Last weekend I visited two places: the Carp Farmers’ Market and the Annual Midsummer Herbfest at the Herb Garden in Almonte. Both events were opportunities to make agritourism contacts for my book. It was a good test of how comfortable I am approaching strangers and asking if they give tours of their agricultural operation! I’m still a little shy about it, but that’s something I’d like to work on from a personal development perspective anyway.

My first stop was the Carp Farmers’ Market on Saturday. The market runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays from May to October. It’s the largest producer-based farmers’ market in Ontario (over 100 vendors) with about half the vendors outside, and the other half in a heritage exhibit hall at the entrance to the grounds.

The market is very popular – and for good reason. It offers a wide variety of vendors (produce, meat, flowers, crafts, preserves), great food court concessions, lots of parking, and a beautiful location. You can even bring your dog (although you need to keep them away from the stalls).

While I was there, I made contact with several agritourism people who I didn’t know about. I now have plans to visit an emu farm, a beekeeping operation, and a hemp farm (see my events page for the Stone Farm Hemp event in August). I also met a woman who makes her own teas – and provides occasional workshops. I also saw a lot of other vendors who I already knew about, so I didn’t spend much time at those stalls; I will contact those people later.

PurchasesI was very happy with all my purchases from the market. I bought 3 types of honey from Russell’s Honey in Arnprior. The Wild Mint and Alfafa was amazing – kind of like a really good wine compared to a regular one (it’s a little more expensive than usual – $15 a jar). I also bought a package of Stone Farms de-hulled hemp seed, which tastes a lot like sesame seeds, and is really good ($6 for 160g). And I bought two packages of Take Charge Tea ($6 each); one is oat straw, lavender, and lemon balm (very nice as an iced tea), and the other is rosebud, red clover, and raspberry tea.

I came home pretty excited about my project, especially because it means I get to try so much new food!

The next day I went to Herbfest in Almonte . This event gets bigger every year; this year there were more than 3000 visitors. There were 100+ vendors, a chef cook-off, various presentations, musicians, great food from local vendors including the Cheshire Cat, and of course, all the amenities that the Herb Garden offers on a daily basis in the summer (plants for sale, a gardening shop, a labyrinth, and beautiful gardens). The weather was beautiful, and the people-watching was great.

Herbfest 2010

I made two important contacts at this event – one planned, and one totally random. The first was Jim Cooper, author and publisher of the Eastern Ontario Gardener’s Tour Guide. I had heard of his book before, but hadn’t seen a copy, so when I saw that he would be at Herbfest with his books, I made plans to buy a copy there. When buying the book, we got to talking and I explained my project and asked about his own. He said it took him 2 years to do the initial research for the 2008/9 edition, and he’s now just released the 2010/11 edition. He is looking for people to help him update the book for the 2012 edition, and asked if I’d be interested. We’ve exchanged emails since then, and although I’m focused on my own book right now, it’s exciting to have these opportunities come up already! In the meantime, I’ve been using his book as a reference for my own research. It’s a great guide, and costs only $10. You can find it at Chapters and at many local gardening centres, or you can buy it online directly from the author.

My second contact was more random. My husband Gary and I were looking at the solar panel installation behind a parking area (Gary always loves these technical things), and a man who was unloading his truck started to tell us how great those solar panels are, and that he has them at his own farm. It turns out that this man was Robert Oechsli from Alpenblick Farm. He is very active in the organic growers community, and raises organic beef, goat, and lamb. The most amazing thing is that he’s been off the grid for 42 years! His farm is in Ashton, and he provides tours for those who are interested in organic living. He said he’d be happy to give me a tour, and joked that we’d probably need 2 days because he has so much to say! I am really looking forward to this tour, and hopefully we can arrange a time when Gary is also available.

All in all, it was a great start to the research phase of my book project. I had another great day yesterday when we visited some garden centres in the Perth area, but I am out of time and will blog about those in a couple days.