Every Saturday morning, dozens of vendors and farmers wake up bright and early to sell their goods at the St. Lawrence Market. Here you’ll find farms showcasing their home-grown produce, and farm-raised meats. This weekend I reluctantly decided to wake up before noon and go check out what these people had to offer.
Unfortunately, Canada’s growing seasons are pretty short. I mean, we really only have 2 months of the year to harvest and we’re covered in snow with what seems like half a year. Naturally, the produce here was reflective of that. Turnips, parsnips, beets, mushrooms, and other root vegetables galore, but good luck finding a piece of fruit. Meat’s an all year business here, but I already went visited Thatcher Farm’s a few weeks ago so I thought I’d take a look at something else.
In the middle of the chaotic southern building of the market is Sheldon Creek Dairy. A local dairy farm located in Alliston, Ontario, Sheldon Creek specializes in non-homogenized, minimally pasteurized milk. Here you can also find chocolate milk, cream, kefir (a cultured milk beverage), yogurt and dips. A bottle of whole milk will run you about $5 plus a $2 deposit for their cute glass bottles which you can bring back to get refilled.
Now you’re probably wondering what’s so special about this milk? Well, first off, it separates. Normally milk is spun through a process called homogenization which breaks down the fat so it emulsifies better with the water. This stuff isn’t and it’s actually pretty convenient. If you need cream for something, just scoop it off the top, and if you want a full fat glass of milk, just shake it. Secondly, and probably the most desirable characteristic of this milk is that it’s pasteurized for as little time as legally allowed. Here in Canada, we are not allowed to sell raw milk for whatever reason. So they make farmers boil the ever living hell out of it, and the resulting product is what most people put in their cereal. I haven’t drank a glass of that stuff in over a year. Sheldon Creek is trying to keep their dairy as close to raw as possible heating to 73 degrees for only 16 seconds. This makes for what I would say, a sweeter and more wholesome tasting product. It’s also perfect for making yogurt, kefir, or cultured butter.
As a curious culinary student, the owner Marianne was kind enough to answer a tough question I had about the farming industry. Many thanks to her because her lineup was huge!
What would you say the most pressing issue for the farming industry is today?
“Well the average age of a Canadian farmer is 56 years old. There isn’t really any incentive of getting into this business when you could make $100,000 working five days a week. For us it’s a 24/7 job.”
I guess it’s just a labor of love.
“It really is.”
How would you propose we fix this?
“We need to focus on bringing people back to the farm but there are currently not many incentives to do so. ”
It’s a dying art. Soon those 56 year olds are going to turn 70 and will be looking at retirement with nobodies kids to replace them. We could be looking at a future of no food if the trend continues.
I thanked her for her time as I walked away with my spoils of cream, whole milk and chocolate milk.
The chocolate milk, which was intended to last me the whole week lasted about an hour. It was pleasantly sweet, and basically the dairy equivalent of crack.
As of writing this, I have about half a bottle of whole milk left and a bottle of cream which I intend to make cultured butter out of.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find normal store-bought milk kind of bitter and a little too sweet. I’m not sure if it’s due to the feed or the over-pasteurization but I just don’t like it. This milk however, I could drink right out the bottle and was a pleasant accompaniment to the cookies my girlfriend and I baked.
All food has its source. It’s more than just what you see on your plate or pick up off a shelf. Connecting with farmers and producers is in important step in appreciating the things you eat. Often we take these little things for granted but each ingredient you cook with has a team of people behind it that work just as hard as you do to provide it. Educating ourselves in how it’s made and where it comes from is the least we can do as consumers to thank these amazing people for all their hard work.