One summer, as teenagers growing up in
Markham, Ontario, a friend and I ventured out into the
pick-your-own strawberry field at Whittamore's
Farm with suntan lotion, bottled water, and buckets in hand. We
spent the morning crouched down in the field finding and plucking
juicy red berries under a hot sun, and then went back to her house
to make a strawberry dessert and divide up the leftovers. I don't
remember exactly what we made, but it involved Cool Whip and it was
delicious - ever since, this farm has been one of my favourite
I love approaching the 220 acre farm entrance and seeing the acres
of fields teeming with fresh produce, the family activity area, and
of course, the market with a large assortment of seasonal hanging
baskets and flowers out front.
I'm finding it increasingly important to learn the stories behind
the food that we eat. Talking to farmers and brothers Frank and
Mike Whittamore, in addition to becoming extremely hungry, I wanted
to absorb the challenges, the inspiration, and the passion that
comes along with growing food. They took over the farm in the
1980s, but the farm has been in the family since 1804. The Lapp
family registered and cleared the land, and grew mixed crops 200
acres. From the early 1920s to the 1950s, Frank J. Whittamore sold
vegetables door-to-door in North Toronto. Frank's son Gilbert
bought a 50 acre farm on Steeles Avenue in southeast Markham, and
married Evelyn Lapp.
The pick-your-own farm started in the 1950s and was one of the
first in Ontario (if not in Canada), and is still one of the
largest. Pick-your-own operations had their heyday in the 1960s and
70s, and they deserve a resurgence. You can have a true
farm-to-table experience by picking your own strawberries,
raspberries, and a variety of vegetables. In the fall they
even have varieties of berries available, along with tomatoes,
peppers, and of course, pumpkins.
Inside the market are the Whittamore's own and
other local farms' vegetables and fruits, all very reasonably
priced and often better looking than large grocery store finds -
where even locally grown produce can be a little worse for wear
after trucking through central distribution centres. It's
nearly impossible to resist perusing the jams, chutneys, dressings,
marinades, maple syrup and pies in the bake shop.
Over the years they have expanded to offer
group tours and Whittamore's Fun Farm Yard, with farm animals, a
sand toy lot, tree fort, barn bouncer, pedal tractor track, mazes
and more. Their Pumpkinland opens the last full weekend of
September and runs through the month of October. The family
activities help make Whittamore's a destination, and kids love it.
There's no question that experiencing farms in a fun way is one of
the best ways to teach kids about making educated food choices.
However, it does make me think that there's perhaps a larger issue
reflected here… would their market (and similar ones) do as much
business without family activities attracting visitors?
Next time I go I'll also be armed with some recipes to try with my
purchases when I get home. Maybe one of these…Anna Olson's
Three-Bean Salad, or Laura Calder's
Whittamore's Farm is open daily.
8100 Steeles Ave. E.
Market posts are featured every Monday.
By Christine Stewart
Posted: Mon, Aug 11 2008