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Urban Cowboy: Damn the deep freeze — it’s Canada’s Agriculture Day

Farmers never really stop producing food regardless of season. This month is a chance to celebrate the agriculture sector
Mapleton Organic Dairy - Rural Romp 2016
Farm visits, like this one to Mapleton’s Organic Dairy in Moorefield during the Wellington Rural Romp, give us a look at farming that goes on year round — not just during nice weather. Photo courtesy of Taste Real Guelph-Wellington.

In February, the Canadian countryside has its own kind of beauty and features – glistening snow, starry skies, solitude and peace, among them.

But who would say the freezing cold and silent land conjures up visions of agriculture?

Hardly anyone. Opposite, in fact.

“Bad weather and the lack of fresh produce makes people often forget that there’s still lots of local food to be found this time of year,” says Christina Mann, Taste Real program coordinator for Wellington County.

Indeed, she says, most of high-profile food promotion events and activities are held during what’s thought of as the local food season, which spans the spring through the fall. But that out-of-sight, out-of-mind perspective is poised to change. In fact, it’s the very reason why a middle-of-winter date, when nothing appears to grow anywhere in this country, has been chosen for Canada’s first-ever national agriculture day.

The architects of the February 16 event — Agriculture More Than Ever, Agriculture in the Classroom and Farm & Food Care — want to send a message that farming is a year-round pursuit, even when few can see it.

Admittedly, farming activity is not as obvious to people as it is during the other three seasons, when crops are being planted, or when fields are full of crops, or when farmers’ markets are teeming at harvest.

But so much takes place regardless of the season — among other things, livestock farming, food processing and agri-food research, for example.

And for crop producers, the horizon is never far away.

“Farmers use this so called ‘down time’ to gather key information and insights to ensure the coming season will be as productive as possible,” says Guelph agri-marketer Len Kahn. “In the winter, many farmers attend trade shows and conferences, spend time with farm publications and web sites, visit with company sales representatives, and research key agronomic, marketing and input decisions. They’re very busy!”

And there’s the matter of farming pride. It never hibernates; it’s present every season. University of Guelph food laureate Anita Stewart says Canadian agriculture day should be a pride-filled celebration of both the ingredients and the daily efforts of farmers here.

“We are truly blessed to have it all,” she says. “Producers make Canadian cuisine exceptional, from coast to coast to coast.”

On Wednesday, Stewart will tell stories about her experiences with our country’s agriculture and food sector at 7 p.m. at the Guelph Museum, as part of the Building Canada lecture series. Her address is called “Canada IS Food: From Grease Trails to a Mars Mission: The building of a culinary nation.”

It’s a wonderful prelude to national agriculture day, and a complement to Canada’s Food Day, another fine nation-wide initiative that takes place in August, with back to Stewart’s launch of the World’s Longest BBQ nearly 15 years ago.

This month, Taste Real is launching an awareness campaign called Eat Up Your February. It’s designed to showcase local food options, and support farms and food retailers in the winter months.

Selected locations throughout Wellington County and Guelph are offering specials, deals, local food menus and samples as part of the Taste Real Experience. Participants include Frabert’s Fresh Foods in Fergus, Dixon’s Distilled Spirits in Guelph and the Ignatius Community Shared Agriculture initiative.

All this amplifies the message that farmers, local and afar, never really stop producing food. This month, we get another chance to say thanks.