I’ve gone to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair every November since 1994, but it has only been the past few years I’ve noticed all the gardening and agricultural displays. I’ve always focussed on the horses, occasionally noticing the dogs, cows and other creatures, but my interests have expanded recently, and now I search out the vegetable competitions and displays devoted to plants and farming equipment.
The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is when “country comes to the city,” the country being horses and their riders, every type of farm animal, cowboys, tractors and all things agricultural, and the city being Toronto.
Here are some of my top picks for gardeners to check out at this year’s Royal, which runs until Sunday, Nov. 10. If you do get a chance to visit, be sure to leave enough time for all the creatures visiting the big city, too — they don’t come around too often.
1) The Amazing Food Journey — It may be designed for children, but this educational maze showing how big farms are connected to grocery stores can teach all of us a thing or two about where food comes from. As gardeners, we may think we understand the process of growing food or grow it ourselves, but looking at the big picture and how food travels from the soil to the stores is a whole other story.
2) Agriculture competitions — Celebrating local food, these competitions showcase the best fruits, vegetables, honey, field crops and maple syrup. Peering at the displays of leeks, potatoes, wheat, onions and so on, I can’t really tell what has given one specimen the win over another, but it’s neat to see all the pride and effort that’s part of growing and displaying these products. Plus, there’s the traditional giant pumpkin and oddly shaped carrot showdowns that make you wonder how you could grow something like that in your own garden.
3) NatureFresh Greenhouse — This greenhouse is a working model with lots of tomatoes thriving inside, showing the technology and effort needed to grow vegetables year round. The display by NatureFresh, a family farm with 130 acres under glass in Leamington, Ont. (also known as tomato capital of Canada!), includes all the things they use to grow delicious tomatoes, including live bees, soil and screening samples, and coconut husk.
4) The many other exhibitors — From local food producers from Northern Ontario to schools like the University of Guelph promoting their horticulture and agriculture programs, there are lots of exhibitors that you likely won’t find anywhere but the Royal, all sharing the same passion we gardeners have for our land, animals, plants and food.