ONTARIO’S AGRITOURISM ATTRACTIONS OFFER LOCALS AND VISITORS ALIKE A FARM-FRESH PERSPECTIVE ON OUR RENOWNED AGRICULTURAL BOUNTY.
BY RENÉE SUEN
Finding seasonally fresh food in Toronto isn’t hard: nearly every restaurant menu and produce shelf boasts of the bounty. Ontario is blessed with more than half of Canada’s highest quality farm land, and most of it is a mere hour or two’s drive from the GTA. No matter if you’re a dilettante cook or a full-fledged foodie, it’s easy to connect with the province’s primary tastemakers to learn about land stewardship, food security, and sustainable aqua- and agriculture, all while marveling at the picturesque surroundings. So fill up the tank, plug in your favourite playlist, and embark on an adventure that’ll leave you satisfied, but also hungry for more.
Muskoka and Nipissing
Ontario’s cottage country is also its cranberry capital, due in part to the efforts of Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh in Bala. The third-generation grower’s leading attraction is its guided bog-to-bottle-tour, but self-guided tours, scenic trails, and a geocaching treasure hunt are also offered, and the Cranberry Emporium allows you to stock up on award-winning cranberry wines, preserves, soaps, and gifts. In Bracebridge you can pick your own sustainably grown straw- and raspberries (and a dozen free-range eggs) at charming sixth-generation Brooklands Farm. If that’s not sweet enough, set your sights on Huntsville’s Belly Ice Cream: the Main Street scoop shop doles out handcrafted, small-batch flavours—made with Ontario Jersey milk and cream—like smoky buttered scotch whisky with salted caramel and almonds, while not too far away you can peek through the windows of the company’s new production facility.
And should the urge strike to expand your range even further, head up to Board’s Honey Farm, about an hour north of Huntsville. The family business has plenty of hands-on educational opportunities, including beekeeping workshops, an activity-based bee yard tour, and guided apiary tours. Discover why people are buzzing about honeybees’ ecological role, and then taste their wares at the honey shop.
Stratford and Perth County
Though known for its theatre festival, Stratford is also a culinary hot spot: surrounded by one of the continent’s richest and most diverse farming regions, it’s home to Ontario’s oldest farmers’ market as well as the influential Stratford Chefs School. At renowned Monforte Dairy, curious turophiles can stroll the cheese plant’s environmentally sustainable grounds and peer into the make floors and aging rooms, before stocking up on chef and SCS instructor Ruth Klahsen’s selection of fresh and aged cheeses. Just outside of town, Monforte’s home farm and event space features a small herd of water buffalo and produces raw-milk cheeses available at the on-site store.
To get even closer to your food, check out 80-acre organic farm Soiled Reputation, which offers tours* to all who visit. (If lucky, you might even learn about sustainable food production directly from Antony John, the farm’s “Manic Organic” owner.) In nearby St. Marys, McCully’s Hill Farm rears some of the area’s finest livestock. Besides a 168-year-old barn, they also host kid-friendly tours with horse-drawn wagon rides, plus a busy market that sells homemade baked goods, preserves and the farm’s famous maple pork sausage.
Ontario’s apple country lies about two hours northwest of Toronto; its abundance comes courtesy of a fertile microclimate created by Nottawasaga Bay’s moderate temperatures and the protective boundary of the Niagara Escarpment. Trek along the award-winning Apple Pie Trail—and indulge in delicious examples from Blackbird Pie Company or Thornbury Bakery—before travelling to Beaver Valley Cidery, where owners John Mott and Judy Cornwell can show you around and offer you a complimentary tasting of their hand-crafted dry cider in the farm’s restored century barn.
Also in the region, nestled among a remote stretch of the Kolapore Uplands, the Kolapore Springs Hatchery raises spring-fed trout that are prized amongst Toronto’s top kitchens. Owners Sean Brady and Bruce Green happily walk visitors through the fish-farming process—raising the trout from alevins to fingerlings to mature adults, maintaining their unique nutrient-rich environment, and feeding them a diet of wild fairy shrimp. The accommodating hosts will even take visitors on a belly boat fishing trip, then round out the experience with an ashore lunch or evening campfire roast.
Most of the farm tours mentioned in this article operate on an occasional basis or by appointment. We recommend calling ahead to arrange.