“Just start. Put some seeds in the ground and see what happens.”
That’s the advice Chef Jamie Kennedy had for urban farmers looking to make their start in the spring.
Kennedy, ambassador for Durham College’s Centre For Food, was at Bistro ’67 in Whitby on Dec. 1 for Durham’s “Dine with Jamie Kennedy Event.”
The event sold out. With 50 people paying $150 per ticket for the chance to meet with Kennedy and enjoy a four-course meal, prepared by students from Durham’s culinary program, using recipes from Kennedy’s new cookbook “J.K.”
The theme of the event was ‘from field-to-fork’, the raison d’etre of the Centre For Food at Durham. The hosts sung the praises of ‘going local’ and the quality of food grown in Durham region, as well as the skills being taught to culinary students.
Kennedy explained that his ‘field-to-fork’ commitment extends beyond his partnership with Durham College. As owner and operator of Gilead Café and Wine Bar in Toronto and Pleasant Valley Farm in Prince Edward County, Kennedy uses produce and ingredients from his own farm and other local sources for his restaurants as much as he can.
“There’s excellence in the engagement of local food,” Kennedy said, “[in Canada] we have all these influences from around the world and we can apply them to our practices here.”
Darrin Caron, dean of Durham’s Whitby campus, stressed the importance of using locally sourced food. During a brief tour of the dining room, he said that the grounds around Bistro ’67 would someday grow the food and ingredients used by the culinary students at the Centre For Food.
Kennedy had similar thoughts on the role local food production has to play in reigniting local economies, where farming was once prevalent, like in Durham region. Maybe this can change in the future.
“Through that local engagement, I think we’re going to find new economic realities in the local context.”
But, for someone looking to get their green thumb dirty for the first time, Kennedy says, “If you’ve got a piece of ground that you can use, then cultivate it and start planting. You will learn as you go.”
Kennedy knows this better than most. He recalled the struggles he had planting his own vineyard at his Prince Edward County farm for the first time in 2002. He lost almost his entire crop during the first two years he tried to grow grapes.
“I could not have known anything about it, except that I wanted to do it,” he said, “[I wanted] to do it from a distance. Living in Toronto and getting up to the farm on the weekends and expecting the vines to behave themselves. But it’s just not that easy. There’s a huge learning curve in starting something new, in anything.”
Practice makes perfect in farming, just as much as anything else.