Nothing compares to the taste of fresh fruit—and for a few weeks in summer, Northumberland’s Moore Orchards is like an all-natural candy store. When their pick-your-own strawberries are in season visitors come from across the region and beyond, drawn by the quality produce and the chance to connect with the place their food comes from. What doesn’t get picked by customers goes into the local food scene in other ways, including helping Cobourg’s zero-waste grocery store Market & Smør achieve their sustainability goals. It’s a virtuous cycle that benefits both producers and entrepreneurs, not to mention consumers looking to eat healthy and eat local.
Moore Orchards owners Heidi and Patrick Behan have a serious track record when it comes to participating in the local food economy. Heidi’s parents started the farm in the seventies when she was still a child. “It began with planting the apple trees, but we were actually selling strawberries before the trees had many apples on them. So probably 40 years of strawberries,” she says. “It’s neat because it’s generational too. Kids that used to come with their grandparents now bring their little kids.”
“Heidi and I bought the farm in 2002, so that makes it 20 years this year for us,” Patrick adds. The couple chose to commit to the farming lifestyle in part thanks to the agreeable weather. Patrick credits being near Lake Ontario for the moderate climate, which shields the Behan’s farm from extreme hot and cold. In addition to strawberries and apples they produces raspberries, blueberries, pears, and plums, as well as more exotic haskaps—sort of like oblong blueberries with an intense, tart flavour.
The focus is on fresh produce, but the Behans also make prepared products like sweet apple cider and apple cider vinegar. Both fresh and prepared goods are sold at local groceries, including the aforementioned Market & Smør. “That’s quite an undertaking to start a grocery store,” Patrick says admiringly. “It’s not easy.”
If running a grocery store is hard, doing it with a zero-waste ethos takes an even bigger commitment. At 39 King St. E in downtown Cobourg, the effort is paying off. “It’s much easier and cheaper to throw everything out if you don’t want it anymore,” says Martket & Smør co-owner Montana DesJardins. “In traditional grocery stores there’s a saying called ‘stack it high, watch it fly,’ but you can see within the market we have really small displays of our fresh produce.” Instead of creating impractically large displays, Market & Smør’s emphasis is on quality, sustainability, and aesthetics on a manageable scale. When an item reaches peak freshness, it goes to the kitchen to be cut, juiced, or otherwise prepared and re-sold as frozen dinners, lunches to go, fresh juices, baked goods, and more.
Leftovers are reserved for farmers, who use any excess as feed for livestock. Nurturing a relationship with farmers was important to DesJardins and her partner Lucas Cleveland, both of whom were newcomers to the field when they pulled up stakes in Alberta and relocated to Cobourg. “We worked hard to build a community that knew who we were and what we were doing with a lot of transparency. We had to really prove ourselves to farmers.” Several years on, DesJardins says positive word of mouth has helped get their name out. “Now what’s happening after we’ve been in operation for three and a half years is that we have farmers coming to us.”
DesJardins and Cleveland undertook the project for different but complementary reasons. Cleveland’s experience in the restaurant industry exposed him the problem of food waste, and after seeing large volumes of food end up in the landfill he set out to make a zero-waste grocery store as “proof of concept.” For her part, DesJardins says her childhood taught her the importance of food access, and that the farmers and the general community could use a bridge to help facilitate that.
“We realize that not every farmer is good at selling and getting to the market. We wanted to give an option for them to just have a place to sell and let us take care of that for them so they can do what they’re really, really good at, which is farming.” Again, however, she’s quick to note the relationship is reciprocal. “It took us three years to do it, and in the meantime we ran the beach canteen and we got our brand name out there,” she says. “We were able to get to know our community and tell them what we wanted to do. What do you guys want in your market, what is a market to you? How do you want it to be laid out? I think had we opened up a market as soon as we got here it would’ve failed, but we listened to the community.”
As far as the name goes, DesJardins says it’s a reference to smørrebrød, a traditional Norwegian open-faced sandwich based on simple, nourishing ingredients. The idea of a dish that was beloved of both the working class and the culinary elite struck a chord with DesJardins and Cleveland, who served smørrebrød at their canteen before opening the market. Given the amount of rotation in Market & Smør’s offerings, DesJardins expect smørrebrød will make back onto the menu before long.
Meanwhile the focus remains on quality produce, which is why farms like Moores Orchards are so important. Market & Smør’s mission wouldn’t be possible without high quality local produce from hardworking people like the Behans. And when businesses like Market & Smør make it easier to access local food, the entire community stands to benefit—a pretty sweet deal all round.