Foodstock 2011

October 20th, 2011

“Foodstock” reports from local  CoC members :

“Foodstock was AMAZING. Estimated turn out was 28,000 people but I still believe it was more. I attended the event from start to finish and the line ups of people kept pouring in. Roots donated 1000 T-shirts with the Foodstock logo that were on sale for $10 each and that sold out really fast. I got mine. Cooks prepared for 20,000 people and they got that and more. A few of them ran out of food. This one chef had her table decorated with garlic and acorn squash so when she ran out of food, she fried her decorations up in butter. It was hilarious but I tried it and it was very tasty and tender.

The parking in the fields was full and folks were parking 2km away from the entrance along the highway to attend and the rain and muck didn’t slow down anyone. It only rained a couple of times with short intervals but it was very muddy and kids LOVED it. I never heard any of the kids at the event whine or cry. Even babies were fascinated by cauldrons of hot bubbling foods cooking over open fires under the canopy of fall leaves. There was really a euphoric feeling to the entire event. The more people came, the wider the smiles got. Everyone knew something special was happening here. The recommended donation was $10 per person but many folks gave more. If anyone wants to donate on line via PayPal, here is the link: http://nomegaquarry.ca/events/foodstock/

The people who attended ranged in age from newborns to 90+. People came from all across Ontario to attend. The smells were delicious and the food looked fantastic and tasted even better. They had everything under the sun: Elk, Wild Turkey, wild mushrooms, apricots in wine, Mexican hot chocolate mocha,  gourmet freshly roasted coffee and chai teas, sushi, handmade chocolates, fresh salads, beautiful dishes of roasted vegetables covered with remarkable sauces. Sauces laced with maple syrup etc. It was fantastic. They people came, they came and they kept coming but the way the event was spread out widely and with over 100 chefs busy cranking out the food everyone got fed. Waiting time to eat a dish was on the average 15 minutes per station but I made lots of friends during those line ups and the displays were grouped in about 5 stations per area. You line up at one end and work your way through and it’s like eating a mini 5 course meal with salad, appetizer, vegetable dish, main dish and soup/desert/beverage etc. When you’re done that section you go to the next.

“ The planners were so clever with their bring your own bowl and fork and cup idea because there wasn’t much issue with garbage at all. Most folks brought real bowls and forks, not the plastic stuff so litter wasn’t a problem. Great idea!”   – Louisette Lanteigne ( Waterloo)

“It must be added that the whole hardwood forest with the gold and rust fallen leaves of carpeting gave a festive air as we joined the thousands of others slowly crossing the land and forest. . Somewhere distant a bagpiper played The Maple Leaf Forever while the line.. “Our land of peace, where proudly flies, the Maple Leaf forever” seemed so appropriate. Dotted here and there among the trees, thedozens of food stations had chefs and teams chopping, stirring and serving their specialties while little fires nearby kept pots and pans bubbling. Emerging from the woods we found the Wellington Water Watchers supplying drinks as more musicians  thrummed the air. Then various speakers including Mark Calzavara, regional director of Council of Canadians, brought greetings from Maude Barlow as he emphasized the tremendous importance of our grassroots support….the support needed for water and food security.

Leaving this enchanted place took some time to wind ones way back to the car, past the people of all ages, colours and sizes. Boots were a definite bonus on the tramped and muddy paths but the volunteers never failed to cheer everyone on this cold, grey special day.  As we drove away, we noted the rolling hills and varied plains of old potato stubble, while Angus cattle chewed contentedly in lush green pastures beside harvested fields The point was made that this dark, rich soil is precious. And the moving headwaters beneath are essential to the cycling systems of Mother Earth that help sustain Ontario. How could protection of this not trump any plan to destroy it?      – Norah Chaloner (Guelph)

Oct. 17/11

Impressions of Yesterday’s Foodstock in Homewood:

Someone said there was a rainbow over the forest.  I never saw it.  But this is where we were able to enjoy a colour-filled progressive meal – tidbits carefully prepared by over 70 chefs and their teams.  Delicious. Unfortunately, I noticed one of the few organic vegetarian booths was closed by the time I arrived (c. 1 p.m.).  A sheepish female cook greeted me with “Sorry, I ‘sold out’ 40 minutes ago”.  On the other hand, many more people in long line-ups waited patiently to get their “taste-testers” up until the time I left: c. 3:45 p.m.

It was well attended.  They expected 20,000, and over 28,000 came and donated the minimum, $10, which got you access & parking, a ride from the parking lots on a hay wagon to the forest of foods, booths and visual & sound artists stands, and the main stage area where the well-known musicians (Lily Frost & Jose Contreras, Members the of Bare Naked Ladies, Jim Cuddy and Cuff the Duke, Ron Sexsmith, Sarah Harmer) entertained us from a trailer stage.  Most of the people stood (others sat on fold-up canvass chairs) and clapped and laughed and cheered to the performance, patter, and messages.

In the first instance, a message of power and thanksgiving was provided by Danny Beaton, as he from memory invoked the prayers of the Six Nation, noting all of the manifestations of the creator for which we needed to be thankful: from the plants, vegetables, to the birds and animals, to the water, Sun, Moon, and Earth herself, our Mother from whom we came and will return.  Indeed I, and many others were grateful for his recital by heart of that beautiful native prayer as well as his ability to adapt it to this audience and occasion.

Because I had to leave early to join my colleagues on the bus, I did not get to hear all the acts and messages, but here are three that really affected me.

1) Andrew T Queen, who in true folk style, entertained us by singing about foreign foods on our table.  He wryly sang that we should not need a passport to eat at home.  Then he proceeded to plug locally grown food in season.  Really well done; and “raw” too.

2) The “sister-in-law” of the owner of the host farmer on whose land we were gathering spoke passionately.  This land and surroundings were called “ground zero”, for it is exactly on that spot that the hedge fund from Boston proposes to dig out the limestone and make class A gravel and ship and sell it all over the world!  (As it turns out, I later met the brother-in-law owner and his wife whose business name is “D&C Vander Zaag Ltd.” — see below).  Her blonde hair was on fire with the wind she roundly denounced the project as none other than a “rape” of Mother Nature, and said that their intention as farmers was never to destroy the land but to hand it on to the next generation for their use and “stewardship” as she put it.  She echoed the native contention that we must tread lightly on the earth and make decisions for its well-being that look down the line to 7 generations.  Also in the same vein of a gesture of “oneness and letting go”, she said it was not a shame for those farmers who sold their land to the gravel pit developers. (Below see how they did this.)  Finally she pointed out that as Canadians we sing: “we stand on guard for thee”.  No better time to do just that when “Our Land” (and water) is under threat from foreign interests.  Someone observed from the crowd: “It’s 1812 all over again.”

3) Faisal Moola an eco-scientist from the David Suzuki Foundation also spoke.  He gave a passionate talk about the integrity and inter-connectivity of nature’s creatures and functions like the weather.  He also read a statement from David Suzuki who could not be there.  In it, the economic system was roundly exposed as an invention of the human mind which needs to be subordinated to the way Mother Nature provides and develops, sustains and renews the abundant life forms that come from the interaction of sun and soil, rain and seeds.  In an especially memorable part he had us do a thought experiment and then drew upon a whimsical image which he credited to a fellow woman scientist.  For the experiment he said: “Go home and remove 1/3 of the food from your ‘fridge. That represents the amount that would not be there if it were not for bees and pollinating insects and birds.”  Then he said, to get a bridge between this unacknowledged service to the economy (referred to by economists as “externals”) picture all the bee pollinators — and there are millions upon millions— “as $50 dollar bills flying around and working for the food on your table!”

In my wandering around the site I was meeting with a lot of strangers with whom I exchanged greetings and opinions and songs.  My spirit as well as my body was fed by this, as I felt a human connection amidst the very real threat to our locally produced food and our supply of pristine drinking water.  After all as they pointed out, this is the head waters (read re-charge area) for a lot of our rivers in S. Western Ontario, including the Grand).

In a concise summary of the impact of such a project which is, infamously, to become “the second largest quarry” in N. America (anybody know the first?) here is what they had to say on a poster (STOP the MEGA-QUARRY www.ndact.com) provided to the “Foodstock’ers”:

“About 100 kilometres from Toronto, The Highland Companies (shell companies backed by a Boston Hedge fund) are proposing to dig an initial 2,316 acre quarry (roughly half the size of downtown Toronto) on the approximate 8,500 acres they purchased allegedly for the growing of potatoes.

“Situated in the middle of the primary highlands of Ontario and bordering on the Niagara Escarpment (a UNESCO Biosphere), the land in question, some of the best food growing agricultural acreage in Canada, is threatened at a time food supply is more precious than ever.

“This area is the headwaters of five major rivers where crystal clear water flows south through central Ontario to the Great Lakes and north to Georgian Bay.

“600 million litres of clean drinking water (the equivalent of 25% of the water consumed daily in Ontario) will be diverted each day, kept in trenches and wells for three days and then returned in an unknown state to the aquifers that feed over a million people in central Ontario . . . and this will have to be done forever; generation after generation!

“One official objector said, Highland’s strategy is ‘Private Profits and Public Costs’!

“At 200 feet below the water table this is deeper than Niagara Falls, [and so would be…ed.] the largest quarry in Canada and the second largest quarry in North America.

“This has the potential to become a huge environmental tragedy turning Ontario into a globally recognized environmental ‘dinosaur’.”

Because I got disoriented on the site when I came to find my bus, I met, by accident, the owners of the farm who was hosting this event, D&C Vander Zaag”, a handsome couple with 4 young children; and another owner of a farm about a kilometre away, who appropriately introduced himself by saying that his name was “Peas”, just like the vegetable!  (The latter gave me a ride to my bus across deeply tracked and muddied fields – to the area where the buses were parked, again, about a kilometre away.)  We slithered through the wet “honey loam”, avoiding a brown sedan spinning its wheels, stuck; in one of those green and yellow John Deere mud buggies or All Terrain Vehicles (ATV).

“From the farmers’ mouths”, then I learned that the Vander Zaag’s were a hold out to the buying scheme of Highland Companies and ended up being “an island in the midst of Highland properties”.  Offered millions, they refused to sell “because it is not right”.

I learned that the Highland Companies got a leg up on the process when they bought out “Downey’s” farms, a conglomerate consisting in over half (4,500 acres) of their present holdings.  The “Downey’s” thought they were selling to a big potato producer, but the truth came out when the neighbours noticed that they were drilling deep holes into the limestone rock.  “You don’t do that if you’re intending to grow potatoes,” wryly observed my mud buggy chauffeur, after he picked up another few passengers and put them in the back.

I also learned the Highland Companies were not beneath buying out the debt from a creditor of a farmer in whose land they had an interest.  That way they could pressure them to sell.  As you might imagine, they used other “divide and conquer” strategies to pit neighbour against neighbour.

I learned too the reason for this great fund-raising event, the inspiration of which could be traced to Michael Stadtlander, a chef.  It ended up in a great alliance of field and table; the farmers against the mega-quarry with the Canadian Chef’s Congress.  The reason pure and simple: they need the money to fight the case in court.  For now, my chauffeur explained as he negotiated yet another river of muddy honey loam, the expense on the Highland side is tax-deductible; “for us it comes out of before tax dollars”.

Legal expenses could run into over a million.

So I left ground zero full of admiration for these farmers and their friends the chefs and artists.  Though I saw no rainbow I saw two pots of “gold”:

The first is the land and water and the high class porous limestone underneath.  It is a renewal and sustainable food pot for self-reliance for Canada, and Ontario in particular, guarded by the farmers and their families.   The second is the money we left there in large barrels for them to begin to win back Class 1 farmland for local food for us.

The bonus: I left with a good taste in my mouth…….a ringing of hope and truth in my ears:  the words of gratitude in the Six Nation prayer for all of nature, even humans, recited by heart by Danny Beaton, and the words of my host, who beside his wife, (D&C Vander Zaag) and surrounded by 28,000 Canadians supporting the struggle for land, food, and water, said to me: “Thanks for coming!”

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