Since 1989, my career has allowed me to live in wonderful places across Ontario, but no matter where I was, I’ve always had an affinity for where I started. When the global pandemic made working from home real for me, I made a beeline for the near north and settled in a rural area on the outskirts of North Bay, Ontario.
Naturally, I found a soul-soothing reconnection with my parents, sisters and friends. Somewhat unexpectedly, I also discovered nourishment from a crew of hearty, dirt-digging, animal-loving farmers.
By banding together during COVID-19, a group of local entrepreneurial farmers created an innovative agri-tourism experience that put them on the map. Committed to the earth, each other and our northern community, the concept of a farmstand tour immediately turned heads.
The Great Powassan and Area Farmstand Tour
In Powassan, the farmer’s market has drawn crowds seeking farm-to-table options for 32 years. When 2020’s pandemic health and safety requirements impacted buying and selling at the market, most farmers in the region had to rely on roadside stand sales.
It didn’t take long for a few market vendors to start brainstorming ways of making it easier for people to find their products while maintaining a physically separate, yet collective offering.
“What subsequently evolved is the Great Powassan and Area Farmstand Tour, which consists of a map and a very active Facebook group where members share everything from what’s in season and for sale at the stand, to photos, tips and tricks, farm antics, news, special events – and especially – conversations,” says Kathie Hogan of 250 Clark, Powassan’s community events hub.
The tour generally operates from the May long weekend until Thanksgiving and features small farms throughout Powassan, Trout Creek, Nipissing Township, Astorville and Chisholm Township. It allows people to enjoy the exceptional countryside as they gather fresh, local food. The route is even accessible by bicycle and listed on Discovery Routes (discoveryroutes.ca), a site that promotes trails in northeastern Ontario.
The following farms are among “the big three” on the Farmstand Tour but there are more than a dozen stands to explore. Download the map from The Great Powassan & Area Farmstand Tour Facebook page (under “Files”) to design your own loop!
Foxfire Heritage Farm
If you Google images of Foxfire Heritage Farm, you’ll find photos of yurts, blacksmithing, some old-style drawings of cows, pigs and chickens and a man with a thick, dark beard, wearing a smile and traditional black felt tudor hat.
Meet Mattimus Larivee. Together with fellow farmer Katrina Violette, he initiated the idea for the Farmstand Tour, and is the creator of its Facebook group.
“When we first started exploring the idea of collecting participating farms and marketing ourselves in this way, I realized how many of us there are in the area – and then it snowballed from there,” Larivee says. “We were super pleased with last year’s turnout and are eagerly looking forward to what 2021 will bring.”
I asked Matt about what motivates him at Foxfire. He answered easily, it’s about “the importance of preserving endangered heritage breeds, and skills.”
Larivee and his wife, Danielle Seguin, are dedicated to raising heritage livestock such as Lynch Lineback cows, Large Black hogs and Chantecler chickens. To round out the plate, they also produce an array of fresh seasonal vegetables and free range eggs.
If you’ve dreamed of a unique, hands-on farm experience living as close to the ground as possible, you can make it happen by staying in one of Foxfire’s two yurts. “Guests” can also help with the chores in between trekking in the woods and napping by the wood burning fireplace, that is. You can even get on board with Matt’s reverence for skills development by attending one of his blacksmithing workshops to learn a new (old) thing or two.
A passionate champion of small farms and a healthy, local food system, Katrina Violette of Adagio Farms in Chisholm Township is also responsible for conceiving the idea of the Farmstand Tour. In fact, she used her formal graphic design skills to develop the map.
“It all began with the of idea of connecting people to local food. Having the right people working together at the right time, together with an increased interest from the public, created the perfect storm,” says Violette. “The popularity of last year’s Tour really took us by surprise, but after looking at the lessons we learned, we’re confident this year’s experience will be even better for our community.”
While both Katrina and her husband Ed have non-farming “day jobs” they are committed to offering organic vegetables, fruits, herbs; chicken, duck and goose eggs and pasture-raised chicken at their classic farm.
“We believe in working with nature, and allowing its strengths to produce the healthiest food possible for our community and family,” Katrina explained.
Roots and Roost Farm
When Greg and Becky King took over their Trout Creek property in 2018 and launched Roots and Roost Farm, the desire was simple, “First we wanted to make sure our own family had healthy and responsibly grown food, then we would offer our goods to the public,” Greg said. Little did they know that a seemingly simple idea would turn into a major community initiative.
Last year Greg and his partner Harold Beatty from Alpaca Springs Farm overhauled an antiquated carriage house to build the Carriage House Market. “It was a building that was used in the 1920s by the area doctor who sheltered his horses there as he made house calls in Powassan and neighbouring towns,” Greg explained. “We salvaged the chimney and some of the doors to repurpose them. With a nod to the past, the new space we’ve made is now a farm hub that will continue to serve this community.”
While the Carriage House Market is a necessary stop on the Great Powassan and Area Farmstand Tour this year, there are many other farms with a wide array of products to discover. Mark your calendar, download the map, pack your reusable totes and prepare to visit some farms with heart.
Lisa LaFontaine is a senior communications advisor at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency where she leads communications activities on files such as forestry, horticulture and international phytosanitary standards. She also chairs a North American Plant Protection Organization Expert Group in support of the UN’s International Year of Plant Health 2020. Lisa is an award-winning communications specialist with nearly 30 years of experience and a passion for Canada, the environment and nature. In her off time, this former journalist can be found sailing, kiteboarding, or practicing yoga on the Ottawa River.
Outside is her mantra.