comes to V.Q.A. wines and local beers," says Michael Davies, executive chef at the Elm Hurst Inn in Ingersoll. "In fact, my supplier lives right here in Ingersoll."
Just down the road, Hilda Dean, co-owner of the Clog Steak and Seafood Grille, says in addition to providing customers with culinary delights, the locally inspired menus also make economic and environmental sense.
"We already try to do as much as we can in terms of serving local food," she adds. "It's easier to get the produce from our supplier during the summer, but we make an effort year round. If you order locally, then you're cutting down on transportation costs and ultimately reducing emissions into the air."
Eric Boyar, the owner/chef of the 639 restaurant in Woodstock, loves the idea of the Oxfordlicious concept but stresses buying local was part of the equation from the very beginning when he and his mother Pauline Bucek opened the popular eatery June 28, 2005. Since then, he's become a regular fixture at the Woodstock Farmers Market every Saturday morning and a routine buyer of local butchers' products.
The local culinary delights are popular with tourists like Stacy and Dorothy Wilburn, an Albany, New York couple that has been visiting Oxford County once or twice a year for more than a decade.
"This (Elm Hurst Inn) is our favourite place, and eating local just makes it all the more pleasurable," says Dorothy. "Let's face it, whatever you can get just around the corner and throughout the region is bound to be much better and fresher than food trucked in from faraway places like California."
And those products available "just around the corner" are putting Oxford County on the map in culinary circles.
From Jakeman's tantalizing maple syrup - voted the best-tasting in Canada by The National Post - to award-winning wines from Birtch Farms and Estate Winery and fresh rainbow trout filets from Goossens Trout Farm Ltd. in Otterville, Oxford County has more than an ample share of taste treats to lure the hungry tourist.
Consider the dining possibilities from such enterprises:
Quality lamb and veal from Big Sky Farms.
Organic agriculture products - stone ground flours to beans and pastas at Oak Manor Farms.
Pure honey on tap all year round at Oxford Honey & Supplies.
Picard's peanuts grown in the sandy soils of Oxford County.
Vine-ripened greenhouse vegetables and sweet strawberries from the Red Barn.
Perfectly aged cheddar cheese from Bright Cheese and Butter Company.
Homegrown meat products from Leaping Deere Legends.
Meat from the on-farm retail store and sweet corn in season at the Farm Gate Outlet.
All these topped by the agri-tourism events offered by at the Optimist Corn Maze and Ribfest in downtown Ingersoll make it abundantly clear to residents and visitors alike, buy local, buy fresh is more than four catchy words - they represent a way of life, a very tasty one indeed.
Geoff Dale is a freelance writer/photographer based in Woodstock, Ontario. In addition to writing for several publications including The London Free Press, the Sentinel-Review, Better Farming and the Transcontinental Media chain of newspapers in Newfoundland, he also critiques plays at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for the Internet-based London Now. He has also written two books on the 50th anniversary of CAW Local 636 and the 100th anniversary of Execulink.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
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