The second-annual Rainy River District Harvest Dinner held Saturday evening at the Devlin Hall was advertised as a chance to enjoy a professionally-cooked meal, an opportunity to mix-and-mingle with local food producers, and to showcase the quality, abundance, and variety of the food that is produced right here.
The harvest celebration, co-sponsored by the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, the Clover Valley Farmers’ Market, and the Rainy River Future Development Corp.’s Ag Initiative Program, met all those expectations—and more.
About 175 people attended the annual event, enjoyed a fantastic meal, and offered their support for the concept of a local food initiative.
“I think this is amazing,” enthused rural agriculture co-ordinator Jeannette Cawston. “We really appreciated everyone’s support. I would like to thank the various organizations who helped put this evening together.”
The evening began at 5 p.m. with a mix-and-mingle. Chef Todd Moxham of “CATER 2 U” got things started with a variety of hors d’oeuvres, including Beet Caviar (from Marie Anderson) on Nighswander Rye, Blackened Elk Steak and Cajun Dipping Sauce, Bison Koftas (from Dawson Buffalo Ranch) with Tomato Herbed Salsa, and Ham and Garlic Sausage with Pepperettes (from Sunrise Meats).
Music for the mix-and-mingle was supplied by Arcato, who bill themselves as “Rainy River’s Hippest String Ensemble.”
The first course for the evening, which was served by the Riverside Foundation for Health Care team, was an excellent Vichyssoise with Sour Cream and Chives (or, in other words, cold potato leek soup featuring Shepody potatoes and leeks from Gerber’s Farm).
The next course was a fabulous Harvest Moon Salad with Blueberry Vinaigrette. The red cabbage, cucumber, peppers, onions, and blueberries were from Lowey’s Farm, the lettuce varieties from Gerber’s Farm, and the Campari tomatoes from Marie Anderson’s M&L Farms.
Finally, it was time for the entrée, served buffet-style. Chef Moxham personally carved the delicious Rainy River District beef, which was served with Lemon Tarragon Bernaise.
Also featured in the buffet was a Honey Almond Autumn Vegetable Medley (beans from Lowey’s, carrots and mushrooms from Anderson’s Farm, and honey from Seven Bends), Garlic Herbed Mash Potatoes (Yukon Gold potatoes from Gerber’s), and dinner rolls (Nighswanders).
The excellent meal was topped off with rhubarb crisp and assorted pies with ice cream (pies from Nighswanders).
The emcee for the celebration was Rick Neilson, who introduced the speakers for the evening. On hand to welcome everyone, and to thank the people who contributed to the dinner, were La Vallee Reeve Emily Watson, RRFDC chair Russ Fortier, and Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce president Christine Denby.
Following the meal, Deb Cornell spoke about the success of the Healthy Food Box Program, noting as many as 1,000 boxes were being distributed across the district at any given time this summer.
The food used in the boxes came from as many as seven growers, with Cornell noting both Kenora and Sioux Lookout are interested in how the local program works.
She added roughly $12,000 worth of local vegetables were purchased this summer at the Clover Valley Farmers’ Market in Fort Frances.
Another extremely interesting speaker Saturday night was Alexis Knispel, who was visiting from southern Manitoba. She explained how the group she was with started CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
They sold shares in their market garden in order to get their summer project started. In exchange for their investment of $400, the 88 individuals and restaurants were guaranteed an equal share in the amount of vegetables that were harvested.
This method of selling local food not only provided six people with a summer income, but also gave the “shareholders” a sense of ownership, of being connected with the land, and the assurance that their vegetables were fresh, local, and nutritious.
The idea of the world as our global grocery store slowly is being replaced in agricultural circles around the world with local food initiative projects.
“Locally-based food production and distribution systems are important for several reasons,” said Jim Brandle, CEO of the Vineland program in the Niagara region.
“They provide the public with access to fresher, more nutritious foods, promote local agriculture by keeping food production close to home, support and create local jobs in agriculture and food processing, and build stronger local economies and communities, and they minimize our ‘carbon footprint’ through the reduction of fossil-fuel used in the trade and transportation of food,” Brandle explained.
The evening concluded with an auction of the beef that was not used in the dinner. Packaged in 18 separate lots, it was auctioned off by Telford Advent.
“It’s only money” was Advent’s favourite phrase as he encouraged those remaining to open their wallets and part with their cash. The money raised will be used in various agricultural projects in the district.
The people of Rainy River District may, at times, feel isolated from the rest of the province, but they actually are an important part of a worldwide movement to invest in local food production.
Congratulations to those who organized this year’s harvest dinner, to Chef Moxham for a fabulous meal, and to those who continue to develop the concept of “local food for local people” here in Rainy River District.