An Unexpected Journey to Reconnect with Roots
By: Tanya Broschinski (3rd year UGSRP intern)
Food is essential to human survival. Our ancestors’ lives were built around food production and acquisition: hunting, gathering and farming. We have come a long way in our production of food with modern technologies and farming methods allowing for a large quantity of food production.
There seems to be a disconnect, however, with the quality of our food production. The increase in highly processed food has been accompanied by a rise in disease and digestive issues relating to our diets. There is a wide gap between the farmer and the consumer and many people don’t seem to understand where their food comes from; how it’s produced; and, the importance of these two things in relation to the quality of food.
There are currently two methods of farming; conventional and organic. Conventional farming was introduced as a way to grow more food and feed more people. Unfortunately the increase in food production has only increased our waste. World hunger is at an all time high while we abuse the land by soaking up all the nutrients it has to offer without replenishing them naturally. This way of farming is unsustainable and the earth’s resources will not be sufficient for this level of consumption much longer.
I had the amazing opportunity to talk with Anahita Belanger, a local organic farmer and environmentalist. She has been on a fascinating journey to discover the importance of how our food is grown for our health and the health of the environment. Her journey to organic farming has been a winding road that took an unexpected turn.
Mrs. Belanger said she “was constantly denying the urge to be in nature and farming”. Fascinated by nature she took her general biology degree at Dalhousie and moved to Toronto to work at various University of Toronto hospitals. While working in the lab she began to learn how environmental forces like vitamins and micronutrients effect and impact the production of cancer cells. Many people no longer connect different diseases to insufficient nutrient intake through diet.
After working at the hospitals, she wasn’t quite ready to pursue her farming career. Mrs. Belanger began working in the U.K. selling organic food to major retail chains. She travelled to different farms throughout England to find a group of dairy farmers to work with. Organic food was becoming more popular in England as they had just been hit with mad cow disease. After these incidents people finally began connecting diseases to the manner in which their food was produced.
While she was working the cattle were hit again by disease – hoof and mouth disease. “The world had turned upside down; no one was allowed to travel; herds were going down fast; there were mass graves of torched animals; and, farmers wore hazmat suits”. It was somewhat
comparable to our current COVID situation, except that it hit the food chain instead. Farming practices were greatly impacted and Mrs. Belanger found herself moving to Toronto.
In Toronto she began working in the energy efficiency sector because she wanted her work to help make an impact combating climate change. Shortly after this change she realized that if she wanted to have a positive impact on the environment, the best way to do that was through organic farming.
The conventional farming industry produces about 10% greenhouse gas emissions and the chemical sprays used cause damage to the surrounding environment1. Mrs. Belanger began supporting local organic farms by purchasing organic foods for her kids, but when she went to visit the farm everything changed. She finally realized her calling meant a lot more than switching to an organic diet. She knew she had to get involved.
With that Mrs. Belanger and her husband began looking for land and bought a property that came up for sale near her cousin. She is working towards developing her farm into an active, productive ecosystem where all aspects work together to ensure the best quality produce without negatively impacting the environment. Currently she is growing apples, raising hogs and chickens, and is growing a large vegetable garden. She hopes to start working on developing Canada’s largest forest farm. This will foster a natural ecosystem as hogs would naturally exist in forests.
You can support the Belanger family through her cousin’s online farm store where they have plenty of organic meats and vegetables for sale. Check out the website here: https://www.belangerorganicfarms.com/.
The farm isn’t all Mrs. Belanger has planned for bringing sustainable food options to your dinner plate. She is now the food and beverage director for the Vetta Spa and is working on a farm to table food and beverage program. Vetta Spa is an authentic Nordic spa experience with a focus on re-connecting people to nature. It will be opening in Horseshoe Valley Ontario in the summer of 2021.
After reflecting on customers’ feedback requesting prepared meals she was toying with the idea of renting a commercial kitchen and partnering with a chef. The next day a potential partner walked into her life introducing her to his idea for the spa.
Eric Harkonen is a mining engineer and entrepreneur. He and his sister originally envisioned the idea of the Nordic Spa. After losing his sister to cancer almost three years ago he moved forward on the plans to make their dream become reality. There are plans for three restaurants in the spa all of them locally sourced organic with a theme of being authentically Finnish and proudly Canadian.
The goal of the spa is “to enable a deep connection with nature. Vetta is that “ahhh” feeling you get when you leave distractions behind and ease yourself into a hot tub surrounded by beautiful field and forest views”. The local community is very excited about this new relaxing addition to the area. Not only will it help support local farmers, but it will also encourage people to reconnect with their roots in nature through sustainable food. For more information on the Vetta Spa visit http://www.vettaspa.com.