Stepping onto the farm at Landman Gardens and Bakery is like entering a time warp.
Rebecca Landman, Proprietor, Chef, and Farmer, knows that’s half of the appeal for visitors.
“We’ve had a lot of people moving up to this region from Toronto. They are excited to meet the person who is growing vegetables and collecting eggs for them. They’re so curious.”
Landman Gardens, located north of Grand Valley in Headwaters, has been owned and operated by the Landman family since 1969. Landman and her team pasture-raise chickens, laying hens, and pigs. They tend to a kitchen garden full of green beans, zucchini, squash, carrots and beets. She credits the high quality of her farm’s produce to the nutrient-rich soil.
“There’s an old wives’ tale: you can tell how good your soil is by the size of your beets,” she says. “Ours are the size of baseballs! We have really beautiful soil.”
Aside from a working farm, Landman Gardens and Bakery caters to tourists, diners, foodies and families keen to learn more about organically grown produce in Ontario. There’s a bakery, butcher shop, and general store. But its gem is an elegant, rustic dinner room called the Blackhouse, which hosts themed-dinner evenings, or it can be reserved for private parties or a romantic dinner for two.
Built by hand in 2009 to support a local, annual theatre festival, it’s modelled after a Scottish blackhouse; a small stone-built home, commonly found in the Scottish Highlands.
Though the origin of the structure’s name is uncertain, it derives from history: a traditional blackhouse housed both people and livestock. People burned peat inside to keep warm, but since they typically did not include chimneys, their interiors would become blackened by smoke and soot. Landman foregoes burning peat for a traditional wood oven (with a chimney) on her farm’s blackhouse. Despite the upgrade, the ambiance it evokes is one of century-old charm.
Inside, she hosts elaborate, country lunches and dinners for guests looking to reconnect with their food and one another in an enchanting atmosphere, where the experience resonates with visitors as much as the cuisine.
“People are always coming to celebrate something. It felt like every other week was a celebration, and it’s really cool to be able to be a part of that,” she continues. “We’re actually creating food memories. They won’t remember everything they had (to eat), but they’ll remember how they felt.”
She serves food grown on Landman Garden’s farm, complemented with hard-to-find items from other local vendors she’s met at the Orangeville Farmers’ Market, or goods from the Besley Country Market in nearby Shelburne. Landman Gardens maintains a stand at the Orangeville Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. throughout the summer.
Between running the general store and butcher shop (which serves the area’s best meat pies), hosting Blackhouse Dinners and tending to the farm, Landman also hosts workshops for people who wish to learn more about locally produced organic food. This year, she’s teaming with a holistic nutritionist to run fermenting classes and “yoga-on-the-farm” sessions. They’re proving popular already.
“Recently, a distillery opened nearby which has brought a lot of people out to the area on weekends,” she adds. “They go for a tasting, and then come here for lunch or dinner. It’s a nice little trip north of Toronto for anyone without regular access to the countryside or a cottage.”
The Blackhouse Dinner at Landman Gardens opens for the 2019 season is in early May. This year’s sample menu features many tantalizing, lip-smacking options, including homemade pickles and locally sourced cheeses, mild Italian sausage and lentil soup with kale; lemon thyme braised chicken thighs, hand-breaded pork schnitzel, roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables and more.
The general store and butcher shop are open to the general public on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
By Agatha Podgorski
– Podgorski is the Director of Community Engagement at the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. Follow her on Instagram: @agapod