Seeing as it New Year’s Day, I thought I’d write about the top 10 things I’ve learned since I started my agritourism project in the 2nd half of 2010. I’ve learned so much, but here is my shortlist:

1. Farmers work really hard (and for not much pay). Yeah, I know that one seems pretty obvious – we hear it all the time in the media. But I never really understood how true this is until I started visiting the various agricultural producers in our region, and realized just how much work it is to provide that meat or those vegetables or those nursery plants. And it is so difficult to make a living at producing those goods, unless you are a multi-million dollar business and/or you’re operating in a country with fewer regulations and environmental protections.

2. The more I learn about farming, the more I realize how little I know. Marketing boards, quotas, international trade rules, subsidies, commodity prices, input costs, food distribution – just a few of the topics that I’m learning about but have only touched the surface on. I’m trying to learn more, not just from the farmers that I visit, but from books and magazines. I subscribe to Small Farm Canada (and have most of their back issues), and I’ve recently signed up for The Landowner magazine. I also joined the National Farmers Union as an associate member, which will entitle me to a monthly newsletter and a quarterly magazine. I also intend to subscribe to the monthly Eastern Ontario Agri-News newspaper. All of these publications should give me a good view into the world of Canadian agriculture.

3. It’s easy to buy local products year-round in Ottawa. First, we have a ton of farmers’ markets to choose from. But we also now have 3 local food co-ops that deliver food year-round to central pick-up locations. One is the Marché de solidarité régionale de l’Outaouais, which delivers products from local Quebec farms to a location in downtown Hull. We also have the Eastern Ontario Local Food Co-op, which delivers as far east as Orleans (they used to have a pickup location near Carlingwood Mall, but I no longer see that on their website). This co-op will also deliver to your workplace if you have 10 co-op members or more! Finally, there is the Ottawa Valley Food Coop, which delivers to Arnprior (the closest location to Ottawa). A couple other options are Wendy’s Mobile Market which delivers as close as Perth and Merrickville, and Funny Duck Farms which arranges deliveries of organic meat and other products to a pick-up spot in Kanata.

4. There are a lot of wineries in the Ottawa region. And they’re making some pretty great wine! See this blog entry for a list of producers.

5.  Ottawa is really big! When your city is 5000 square kilometres, and your research area includes places within an hour’s drive of Ottawa, you’re talking about a lot of driving! But what great driving it is! There are so many beautiful areas around Ottawa, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of my explorations. And now I know where places like Jasper, Middleville, Hopetown, Chesterville, and Rosetta are located!

6. There are a lot of hidden gems in this region. Some of my favourites: the amazing agricultural museum at Valleyview Little Farm, a horse-drawn wagon ride over a covered bridge at Cedar Hill Berry Farm, picking vegetables at Rideau Pines Farm and Market, the Baird Trail in Lanark County (an old farm property that has gone back to forest), the mushroom growing houses at Continental Mushrooms, the very beautiful Kiwi Gardens near Perth… I could go on and on.

7. Quebec rocks when it comes to agritourism. Even for unilingual Anglophones like me! The people I’ve visited have been remarkably accommodating about my French difficulties, even though it makes me feel bad to have to communicate mostly in English. Aside from language, Quebec is also tops when it comes to promoting their agritourism destinations. They have great websites, such as Croquez l’Outaouais, Outaouais Gourmet Way, Terroir et Saveurs (Agritourism Quebec), and Petite-Nation La Lievre. And they have some really great destinations, such as the agritourism hub in Ripon, northeast of Ottawa.

8. Social media is a great way to spread the word. I’ve embraced the world of Twitter (@AgritourismOtt), and while I still have only about 20 followers, my tweets sometimes get retweeted by people with very large followings, such as @OntarioCulinary and @ottawastart. It’s fascinating to see how Twitter works, and I’ve learned quite a bit from the various people that I follow. And it’s free!

9. People search for information in interesting ways. I love seeing what keywords people use to come to my website. Many people come to this site looking for things like “apple picking Ottawa” or “cut your own Christmas tree Ottawa”. Funny enough, I was still getting hits for cutting your own Christmas tree on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It’s probably a little late to be thinking about a Christmas tree at that point!

10. Farmers are an inspiring bunch. When I started this project, I wanted to immerse myself in a world that was different from high-tech, and see things from a different perspective. Along the way, I have met so many inspiring people who are living out their passion and sharing it with visitors like myself. People like Samantha Klinck at Funny Duck Farms, Irene Dagenais at Ferme Dagenais, Daniel Miclette at Les Trois Coteaux Heritage Farm, Andy Parent at Big Sky Ranch Animal Sanctuary, Tim and Sue Dyer at Kings Creek Trees and Ornamentals, André Cellard and Chantal Ippersiel at Domaine des Météores, and so many more.

In closing, I want to send a huge thank you to all the farmers and producers who open up their businesses to visitors. Your work is so inspiring, and is helping to educate people (like myself) who often do not understand all that goes into producing food and other agricultural products.

I also thank the readers of this blog – your visits give me the motivation to keep writing. I hope that you have found the information to be useful and interesting.

Happy New Year everyone!