Behind every bite of food on our plates lies a story. It begins on the land, with the farmers and families who bring their time, energy and passion to cultivating amazing produce.
Having spent most of my life in Ontario, and summers in Prince Edward Island, I grew up with farming close to my heart. From the start of my culinary career, I was lucky to work with chefs who also value local produce and the farmers who create it. Closing the restaurant to visit local farms and pick wild garlic scapes in the forest was a normal occurrence. ‘Farm to Table’ wasn’t as much a conscious movement as a natural choice.
Here in Alberta, there’s a growing awareness of the value of local produce and I love working with locally-sourced ingredients in the Juniper Bistro kitchen. In late August, I jumped at the chance to step away from the line and spend the day with two of our local growers. I was excited to connect with the land, the product and the people behind our dining experience.
My day started in Bragg Creek, Alberta, at a family-run business. Heading down a small dirt driveway, I was welcomed to Munro Farms by Geoff and Natasha Munro and their three sweet little girls. The Munros are passionate about fresh, local food and are pioneering new ways to grow microgreens, herbs and lettuces. Touring the farm, I tasted fresh tomatoes off the vine, microgreens straight from the tray and lettuce grown in a hand-built hydroponic tower. These innovative indoor towers allow lettuce to be grown year round. Outdoor beds are home to seasonal product, such as rainbow Swiss chard, cherry tomatoes, pattypan squash and zucchini, as well as the red Russian kale that features in our Graze Kale Salad. The Munros believe in growing food without chemicals; they take a natural approach, using plant-friendly insects to eat the bad bugs that might damage their crop.
Next on my itinerary was a drive with Delphine from Biotanic Farms. Delphine grows produce on small garden plots located on private properties throughout Cochrane, Alberta. She shares her product with the homeowners and supplies local restaurants. Everything is grown without the use of chemicals and picked by hand, including a variety of veggies such as baby beets, baby heirloom carrots, kale and lettuce. On my tour of the plots I picked fresh peas from the vine and dug gorgeous bulbs of garlic from the earth. Delphine also has a small indoor space where she grows microsprouts, including the delicious sunflower sprouts that we use in the Bistro’s Sunflower Salad.
Driving down the long Alberta dirt roads under smoky summer skies, passing field after field, I felt inspired. Spending time with local farmers has made me even more determined to represent their products proudly on the Juniper Bistro menu. Our food can tell the story of these passionate growers and the rich diversity of our region. As I prepare our winter menu to launch this November, I can’t wait to share more of these locally-grown products with you.
— Head Chef Darcy Townshend, RSE