It may be a little off the beaten path, but you’ll know when you’re driving past Quaker Oaks Farm. The colourful converted garage that houses the store backs onto lush gardens and an animal sanctuary. Behind that extends Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park, the second-largest park in Ontario south of Algonquin. A large statue of Betty Boop by the roadside directs traffic into the lot.
“If Betty’s not out they think we’re closed,” says Mark Spurr, co-owner of Quaker Oaks along with partner Judy Spurr. While I peruse the menu (over a dozen varieties of hand-stuffed olives!), Mark tells me this is actually the third Betty Boop statue he’s owned, which segues into a story about how the first was badly damaged and had to be repaired at an auto body shop. Looking at the collection of knick knacks, treats, and curiosities I get the impression that most items in this eclectic, self-described “hippie shop” have a story or an ethos behind them.
For instance, I’m here because Quaker Oaks is one of the furthest flung stops on the Butter Tart Tour, a series of routes connecting over fifty locations across Kawarthas Northumberland where you can stop for a uniquely Ontarian pastry. Quaker Oaks makes their tarts as a tribute to Mrs. Waldron, a figure from Judy’s childhood who taught her to bake. A photo of Mrs. Waldron adorns the tart display case, and her recipe will please fans who prefer a runny tart. “We say ‘Don’t eat and drive!’” Judy tells me when I ask where she comes down on the runny-versus-set spectrum.
As delicious as they look, I’m having trouble focusing on just tarts when there’s an embarrassment of riches all around me. Apart from the aforementioned olives, the Spurrs offer a variety of sandwiches that include vegan and gluten-free options, imported and domestic cheeses, certified organic meats, and old-fashioned candies. That’s only counting the edible options – the giftware selection includes vintage toys, wind chimes, essential oils, funky socks, postcards, board games, used books, and probably a dozen other things I missed.
“We came up here and built a store but we’d never been storekeepers so we didn’t know how to build a store. It turned out like this — cheap wallpaper,” Mark says, gesturing at the classic sixties and seventies album covers that decorate the walls. “They create a lot of conversation, especially with people our age. And young kids love the vinyl.”
Mark’s being modest about his entrepreneurial skills. He and Judy operated Riverdale Farm, the working farm in Toronto’s Cabbagetown, until 1997 when they left the city in pursuit of a more rural lifestyle. “This was our garage. Converted it into a little veggie stand and it’s just grown,” Judy adds. She points out some beeswax products near the counter, which were produced by an eighteen-year-old beekeeper. “I love supporting young entrepreneurs, and that’s what I want to do with the art – give young people the opportunity to carry on in the direction of what they like to do.”
Ethical considerations are woven into the fabric of Quaker Oaks. Although the animal sanctuary side of the farm isn’t open to public tours, some of the animals are visible in the nearby fields. Rescued from closed farms or untenable conditions, the animals will live out the rest of their lives on the property. When I visited the Spurrs had recently adopted four peacocks from an abandoned farm near Georgetown, and Mark and Judy’s long-term plans include developing one of their outbuildings into an art therapy destination. Even the punning name has a deeper meaning, derived from the combination of Mark’s pacifist Quaker upbringing and the sturdy oak trees that grow on the property.
Suffice to say if you like eccentric and artistic hotspots, Quaker Oaks is worth a visit. The farm sits at the northwestern edge of Kawartha Lakes, just east of Sebright at 789 Monck Road. Being out-of-the-way is part of the charm, but there are plenty of options in the region to help make a daytrip of it. Quaker Oaks has the dual distinction of being a stop on the Butter Tart Tour as well as the Arts and Heritage Trail, a network that connects studios, artisan shops, and venues through Kawartha Lakes. You could easily sling together some gallery visits on your way through, or stop in nearby Kirkfield for a visit to Lock 36. The second lift lock along the Trent-Severn Waterway after Peterborough’s Lock 21, it’s an impressive feat of engineering that doubles as a nifty spot to picnic. Birders will want to stop at Carden Alvar Provincial Park, a globally rare ecosystem and officially designated Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (see our article on Birdwatching in Kawarthas Northumberland for more).
Even as I leave I’m cooking up an itinerary that will give me an excuse to come back. There are too many flavours of tarts and olives to try, more offbeat stories attached to the decorations I’d like to hear. I’d like to see the gardens in full bloom, and taste the veggies Mark and Judy’s son Aden grows for his CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) program. I’d like to see how the ambitious side projects have progressed since I stopped in last, and maybe take away a little inspiration from the atmosphere of possibility Quaker Oaks creates.