18 Oct

It’s just past noon on Sunday October 16. The line-up of cars waiting to park at Diane and Bill French’s Farm in Honeywood, Ontario, is so long that people are abandoning their vehicules on Highway 124 and trekking the last few kilometres in rubber boots.

As I roll down the car window to take a site map, a mean wind whips in through the gap.

It’s not what you’d call a nice day for a picnic.

And yet the people keep coming.

The Frenches’ farm is among the last of four in the area that hasn’t been bought in recent years by the US hedge fund-backed Highland Companies.

Initially the Highland Companies said they were buying up land in Melancthon Township to run a large cooperative potato farm. But once they reached 7,000 acres, they filed for permission to excavate a limestone mega quarry–twice the width and 1.5 times the depth of Niagara Falls.

Since then they’ve been burning down farmhouses, windmills and barns on their newly acquired properties in preparation for this project on an unprecedented scale. If it goes ahead, the mega quarry will divert 600 million litres of fresh water a day from the area–a quantity that would otherwise meet the daily needs of over 1 million people.

Diane and Bill smile, pink-cheeked and glowing, at the people filing through their farm gates. “Thanks for coming,” they call out to strangers; friends get a hug.

I ask the couple what will happen to them if the mega quarry goes ahead.

Diane’s mouth droops and she looks away.

“If they removed our groundwater, which they say they’re going to do, we wouldn’t be able to grow crops,” says Bill.

“And with the blasting six days a week…” says Diane, shaking her head.

“We’re selling crops like strawberries, rhubarb, peas–things that grow above the ground,” explains Bill. “Blasting and dust would really affect the crops.”

Both fall silent for a moment before Diane spells it out:

“We would not be able to farm here any more.”

This region, one and a half hours’ drive north of Toronto, provides most of the potatoes consumed in that city and its surrounding suburbs and towns. The mineral-rich soils also nourish great crops of apples, root vegetables and greens as well as the lush grass on which beef cattle graze.

Nearly 100 chefs have turned up at the Frenches’ farm today to show their solidarity and showcase the local bounty that stands to be lost.

As I wait in line for Toronto chef Paul Boehmer’s pork burgers with fruity chutney and smoked cheese, large cold raindrops start coming down hard and fast.

One little boy has to be pulled out of a fresh mud pool by his overall straps. There’s a great burp-like squelch as his welly boots come unstuck. Everyone laughs. A few moments later a group of twenty-something girls break into song. “I can see clearly now the rain has gone,” they tinkle optimistically, hopping from foot to foot and rubbing their damp-gloved hands.

By the time we’re clutching our pork sliders, the sun has broken through the clouds.

The smell of smoking hickory drifts through the woods, as does the strong, clear voice of Sarah Harmer, who like Ron Sexsmith, Jim Cuddy and many other well-loved Canadian musicians lends support from the main stage today.

Children laugh and dart among the skinny trees.

I stand in line for spiced veggie stew, juicy pulled pork and thick cream of potato soup ladled from a giant pumpkin with  “NO MEGAQUARRY” carved into its skin.

Here, stuffing your face is a legitimate act of protest.

Chef Michael Stadtlander is the man behind the pumpkin–and the event. Normally he’ll cook for just twelve diners at a time at his swanky country restaurant, Eigensinn Farm–for close to $300 a head. Today he feeds thousands–just for showing up.

But every visitor will have slipped a ten- or a twenty- or a fifty-dollar bill into an envelope at the gate, to help pay legal fees and cover environmental inspections in the fight to stop the mega quarry. Although to keep things in perspective: it took ten million dollars–and thirteen years of fighting–for the town of Caledon, Ontario, to kill the James Dick Quarry proposal in their neck of the woods just last year.

Still, this is a good start. No, a great start–for the coffers and morale.

“As we were setting up yesterday, we weren’t even convinced we’d see ten people show up,” says Bill, laughing, as people start to head home.

The final head count on this cold, wet October afternoon? Around 30 thousand.

“Do you think you’re going to win this battle?” I ask on my way out.

“We are,” says Bill.

“We are,” says Diane.

She can’t stop grinning.

“I know it in my heart.”

I get to the car just as the hail starts pelting.

On the warm drive home, I look out at all the fields and private gardens where No Megaquarry signs have been planted.

And then at the rainbow.






26 Responses to “Foodstock”

  1. Georgs Kolesnikovs October 18th, 2011 at 8:24 AM #

    Wonderful coverage, Val, of a story that has just started to unfold. As you suggest, many years of work and many millions of dollars will be needed to stop the proposed destruction in Melancthon..

  2. signe October 18th, 2011 at 9:14 AM #

    Goosebumps, Val. You gave me goosebumps. First Jim Cuddy and the cold rain, now you.

    We can’t let this terrible thing happen.

  3. pat anderson October 18th, 2011 at 9:33 AM #

    Well done, Val! Some articles have pretty much left out the reason for the event — I’m glad to read yours.

  4. The Greater Goods October 18th, 2011 at 10:18 AM #

    Great piece! I won’t lie – I’d heard of the ‘megaquarry’ and knew that people opposed it, but wasn’t entirely sure what it was until reading your piece. Thanks!

  5. Sandi October 18th, 2011 at 10:28 AM #

    Val – thanks so much for following this issue and coming up to see the latest success in bringing it to the public. We’re thrilled that you covered it so eloquently and saw for yourself what’s at risk. Generations of Ontarians will benefit from the produce and water of this part of the province – only if we can protect it now. If we let this proposal start – it will be like a cancer and gobble up more and more land until only the profits for the Hedge fund investors remain. You’re photos tell it all. We have so much to lose and the best outcome is to have these lands and water stay exactly as they are now!

  6. organic dream October 18th, 2011 at 10:47 AM #

    Wonderful story. The powers that be must know food is more important than minerals. Love the pic also.

  7. Jill@FreestyleFarm October 18th, 2011 at 11:23 AM #

    What a wonderful account of an incredible day!

  8. Voula Halliday October 18th, 2011 at 11:42 AM #

    Yes Diane! Yes Bill!

    Val, this is such a perfect capture. Thanks for sharing it with us. I’m going to make sure everyone I know reads this blog of yours.

  9. Marnie Slavnik October 18th, 2011 at 11:52 AM #

    My husband, my son and I were there. It was amazing! The peace, calm and sense of comradery present were remarkable. Imagine 28,000 people gathered in one place waiting patiently in long lines for food, smiling, tripping in mud and loving every minute of it. The other amazing thing? No garbage. So glad we attended and immediately sent our postcards to the Environment Minister. Our immense thanks to everyone involved.

  10. Barbara Springgay October 18th, 2011 at 12:05 PM #

    Thank you, Valerie. You have captured the spirit as well as the happenings of this wonderful event to Stop the Mega Quarry. I, too, feel it in my heart that Ontarians will carry this through to the conclusion……no quarry, safe water for drinking, fish, and growing, prime land from which to feed ourselves, clean air, nesting areas for the Bobolink, etc. Hope to see future reports around the progress/process of the Environmental Assessment. Again, THANK YOU!!

  11. Emily October 18th, 2011 at 1:07 PM #

    Wonderful coverage. I wished to go but couldn’t. Now I feel like my spirit was there. Thank you.

  12. Debra jean October 18th, 2011 at 1:24 PM #

    Thanks for the great Honest coverage of a wonderful day filled with dedicated, hard working, talented, creative people who will continue to prove to others this is “our land”
    Well done.

  13. Patsy Leamon October 18th, 2011 at 2:45 PM #

    It was a thrilling, exciting day. I had forgotten how magnificent the scenery in this area is, a heaven on earth. Humans need water. Humans need food. Humans need this kind of beauty to rekindle the soul. Humans need soul to fight such obvious destruction. These lands need to be cultivated by farmers who produce so much for us and receive so little thanks. I hope they knew that we were showing support for them as well as our willingness to fight the quarry.

  14. Doug Kinsley October 18th, 2011 at 3:05 PM #

    Great Coverage for the right reasons. Lets hope those who have been protecting this land for so long are heard by the high and mighty in our province. The deception and underhandedness of those involved is so typical of the greed that is driving regular folks to protest these incursions and all the other “make a buck at anyone elses cost” . Lets hope common sense prevails and we keep our beautiful land

  15. Carl Michener October 18th, 2011 at 4:19 PM #

    Val, you capture the mood and the message. A beautiful photo essay, all the more impressive for having been shot, written and filed in the space of a day!

    Carl PS I saw the same rainbow! A real humdinger and portentous.

  16. Jeanette October 18th, 2011 at 4:32 PM #

    Wonderful wonderful writing. It describes the event so perfectly, and the cause!

    – From a local homeowner

  17. Trevor Lui October 18th, 2011 at 11:47 PM #

    Val, thanks for the great article. Chef Joe and I planned to prepare and dish out around 1500 portions of pulled pork sliders but the passion of the people kept us going. To see throngs of people young and old brave rain, sleet, heavy winds, hail and deep mud was so awe-inspiring. Unbeknownst to us, we did a quick calculation today and looks like we dished out over 3100 portions! If we could have kept going, we’d still be doing it! Thanks so much for the mention and the great pic of us…we’d do all over again but truly, we are hopeful it won’t have to be to draw awareness to protect our local food and fresh water.

  18. Jenn MacLellan October 19th, 2011 at 12:04 AM #

    My husband & I had the pleasure and honour to be a part of this amazing event, not only to show our support, but also enable our 8 year old son a Cub Scout in Shelburne, (along with 2 leaders and another Cub) stand behind something they believe in and understand that they can make a difference(unfortunately nobody could see their uniforms due to the weather lol) but that didn’t dampen the pride felt by our dedicated young citizens…As we enjoyed our chilly ride from the parking lot, my husband & I were so so impressed to over hear the conversation between two 8 yr old little boys all decked out in their uniforms, as to why we are here; why we don’t want the Mega quarry to come to “us”; the affects it will have on our water “Ya! like don’t they know we like our water!”
    This just can’t happen and the louder and further the word is spread the better!

  19. Valerie Howes October 19th, 2011 at 7:59 AM #

    It’s great to hear some of your stories here about what was truly an inspiring event. Thanks for all the kind words. Keep up the good work protecting the farmland!

  20. Rubin October 19th, 2011 at 1:21 PM #

    This is called Peoples power – keep up.

    • Rubin October 19th, 2011 at 1:22 PM #

      Hail to peoples POWER.

  21. cec silbernagel October 20th, 2011 at 8:55 AM #

    Such a remarkable event, the idea in the first place, the tireless behind the scenes work and efforts to pull it off, all the volunteers, the chefs, the ambiance in the woods, simply amazing. AND the proof that we, the people are not indifferent, are not apathetic, but that we are passionate and fervent about not allowing this destruction of our lands and water.

  22. John and Muriel Anderson October 21st, 2011 at 4:57 PM #

    Muriel and I, Geoff, Lorraine and Rosemary and others arrived by two school buses from Collingwood rather late to experience fully (we did get a taste!) the gourmet delights so eloquently and comprehensively captured in this account. Thank you very much for filling in for our imaginations what our (at any rate, my eyes and ears and willingness to stand in line) couldn’t provide.

  23. Sandy Spencer October 26th, 2011 at 3:36 PM #

    A wonderful, wonderful day. This fantastic day finally brought the Mega Quarry news to the attention of Torontonians. The potential disaster to our beautiful countyside, our water, and our crops has finally made an impact on many more people and hopefully the groundswell of enthusiastic support for our area will continue to grow and squelch the hopes of the hedge fund members. This is our land and our heritage – not for the profit of foreign profiteers!!

  24. david lowe November 1st, 2011 at 11:16 AM #

    Fantastic article and coverage. Very well done.

  25. al ro May 10th, 2012 at 11:42 PM #

    I aver I am sure these folks are well intentioned. Is this a fund-raiser for the needy!? Or just self-aggrandizement for Chef/farmer + Artist? 7 courses! C’m on! Bring/ take 6 doz homeless people up from TO, feed them, give them shelter overnt, return them to the city streets. At least, they will have had one good nt of food + rest, perhaps in some while!

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