Is it possible to question whether the so-called foodie revolution in which we find ourselves is anything but awesome?
We have become mindful of what we eat. We want quality and flavour, not quantity and chemical additives. There is a growing demographic of people who want to make ethical food choices, know where their food comes from and how it is raised, and they want to support local farmers. As if on cue, family-run farms across York Durham Headwaters are emerging as diverse commercial ventures serving their communities. In doing so, they’re helping us stay anchored to our rural roots.
The 600-acre Willowtree Farm located in Scugog in the Port Perry community is one of them. Founded in 1969 by the late Rod and Marlene McKay, Willowtree is now run by their sons, Alex and Jordan, and their families.
“I grew up on this farm,” Jordan McKay recalls. “It means something to me to be able to carry on the family tradition in this way, and see it evolve and grow.”
What makes Willowtree Farm stand out is the diversity of its offerings: a variety of fruits and vegetables, artisanal meats and cheeses, preserves, baked goods and more.
“We grow over 30 different fruits and vegetables,” he says. “We produce a lot of what you see in the store, which is unique as well. A lot of farm markets and stores can’t match our variety because they don’t have the same scale of production that we do.”
When it comes to the livestock at Willowtree, the beef and lamb are pasture-raised without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. With regular access to grass fields, hay and grain, and the fresh air, the McKays are proud of the fact they treat their animals ethically.
The operation has evolved over the years. The farm’s store opened in June of 2016, allowing Willowtree to serve the community year-round. It also features a café, butcher shop, and a venue for special occasions. Willowtree Farm also hosts several family-focused events and festivals throughout the year, from Family Day skates and wagon rides to Thanksgiving and Halloween celebrations.
There are events geared toward adults too, such as the Bacon, Brussels Sprouts, and Brews festival held in November.
“We bring in local breweries, and pair a little tapas-style plate with each drink,” McKay explains. “People eat and drink all afternoon and have a great time. There is usually live music for that one.”
Live music is also offered on Willowtree’s patio every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through late spring and summer. Despite its many agri-tourism initiatives, Willowtree is first and foremost a working farm.
“That’s what we like to emphasize in our farm store,” he says. “The roast beef we serve on our sandwiches in the café was raised here on the farm. In the soups you enjoy, a lot of the protein and produce comes from our farm. It’s the same with many of the sweet treats. We use our strawberries and rhubarb and other berries and fruits of the seasons. So, we’re trying to showcase the farm in everything we do.”
Willowtree Farm also showcases other Ontario-grown products, as well as educates visitors on the value of supporting local growers, including providing school tours so kids can learn all about their food. Beginning this spring, the farm’s staff will offer free tours on Saturdays. Guests are invited to jump on a wagon, pick veggies and fruit, and learn about how it is produced.
Supporting local farms strengthens the economy. Knowing where your food comes from means, you can be more confident about its quality. Willowtree Farm is as much a foodie destination as it is a family one. Whether you want to enjoy quality produce, meat, and other local products in an authentic farmyard setting, or to add an agri-adventure to your repertoire of food experiences, the McKays invite you to come out to Willowtree and make some great memories.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Willowtree Farm is located in the town of Port Perry at 975 Regional Road 21. For more information, visit their website or call (905) 985-4973.
By Katherine Ryalen