We’re among a small and shrinking segment of the Canadian population who live in rural communities – less than 20 per cent, according to the 2006 census. (By comparison, at the turn of the last century, 63 per cent of Canadians lived in an area with a population of 10,000 or less.)
There are downsides to living almost an hour away from the nearest city – spending 10 hours a week commuting to work is no picnic. But there are a lot of things to love.
One of the best things about living rural is a real and immediate connection to the food you eat.
Whether it’s buying beef, pork or chicken directly from a local farmer, or picking fresh vegetables within from a garden or greenhouse you’ve visited, understanding the way your food was raised – and the families it supports – is an opportunity to see the food chain from every angle.
For us, that now extends to baking our own bread, raising laying hens that become soup chickens in the winter months, keeping bees for honey and growing herbs and vegetables in the warm summer months. Someday, when the tuition bills are behind us, I could see that extending with a small backyard greenhouse of our own. (No luck yet convincing my darling – or local bylaw officials – that a couple of goats and a small pig are essentially the same as having house pets.)
We can, and do, still rely on larger grocery chains for some essentials, but my monthly spending at superstores has dropped from $1,000 or more to about $400 as we’ve made the shift to small, local food suppliers.
We’re incredibly fortunate to live in a community with a deep appreciation for real food.
From weekly boxes of organic produce we pick up at Cowan’s Community Fresh, to cheeses and local turkey and chicken at Countryside Poultry, barbecue-ready beef, pork and great preserves at Carson’s Country Market or Harriston Packing Company, and top-of-the-line kitchen tools and speciality ingredients at Kitchen Cupboard & Icebox, we’re within minutes of the kinds of specialty stores that attract crowds in the cities. It’s a foodie’s paradise, that only gets better in harvest season as local Mennonite farmers sell garden-fresh produce from their laneways.
Culinary legends like the Stratford Chefs School get it. They’ve made their home in nearby Stratford since 1983, and their chefs are champions of the local food movement.
Add in a dozen craft breweries within easy driving distance and a small-but-growing wine industry in our surrounding counties, and we really do have everything we need right at our doorstep.
My advice to you: If you’re serious about food, step away from the city, if only for a day. Get to know where your food comes from.