More than 300,000 visitors flow through the doors of Toronto’s Exhibition Place during the two-week Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, held this year from November 3 to 12.
For several local businesses, it’s an opportunity to showcase what they do best for a larger market than they’ll find in Muskoka. And being part of FedNor’s Northern Ontario Agri-Food Pavilion also makes it affordable for small business owners.
FedNor — the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario — has invested $488,901 in the 17th annual Northern pavilion to allow 50 businesses from Ontario’s north to participate. Among them are local vendors Best Ever Food (nuts and seeds prepared and packaged in Port Sydney), Four Season Greens (Port Sydney), The Frying Dutchman Co. vegan food truck (Huntsville), Morgan House Wool Works Studio (wool art from Huntsville) and Wild Muskoka Botanicals (Dwight), along with four other vendors from Muskoka.
“I have to pick a lot of my plants in the summer season, so it’s difficult for me to participate in all of the farmers’ markets and events in Muskoka,” says Gilmour. “When I could be making money, I need to be doing my harvesting and my processing. So it’s great to take one of my slow times and get access to this larger market.”
The company, which crafts artisan wild foods and cocktail mixers, has developed a bit of a following at the Royal. “People really like the flavours and that it’s something unique,” says Gilmour. “And the idea of foraging is growing, so people appreciate that and also that it’s authentically north.”
Pam Carnochan of Morgan House Wool Works Studio is at the Royal for the fifth year, just for the first half of the show (November 3-7) and has also noticed past customers returning to say hello. She started going because “someone had come to my studio and invited me because I had a weird agricultural business that uses raw product from her own farm.” Carnochan harvests wool from her own sheep and creates fibre art with their fleece, which she’s dubbed watercolour with wool.
She’s continued going to the Royal because “it means that I have a gateway into the Toronto market and, because it’s connected with this group, it has the legitimacy.” FedNor’s funding also makes it affordable for her to be there, she adds.
Carnochan notes that the Northern pavilion is “interesting because it’s the most innovative and engaging part of the show if you want unique product lines. There are all kinds of wonderful things.”
One of those wonderful things, new this year, is Huntsville’s own vegan food truck, The Frying Dutchman Co. Arriving at the Royal tomorrow (November 8) through the end of the show, daughter-mother owners Leanna Zylstra-Bigwood and Sandra Zylstra will be introducing fairgoers to their unique business.
“We are one of only five vegan food trucks in all of Ontario,” notes Zylstra-Bigwood. “We opened up on July 8 and we had a really wonderful season. I’m hoping to promote the business and let people know that there is vegan food in Muskoka.”
Their booth at the Royal was an unexpected surprise. When she tried to apply, Zylstra-Bigwood found that there was no space available, but then two weeks ago she learned that a spot had opened up in the last half of the show. She jumped at it.
Zylstra-Bigwood and her mom opened the food truck because they saw a gap in what was being offered locally. “A lot of people are interested in their health, in the environment, and in animal welfare and all three of those things are what veganism is about. I wanted to offer Muskokans an opportunity to try vegan food that they have probably never tried before, or to provide those vegans and vegetarians who are in this area with something wholesome and comforting that they can just stop and get.”
They’ll be selling a few of their food truck wares at the Royal, including baked goods, brownies and chocolate chip cookies “which are to die for”, says Zylstra-Bigwood. And for barbecue lovers, there will also be BBQ pulled jackfruit. “It’s a fruit from Thailand and when you cook and marinate it and spice it, it’s almost exactly like pulled pork,” she says.
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