JILLIAN AUSTIN / BRANDON SUN
Stephanie Dillon picks vegetables in preparation for Brown Sugar Produce's farm stand in Brandon.
The scent of sage, basil, rosemary and mint fill the air as Stephanie Dillon carefully picks bunches of the fragrant herbs from her garden.
Gemma May of Gemma's Garden sets up shop with her vibrant, fresh produce at Brandon's Global Market. (JILLIAN AUSTIN / BRANDON SUN)
Stephanie Dillon, along with Jayne Martin and Christine McGorman pick peas on Thursday in preparation for Brown Sugar Produce's farm stand day on Friday. (JILLIAN AUSTIN / BRANDON SUN)
It’s the day before Dillon brings her Brown Sugar Produce to Brandon to sell at her farm stand, and that means Dillon, along with her two employees, will spend about eight hours outside in the hot sun picking vegetables.
"You have to have a passion for it," Dillon said, taking a brief break from picking. "You’d never do it for the money ... because there isn’t enough money in it."
Washing and bagging the vegetables comes next, so everything is ready to be loaded onto the trailer by Friday morning.
It’s Dillon’s 14th annual garden — truly a labour of love.
A passion for gardening runs in Dillon’s family. She recalls how her mother always had a large garden, and wanted to continue on with the tradition.
Dillon’s property is located northeast of Brandon. In addition to the small herb patch, there are two large gardens — one with a new eight-foot fence surrounding it to keep the deer out. She also has a small greenhouse where she has produce like tomato plants and sunflower sprouts.
The garden boasts 10 varieties of lettuce, three colours of beans, beets, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, garlic, green onions, kale, kohlrabi, sweet onions, herbs, three kinds of peas, new potatoes, radishes, spinach, swiss chard, and more.
"I’m so proud of my cauliflower and broccoli because I grow them under row cover," she said. "There’s no chemical, no bugs either."
Another popular item is Dillon’s bag of mixed lettuce. She uses an industrial sized salad spinner to wash it before she bags them.
Dillon grows produce for Lady of the Lake and Wildflower Cafe. She sells to other local restaurants from time to time including Remington’s Seafood and Steakhouse and Tastee’s Grill.
Every Friday, Brown Sugar Produce sets up the farm stand outside of Lady of the Lake from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m., during the months of July, August and September. Brown Sugar Produce also offers personalized home delivery.
"Lots of times, seniors in the seniors apartment blocks ... because they can’t get out, they order small amounts," she said. "It’s just nice to have somebody providing those things to them because most of them would’ve had gardens when they were living out on the farm."
Dillon grows edible pansies, which you may see on many of the plates at Lady of the Lake.
"The whole concept here is ‘fresh is best,’" said Bridget Shaw, owner of Lady of the Lake. "It’s much more expensive for us to buy her produce and use it in a restaurant setting, but I think it pays off in the flavour and the freshness — and supporting local."
Over the years, Dillon said she’s seen more and more people shifting over to the local food movement, but in her opinion it’s still "not nearly enough."
"Look at the diseases ... I’m sure that has something to do with what we’re eating, the chemicals, the processed food, that stuff is all just garbage and I’m sure that’s got something to do with it," she said.
Lawrence Jones is a regular Brown Sugar Produce customer. He has been buying from farmers markets since the 1970s.
"I grew up on a farm and that made me look for fresh vegetables," he said. "Nothing beats fresh."
Jones said he prefers straight from the field rather than "carried by truck to the supermarket." He added that he likes supporting local producers as well.
Dillon has seen more customers lately who ask for juicing ingredients, such as kale, cucumbers, celery, apples and beets.
"They need a huge amount of vegetables for that," she said.
Meanwhile, another local farm is Gemma’s Garden — a popular stand at the Global Market on Rosser Avenue and the Brandon Farmers Market in The Town Centre on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Gemma May’s garden is located near Chater, and they are in their 13th season.
"The local food market has grown incredibly," May said. "I think people are actually getting away from the fast food movement and starting to return to the slow food movement."
Knowing the vegetables are grown from a local producer gives customers "that little bit of added security" knowing that they’re clean, healthy and fresh, May added.
Food Matters Manitoba encourages people to eat local for a variety of reasons.
"Eating locally is one way for people to be more conscious of the foods that are going in their bodies," said executive director Kreesta Doucette in a previous interview with the Brandon Sun. "Another reason is economics … We know that when you spend money supporting our local families, that keeps money in our communities."
The Global Market, located at 12th Street and Rosser Avenue, is open Thursdays 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Typically there are nine local producers there on the weekend, and as the market co-ordinator Erin Gobeil says, if you want to support local, "this is the place to come."
"People are becoming more aware of the importance of buying local and why they need to do it, so ... if they ever needed to come down and just learn about it, we’ve got the time to talk and teach," Gobeil said.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 1, 2014