Here in Durham, we’re proud of our agricultural heritage. Today, farming is as important an aspect of our regional personality as are our up-and-coming social and entertainment scenes. But we’re not just a region of quiet land labourers, toiling at food production in silence. For us, agriculture is a tourism offering in its own right, where local products, education and artisanal skills are something for everyone to experience. Come and see what exciting adventures await you on our Durham Region farms.
In the quaint hamlet of Kendal is Dare 2 Dream Farm, a local enterprise where sustainable farming and fork-to-table education is not just a business model, it’s a passion.
“At Dare 2 Dream, we’re all about knowing where your food comes from,” says Kaitlynn Mahoney, Marketing and Events Manager. “That is huge for us, and it’s one of the first things we say to visitors when we do our tours.”
Owners Steve and Patty Lawrence purchased the farm in 2013, after a devastating illness led Steve to appreciate the connection between diet and health. “He was diagnosed with Lyme disease,” Kaitlynn tells, “and needed to eat clean to survive.”
The Lawrences’ enterprise started with only a few beehives and maple trees, but has since turned into over two thousand maple taps and sixty-five beehives. Guests to the farm can sample and purchase raw honey, pure maple syrup, quality vinegars and even beeswax lip balm—all produced and packaged on-site. Dare 2 Dream also offers weekly tours, private events, and public workshops like extracting your own honey and painting bee boxes.
There are more in-depth experiences as well, specifically focusing on bee keeping and maple syrup. “The bee keeping one is four hours with the bee keeper,” Kaitlynn explains, “and you’ll basically do his work with him. He will teach you how to split the hive, how to tell the health of the hive and how to extract the honey. At the end, you get to take home your own jar of honey that you extracted, and lunch is included.”
The maple syrup experience is conducted on-site at the edge of the Ganaraska Forest. “We do all the boiling there and bring the syrup here to be bottled,” Kaitlynn says. “You’ll splis the wood, put the taps in, learn about the health of the trees and the soil conditions. That’s where the unique taste comes from,” she adds, “the soil.”
As anyone who visits Dare 2 Dream Farm will see, Steve and Patty have a genuine passion for what they do. “Their aim is to educate people about what they put into their bodies,” says Kaitlynn. “Most people don’t think about it. Steve loves having people to the farm and, given what he’s been through with his illness, has a great desire to help people.”
To purchase your handmade Dare 2 Dream products, to take a tour, or to participate in one of Steve and Patty’s workshops, go to www.dare2dreamfarm.com or call (905) 216-5113. Dare 2 Dream Farm is located at 8169 Langstaff Rd., Kendal.
Carpe Diem in Brock is a 170-acre local farm and café with a passion as big as its ambition. Owner Julie Belli absolutely loves what she does. “If there is something that you want to do all the time and you’re thinking about it every day, you just need to do it,” she urges. “It doesn’t feel like work when you love what you do.”
The farm store and café is open to the public from May to October, Friday through Sunday. The store sells local products on behalf of small businesses in the area, as well as artisan cheese made on-site by Julie herself. “We sell stone-ground local flour, fresh-made popsicles and doughnuts in the café, free range eggs, fresh-cut flowers—all grown using organic practices,” she says. Also, since sustainability is a top priority at Carpe Diem, the farm sells its own pork products which have been raised on the whey left over from the cheese-making process.
Starting at the end of the 2018 season, the farm has begun offering workshops like breadmaking, cheesemaking and doughnut making. “I would love for people to learn the old skills of sausage making,” Julie says. “With my husband being Italian, it’s something we’ve always done. I don’t want these old-world skills to die out, so we have a butcher coming in from Italy, and he is going to teach sausage making and do a workshop on curing and preserving meats.”
It was Julie’s neighbours who, before she purchased the farm, started her on cheese-making. She says, “The more I did it, the more interested I became. So I went to the University of Guelph and studied dairy science.” When she turned her sights to commercial production, she was met with quite a bit of skepticism. “There were a lot of nay-sayers,” she recalls. “They told me I’d never get a license to run a micro-dairy, that I would never qualify. But it couldn’t have been easier. Durham Health was incredibly helpful in getting me up and running.”
Today, a large focus of Carpe Diem’s operation is its incubator farm initiative. This is where students out of college or university who have studied agricultural science learn the trade in practice. “There is a big gap between learning to farm as kids and turning that into a career,” Julie says. “What do these students do once they’re out of college—buy a million-dollar farm right away? Here at Carpe Diem is where these future farmers do their hands-on learning.”
To visit Carpe Diem’s farm store and café, or to learn about its workshops and other offerings, visit www.carpediemfarm.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Carpe Diem Farm and Café is located on the south-west corner of Hwy 12 and Concession 10, north of Sunderland.
In 2015, the Arnold family founded the Thunder Ridge Bison Co. in Uxbridge with their herd of plains bison. Their hopes are to share their passion with the world. While it certainly wasn’t what they planned to do when they set out, their venture has taken on a life of its own and they couldn’t be happier.
“We’re two things,” says owner Brian Arnold. “We raise livestock for consumption, of course. But we’re also part of a conservation initiative with both the Ontario and Canadian Bison Associations. So some of our animals are breeding stock as part of a breeding program.”
Located in the Oak Ridges Moraine, Thunder Ridge Bison Co. is perfectly suited to breeding and raising bison naturally. “Artisanal farming is coming back,” Brian says. “We went out to Saskatchewan recently and visited some of the bigger ranches out there. We saw that they’re still feed-lotted, where they jam as many animals in as they can and feed them lots of grain to turn out numbers. But in Ontario, most of the bison farms are artisanal like we are. We’re typically small scale to try and produce a high-quality meat.”
The Arnolds have welcomed a number of private events to the farm such as local 4H clubs. Also, once a year they offer a farm day where visitors are taken on a tour of the farm and taught the history of the bison in Canada. Recently, the family was thrilled to host thirty-six NHL players for a farm-day training workout, including contemporary icons like Steve Stamkos and Connor McDavid.
Visitors to the on-site farm store can find high-quality and familiar cuts of bison meat and are, by appointment, welcome for personal visits to see what is involved in bison farming and conservation. “I think it’s important for people to see how much work goes into actually getting food from the farm to the table,” Brian says. “That’s one comment we get back quite a bit: that it’s a lot of work.”
The education piece is as equally important to the Arnolds as the farming is. After all, the bison were almost extinct by 1910. Brian says, “It’s through the efforts of farmers and ranchers that we’re bringing the numbers back.”
Find Thunder Ridge Bison Co. at 664 Davis Drive in Uxbridge, or online at www.thunderridgebison.ca. For more information call (905) 391-8655.
Written by: Katherine Ryalen