Wafts of smoky chicken drift from the barbecue as a lone fiddler fills the air with a lively reel. Grapes still heavy on the vines at Frogpond Farm are transformed to glowing jewels as the sun dips low in the evening sky. White linen and local organic food are a fitting end to a perfect autumn day as thirty guests gather in the long shadows for an intimate vineyard dinner.
“We started here ten years ago.” Jens Gemmrich explains of his certified organic farm and winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “We were the first organic winery in Ontario. All our neighbours called us crazy.” Now, in addition to his work onsite, he acts as a consultant to a number of other growers in the Niagara region.
“I always wanted to do something like this, but never had the time,” he says of the dinner party. “When the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) approached me to be the first venue for their organic dinner series, I was happy to let them take care of the details.”
It is easy in the fading light in this little Shangrila, to overlook the challenges to local organic farmers: competition from cheap, factory-farmed food, development pressure on prime farmland, and the release of genetically modified seeds that threaten the diversity and resilience of organic crops. The vintner, the chef and the executive director of the OCO, though, remind us all why we are here, enriching the meal with candid conversations on these issues, and giving us all serious food for thought.