Friday, October 4, 2013

Harvest Highway Part 1: Windsor

Also see Part 2: Greenwich and  Part 3: Port Williams

It’s a shame that in within Halifax, city of trees, there is not a single public orchard to speak of. What this means for our city raised youngsters is that they can develop a disconnect between the food they see every day and its place of origin. Books and family gardens can help, but nothing can compare to seeing with one’s own little eyes the row-upon-row, acre-upon-acre vastness that is food in the making. There’s no better real life sensory experience than feeling the earth with your hands, running (or toddling) between corridors made of fruit trees, hiding in the hollows made by low hanging branches, and being free to pluck fruit right off a plant. You scarcely need words for this learning experience. Your child will observe, “Here is a tree, and here is an apple. I pull it, and I can eat it.” Suddenly, your child realizes, all the picture books weren’t kidding. 

Luckily Haligonians are only a short drive away from the portion of the 101 affectionately known to locals as the Harvest Highway. Around every turn there is a farm so breathtaking that you’ll realize you haven’t seen fields so green and skies so blue since the last time your Windows XP desktop was set to default.
But where exactly should you go to treat your tots to some hands-on harvesting? Every farm has its own unique history and character. So on the last weekend in September, Blue and I set out down the 101 on a “farm crawl” to test out seven of the most popular farms open to the public. 

First let’s have a look at the map, just in case these rural zones confuse your GPS. If you are traveling out of Dartmouth, be sure to take Magazine hill to the 101. The Circumferential exit to the 102, as my neighbours discovered as they arrived in Truro, will not take you to the Annapolis Valley.
Our first stops are in Windsor, about 45 minutes away from Halifax. Take Exit 5 toward the Evangeline trail until you get to King Street, or you can take Exit 5A and west down Wentworth Street toward O’Brien, which becomes King Street. We will meander down College Road, 400 to be exact, to Howard Dill’s Farm, home of the Dill’s Atlantic Giant, the world’s largest variety of pumpkin. 

Giant vegetables are the stuff that dreams and fairy tales are made of. Children love giant anything, even if it is a vegetable. From Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, to Jack’s Beanstalk, James and the Giant Peach or Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin, giant food is certain capture your little one’s imagination.

It's exhilarating to choose your perfect future jack-o-lantern from within the grade A selections they have perched upon pumpkin pyramids. Visitors are gently barred from trampling the giant pumpkins gardens by a polite sign and a tiny string fence, so put your little one on your shoulders and he just might catch a glimpse of the next “world’s largest” still incubating. You'll marvel at how these farmers know how to sustain precious life; if you’re lucky you might even spot one of the oldest and most resilient cats who ever pushed his nine-lives to the limit.

At Dill’s you will also find jarred preserves, souvenirs, baked goods and gourds. You can take home your own ottoman sized pumpkin for about $25, or even a giant fifty pound watermelon. “What would I do with a fifty pound watermelon?” you ask. Grab a tarp, a big knife and a handful of spoons. Slice it in two and Bam! The easiest and most fun meal your kids’ mom ever came up with. 

Despite the title, “Giant Pumpkin Farm”; Dill’s is actually a very small farm. There is little more walking required than a trip to the store. You won’t be exhausted, unless of course you get macho and carry one of those giant suckers to your car in one arm, children in the other. Either way it won’t take long, so you might as well head on down the road to complete full the harvest trifecta of pumpkins, apples, and corn.
This time you’ll go back out to King Street (South on the Evangeline trail) and go about 400 metres to get to Highway 14. Turn right and follow the signs to Daniel’s U-Pick (4473 Highway 14, Windsor). It’s practically across the road from Ski Martock.
Daniel's U-Pick with Ski Martock visible in the background.
Daniels U-Pick can be described in two words: simple and scenic. This hidden gem hasn’t got all the bells and whistles that attract tourists to other U-Picks, but what it does have is spectaular panoramic views of the countryside and rolling hills. Instead of displaying admission prices, accepted credit cards or directions for parking, the signage at Daniel’s quaintly touts the merits of apples. “Apples have no cholesterol” says one folksy hand-painted board. “Pesticide Free!” says another, with a smiley faced apple. Adorable. 

It is an authentic experience, unhindered by crowds or distractions, and complete with peck hampers and cider. It’s all about the apples. (And possibly grapes– the signs were perplexing.) And your children can discover the simple joy of picking them. What more is there to say?
There might be grapes (?)
Apples are approximately $1 a pound. Or less when you buy a larger quantity.

A family watches a stunt plane zoom through the great blue sky over Falmouth.
“But the corn!” you say! “What about corn mazes?”  Okay I’ll admit, I do enjoy a good corn maze, from a distance. Daniel’s doesn’t have one. But if you go further down the 14 and turn right onto Sangster Bridge road, follow the signs, and you’ll soon find yourself at Davisons’ Corn Maze (1112 Falmouth Dyke Rd.)  It was not open yet when I got there, but I can tell from the road it has a play structure, picnic tables, cows, and the same gorgeous view of Martock. Someday I hope to give it a more thorough review. 
A beautiful day at Davison's Corn Maze. $5 Admission

You can see that Windsor can stand its own against the more popular Annapolis Valley destinations. And it’s less than an hour away, which is a huge bonus. One could easily make a whole day of it. And yet, Blue and I forged on in our journey, for it was only 10:30 am and we never let a big blue sky go to waste.

Next stop: Greenwich/ Wolfville.

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