If enthusiasts of local food felt their social calendars were a little light this spring, they were right.
After seven successful years, the annual Growing Local conference has been put on ice as Food Matters Manitoba moves in new directions.
“Growing local is on hiatus,” explained executive director Kreesta Doucette, adding that a decrease in the organization’s government grants meant the popular event could no longer be offered at a cost that would be accessible.
“The major change was federal granting, we did have some good partnerships with the province, but the funding that we received from the province was very minimal… but who knows what the funding situation will look like next year?” she said.
However, the registered charity will continue its work promoting food security and engagement, building on feedback received from the last Growing Local conference.
“It’s actually really exciting,” Doucette said. “We were hearing from people that they were really wanting a deeper engagement opportunity, and wanting to learn at a higher level… so we are going to provide that.”
The delivery method will be a series of events or workshops held under the Food Reunion banner, the first of which gives participants the opportunity to get hands-on experience butchering a pig.
Pork chop workshop
The March 14 “Pork Chop” workshop will take place at The Food Studio in Winnipeg, and is open to 12 participants at a cost of $220. A $60 charitable tax receipt will be provided and participants take home between seven and 10 pounds of pasture-raised pork.
“It’s going to be really fun,” said Doucette. “We’re offering to people the opportunity to have a hands-on butchering experience, something we couldn’t do at the Marlborough, where we’ve held the conference.”
There will also be sausage making, and refreshments provided by Farmery Brewery, which is sponsoring the event.
The pig and butchering expertise will be provided by Spring Creek Farm.
“Lots of people are curious I guess, because not too many people know how to process meat anymore, really, from a carcass to packaged,” said Andy Chamberlin, who will demonstrate the butchering process along with his stepdad, Greg Wood.
Doucette said that part of the goal of workshops like this is to bring producers and consumers together, as well as teach or rediscover skills.
“The reason we’re able to pilot this project, is that it is also a marketing opportunity,” she said, “because we’re looking at creating new markets for farmers.”
The second Food Reunion session will take folks out of the city and on to the country for a “farm-to-table” tour. It will also have a lower price point at $40 per person, but gives participants an opportunity to purchase directly from farmers while seeing how food is produced.
There will be visits to Watersong Farms and The Smith Family Farm, giving folks the chance to see pork, trout and chicken production.
Rudy Reimer of Watersong Farms said that bringing customers to the farm has long been a part of their business model.
“We’ve been direct marketing poultry here for years; we took over 13 years ago, but my in-laws have been doing this since the early 1960s,” he said. “So we have 1,000 people who come twice a year and get chickens from us.”
Now that the farm has expanded to rainbow trout, Reimer is working to facilitate visitors to that side of the operation as well.
“Now we have an observation room, so we can bring the public in there a little bit easier and they can view the system without necessarily having to go through all the biosecurity,” he said. “People want to know, they want to speak directly to the grower, they want to know where their food is coming from and we want to show them.”
More workshops and tours will be planned later in the year as well, Doucette noted.
“We’ll evaluate these two workshops and expand from there, there are so many opportunities throughout the growing and harvesting season,” she said, adding this by no means rules out a return of the Growing Local conference.
“If you’ve been there, you know there’s a lot of interest and excitement, high attendance, but we just want to make sure we’re responding to what people are looking for and also that it’s going to be financially sustainable,” she said.