The greater Toronto area has a population of roughly 6.4 million people. Things like traffic and congestion are the largest concern for most people who live in the area. On the weekends, thousands of locals pack up their cars and head up the 400 highway to the cottage and enjoy some time off with friends and family before the work week begins again. However on the drive up north, many people don’t know that they are literally passing through an agricultural production powerhouse. The Holland Marsh is about an hour’s drive (with no traffic) north of Toronto and lies roughly only 40 miles from the downtown core. Almost a surreal scene, the major highway that carries thousands of people to and from the downtown core cuts the marsh right down the middle.
Hillside Gardens is one of the larger farms in the marsh. The “Before The Plate” documentary film crew was fortunate enough to be able to follow not one, but three of our ingredients for our plate back to this very farm. Carrots, onions, and celery are all large aspects of Hillside’s business, and each one played an important role in the dish.
For us, featuring farms that were big enough to show consumers what large scale production looked like was crucial. If we want to teach people about modern agriculture, we needed to show more than just small scale producers. Yet, contrary to what most people believe about modern agriculture, half the city has a front row seat to the whole operation. With no tall fences, the very definition of “big ag” is happening right in our own backyard and no one seems to mind. People feel comfortable because there is a sense of openness simply due to the proximity and infrastructure. Yet, when it comes to agriculture as an industry, consumers are still uneasy.
This brings about the important point we are trying to get across in “Before The Plate”: Farmers want to talk to you. They are trying desperately to answer your concerns, yet an effective platform where a relatively tiny portion (farmers) of the population can speak their voice has yet to be established. Who are the good guys? Who is paying for this? And who should I trust are all valid concerns the consumer has. For the length of the documentary, we decided to go with a “show don’t tell” ideology. We decided to forgo traditional narration in the effort for a more genuine experience, where consumers actually feel as if they are getting a tour of the farm.
Steven, the young farmer who took us on the tour and dove into the everyday life and workings of this amazing operation, said it best: “I think with a lot of marketing, consumers’ ideas are driven by fear factor, but we feed this food right to our kids.” We often forget that farmers have families too and there is no secret garden from which they feed their families. They truly believe in what they do, and this segment, like every other, brought its own unique perspective to the documentary.
Dylan Sher is the creator of the “Before The Plate” food documentary. To connect with “Before The Plate’s” journey, follow them on Facebook and on Instagram and stay tuned to AGDAILY.com. Click here to donate to “Before the Plate.”