Farmers say better communication with general public is needed about where food comes from.
VG Meats’ Kevin Van Groningen has done the math. And if the two per cent of Canadians who are farmers fail to adequately educate the urbanites who are their primary consumers, he believes they will pay a price.
Customer communication remains a cornerstone of VG Meats, Van Groningen says, crediting the Norfolk butcher shop’s online versions of “meat counter conversations” with helping to identify areas of strength and those requiring improvement. Against this backdrop, he sees the time commitment required for VG’s participation in Before the Plate (BTP), a full-length documentary on Ontario farming by producer Dylan Sher, as “part of our work.
“It’s important we tell our story because really, we see that as part of selling the product,” Van Groningen said. “It’s part of our jobs to sort of teach the other 98 per cent of the population how their food is raised and produced.”
VG Meats tenderloin is the anchor element of eight Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants district executive chef John Horne pulled together on the plate featured in the documentary. Sher traced the individual ingredients back to their roots on Ontario farms, highlighting how they are grown and by whom.
Van Groningen has visited Canoe Restaurant in Toronto, where Before the Plate is set, discussing beef, food and the state of the business with Chef Horne.
“He comes from a farm background as well, so he can really relate to what’s going on in the farming world and has a keen interest in the future of farming and the role Ontario plays in that,” Van Groningen said.
Conversely, Van Groningen finds Sher’s Richmond Hill background equally compelling.
“He went to an agricultural school and realized he didn’t quite know (farming) the way he thought he knew it, so he’s taking his viewers along the same sort of learning curve he’s gone down and he’s going to let folks decide which type of agriculture they’re in preference of,” Van Groningen said. “So it’s pretty interesting.”
A fan of great food, Van Groningen believes a good story is a key ingredient, and he looks forward to viewing Before the Plate.
“This is a story about good food and it’s going to be a very interesting documentary,” he said.
Pristine Gourmet is a fourth-generation family operation near Waterford producing non-GMO cold-pressed virgin oils for private label and retail, central kitchens, food processing including potato chips, meatless burgers, sauces and dips, and high-end restaurants including Canoe — not to mention contributing sunflower seed oil to the plate’s green tomato and celery relish.
Pristine Gourmet is built on the pillars of heritage, passion and ‘signature’ or provenance or terroir, says Jason Persall, the area’s unique soil and climatic conditions and practices combining in a distinct flavour profile.
“What they are getting is something unique, something done by passion and something that is not slapped together but driven by four generations,” Persall said.
He welcomed the opportunity to participate in BTP, despite a hectic schedule.
“It’s all about telling that story from our fields to the plate,” Persall said. “People appreciate that and I think that’s what’s driving a lot of culinary trends right now — and creativity.
“Anything we can use as a vehicle to tell a story is important,” he added. “No matter how hard you think you are telling or how good a job you are doing at telling a story, you can always do better.”
Persall hopes the documentary will resonate with consumers.
“A lot of messages with food get misconstrued through social media and internet. There’s not a whole lot of truth that lies out there,” he said. “He’s (Sher) got a lot of traction and a lot of people pulling for him, so I think it’s going to be good.”
Godelie Family Farms (led by Gary and Blanche) made the transition from tobacco to GAP-certified (Good Agricultural Practices) potato and fresh fruit and vegetable production. A majority of the farm’s potatoes are sold to Earth Fresh, but the three-generation operation (daughter Christine and son-in-law Jason D’Hulster are a growing part of the business, and grandchildren also help ‘poppa’ out) also offers produce at a busy farmgate outlet and weekly Toronto My Pick (a designation certifying that the seller grew the products) markets at Bloor and Borden and on the Danforth.
Gary Godelie is also a big believer in the value of two-way communication, enjoying the opportunity to not only present his story to regular My Pick customers, but hear their feedback as well, a process creating understanding and building relationships and trust.
“Absolutely a great concept and I think it’s long overdue,” he said of BTP. “It’s important we get our message out to the public as farmers and what we do, what it takes to get their produce to them so they have an understanding of what we do, and I think it’s important for us to understand the consumers as well, what their concerns, or their needs are.
“This is a way I guess of answering some of their concerns, and for them to understand how their food’s produced.”
Godelie is pleased to have his potatoes featured in the plate’s tater tots as a longtime proponent of more effectively presenting the producer’s perspective to consumers.
“This is what’s happening with Dylan’s project, so I think it’s a great, great, great idea, and I was thrilled we could be part of it.”
Beyond the potential benefits, Godelie has thoroughly enjoyed meeting Sher and his crew, buoyed by their youth and enthusiasm.
“They’re eager, they’re excited about being exposed to the farm,” he said. “It’s a totally different world for this crew to be out here to see hands-on what’s going on, the machinery, just to experience this farm. You come to realize that wow, that’s a good deal in itself — if they’re excited, this documentary should be a great thing to present to the public and hopefully that creates even more stimulus for people to want to know even more about us.
“I’ve said it for years,” Godelie added in conclusion, “we’re not doing a good job, as farmers, getting the information that the consumer needs, so here’s an opportunity to do that.
“I’m excited about seeing the final product.”