From left Abbey Gardens board member David O'Brien operations director Heather Reid and founder John Patterson celebrate winning the award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. /Photos submitted by Abbey Gardens

Abbey Gardens receives award for excellence in Agri-Food Innovation

By Nate Smelle

Published Jan. 9 2018

Abbey Gardens was recently selected as one of 50 recipients from throughout Ontario for the Premier’s annual award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. The award has been handed out each year since 2006 in recognition of the innovative contributions of food producers processors agri-food organizations and rural communities in Ontario. Abbey Gardens’ operations director Heather Reid said the focus of the application they submitted to qualify as a candidate for the award was focused on the many ways they have been transforming the abandoned gravel pit located on the 300-acre property into a communal model for local food and sustainability. If people want to learn about local food gardening renewable energy sustainable construction techniques heritage agricultural animals land restoration or cooking techniques she said Abbey Gardens is the place to go.
“We’ve been striving to be an example for environmental stewardship” said Reid.

“Most recently our focus on partnering with other local businesses and organizations has been really exciting for us over the last year and a half. Bringing the brewery [Haliburton Highlands Brewing Company] on site having Haliburton Solar and Wind here having a variety of smaller local food businesses using the kitchen space – these are all innovative in terms of sharing the resources we have to help build business for everybody and the area.”
Abbey Gardens’ mission she said is to show people the “big picture” when it comes to sustainability. Reid explained that they are able to do this by sharing the knowledge and skills that they along with their community partners have employed to convert something that many people considered to be a used-up piece of land into a community resource.

She sees the award as a sign that the work they have been doing to establish local food security economic development and educational opportunities for local people and tourists is paying off.
When it comes to educational experiences Reid said she has noticed that the learning goes both ways. For example last year during the production of a video about Abbey Gardens she learned that an abbey is traditionally known as a place that is meant to be a gathering space for the community.
Being involved in the creation of such a community hub in Haliburton County is what she finds most exciting about the operation.
“We are really endeavouring to make this a place that is welcoming to everyone in our community” Reid said.
“It’s a place for people to come and learn things enjoy and participate in whatever way they choose. Sometimes that means coming and bringing expertise and showing us how to do stuff that we don’t know how to do. Sometimes it’s coming and participating in an event and celebrating; and other times it’s about coming and going snowshoeing. It’s exciting that we can offer a range of ways for people to be involved.”

During the winter Reid said many of the activities at Abbey Gardens involve snowshoeing. Every Wednesday afternoon she said Abbey Gardens is open for the public to drop by and go snowshoeing by donation.
On the weekends there are also more formal opportunities to venture out on the trails for guided snowshoe hikes and lunch. Visitors can bring their own snowshoes or rent a pair she said.
On Jan. 27 Reid mentioned there will be a snowshoe race held as part of Dysart et al’s Hardwater Festival. This event will feature a one-kilometre loop as well as three- and five-kilometre loops she said so people of all ages can participate.
While a great deal of time during the winter is dedicated to snowshoeing and other outdoor activities Reid said it is also an important time of year for them to experiment and develop new ideas for innovations. One such initiative they plan to continue working on in 2018 is the Abbey Gardens Retreat Centre. The retreat centre is located in a home on the back acreage of the property and is being renovated to give newly diagnosed cancer patients a place to stay in nature where they can learn about complementary care such as diet and exercise while taking time to breathe and figure things out.