Food and Farming at Durham College: from Farm Tour to Field to Fork

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gallery on the Farm - taken by Josie Di Felice“Make mother nature work for you,” Eric Bowman told a visiting Durham College Horticulture class on his farm one crisp Friday morning last month.

The 2-year Food and Farming program, based out of the Whitby Campus — home to the college’s Centre for Food (CFF) — comes as part of the school’s vision of Field to Fork.

Field-to-fork is a concept based on the harvesting, storage, processing, packaging, sale and consumption of local food for local consumers. Durham College has adopted this concept and ingrained it in various programs.

The horticulture program in particular has classes with diverse focuses itself: from soil and plant nutrition to product development, from varying fruit and vegetable production to food and agriculture regulations, the program prepares students from all walks of life to enter varying stages along the food and farming chain. Many of the young students are interested in farming themselves, and the intimate group of them at Eric’s Gallery on the Farm all have varying levels of knowledge coming in to it. They are the class of 2017.

It was a regulations and policies class led by Marlene Werry that visited Gallery on the Farm last month. In conjunction with the in-class learning, this is one of the field trips that the CFF students venture on throughout the year. As students eagerly and continuously ask questions throughout the visit with Eric, it’s clear how valuable these on-the-field learning opportunities are.Gallery on the Farm Tour - taken by Josie Di Felice

Eric talked with students about his organic methods, certification, the various type of beef cattle on his farm, and his valued experience gained over the years (including some tips), all while taking the students around the farm to see the cattle up close, the moveable fencing, the hefty equipment (giving particular praise to the baler), the cold storage and the popular gift shop.

Students were quickly quizzed on the agricultural uses of Eric’s farm: crops & beef? Ag-use. Cold storage? Ag-related. Gift stop? On-farm diversified! As the farm is on prime agriculture land, we know that means the gift shop, even though it is well-known, isn’t the primary profit. Of course, beef is #1 here.

The farm was purchased by Eric’s grandfather in 1929 – the start of organic farming for Bowmanview Farms. Their farm falls in the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Morraine. Three generations of Bowmans were all active 4H members and/or leaders. Previously a dairy farm, in 2005, Eric and his wife Jennifer decided to change course, replacing the dairy herd with a certified organic beef herd.

Gallery on the Farm tour - taken by Josie Di FeliceEric has a palpable passion for sustainable farming, caring for his animals, for keeping up with the latest methods, and finding techniques of his own – a passion that is surely contagious and encouraging for students. He takes the opportunity to highlight the importance of farmers’ work to the class, and the hours farmers put in to feed people. He refers to farmers as “endangered species”.

The college’s field-to-fork vision evidently hopes to defend any threat of endangerment.

Fittingly, after joining the Food & Farming class on a tour of the popular Durham Region farm, we had the pleasure of dining at Bistro 67, the inspiring restaurant in the Centre For Food. Bistro 67 is the melting pot of all that happens here: the agricultural classes are growing some of the food (you can see the greenhouses out the windows), culinary students are cooking the food, and hospitality students are serving it.Durham College Greenhouses - taken by Josie Di Felice

The greenhouses out the window are the backdrop to our fresh salad appetizer.

In addition to the classes, field trips and greenhouses, students also have access to specialized laboratories and kitchens. And since opening in September 2013, the learning centre hasn’t really stopped growing, with expansion to include the greenhouses, orchards, agricultural fields and more.

The College also hopes to amp up its research efforts, with Marlene Werry setting her sights on field research at the Oshawa campus, with a particular interest in Hops.

It’s no doubt an exciting time in agricultural education and research, and it seems as though Durham College has a firm grasp on it all. (On your way up to Bistro 67 this time of year, be Durham College Centre for Food - taken by Josie Di Felicesure to stop on the main floor to see the life-sized gingerbread house made by the students!)

If you’d like to learn more about the Horticulture program or the Centre for Food, be sure to visit the Durham College website. The GHFFA is sure to keep an eye on what seems to be constant development coming from this centre of innovative ideas and agricultural education.