OTTAWA — The nation’s capital took a hit a month ago when the Canadian Tourism Commission omitted it from a list of 48 great things to do in the country. Politicians and at least one brilliant commentator noted the head-scratching oversight. Katherine Hobbs, a city councilor, told me, “We felt so left out of the party.” Yet she didn’t seem all that concerned by the perceived slap, nor did too many others in the city.
In this government town, things can be surprisingly low-key and attitudes relaxed once you get away from Parliament Hill. Case in point, the Savour Ottawa feast last Sunday. This celebration of local food wouldn’t make headlines outside of Ottawa, but it is an indication of the progressive mindset of the city and its culinary establishment. It was a community event with potential ripple effects for the rest of the province.
“It’s frustrating when you go into a big grocery store and find fruits and vegetables coming from the States, when you have those same products being grown here in season,” said Hobbs, whose Kitchissippi riding was home to the event’s venue underneath a tent at Parkdale park. “If we all buy local and support our farmers everyone benefits.”
Savour Ottawa is an organization that has brought together Capital Region farmers who share a permanent retail space in Kitchissippi, a neighbourhood that is about a 10-minute drive west of the city’s downtown and whose Algonquin name means “the Great River.” In the past, those farmers have been showcased in Savour Ottawa events that aim to pair regional products with the best restaurants in the city. On this occasion, though, such an event — the Savour Ottawa Harvest Table — was open to the public for the first time. For $50 a ticket, guests were able to enjoy a sampling of some of the freshest and most fantastic food you can find in our province.
Highlights included a Chanterelle and Lobster Mushroom Tourte from Les Fougeres in Chelsea, Quebec and featuring mushrooms from Le Coprin. The Acer Farms beef was buttery smooth while the Apple Crumble Pie from Hall’s, whose baked treats and cider are available throughout Ottawa, was sweet and decadent.
“This association has been a real boost for us,” said Chris Hall, proprietor of Hall’s. “With an event like this and with the presence here, it gives us opportunities to connect directly with our customers that perhaps we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Showcasing local cuisine isn’t anything new. The 100-mile menu has been the talk of the past decade in the food services industry everywhere. What Savour Ottawa has done that’s different is ensure that the farmers in its association are actually bringing to the table meats, cheese, vegetables and fruits that they grow and raise themselves. In the approximately 175 farmers’ markets around Ontario, not all the vendors grow or raise all of their own goods that you find for sale at their stalls. Savour Ottawa was established in part to make sure consumers know the food they’re buying is, indeed, local.
“Everything a producer sells under the Savour Ottawa name must be grown or raised on their farm,” said Philip Powell, who helps manage the Parkdale Farmers’ Market, where the Savour Ottawa Harvest Table was held.
Powell was a past president of Farmers’ Markets Ontario and has previously been critical about vendors who are dishonest about the origin of their products.
With so many of us concerned, and rightly so, about where the food we eat comes from, the Savour Ottawa initiative — run by Ottawa Tourism, Just Food (a sustainability promoter) and the City of Ottawa — is both a public service and an endeavour to keep dollars circulating within a community — and away from fraudulent vendors or those who live miles away and service mega-stores.
We can always gripe about the quality of leadership we get from Ottawa, but in this case the community organizers appear to have a good thing going. If other municipalities in the province adopt similar campaigns then we can dramatically improve the quality of the food we consume.
At the very least, Savour Ottawa has already helped to improve the menus in the capital. Ottawa, as I discovered, has some outstanding recently opened restaurants, which you can read about in a day or two on this site.
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NOTE: All photos and written content is copyrighted. Photos by Julia Pelish Photography.