It’s the creaking of farm stands at the gateways to local orchards, berry patches and market gardens, weighed down by bountiful harvests. Niagara is the buckle of both Ontario’s and Canada’s stone fruit belt, growing 95 per cent of the province’s peaches, and accounting for more than 80 per cent of Canada’s harvests of the luscious, fuzzy fruit. Peaches are the star of summer fruit here, but they’re complemented by equally noteworthy cherry, plum, nectarine, pear, grape and apple harvests.
The Red Barn Farm Market is the destination for local strawberries, especially early in the season when it still seems like an impossibility to find these ruby red gems grown in fields close to home. Thanks to innovative growing techniques used in the fields surrounding this beacon of goodness, The Red Barn Farm Market is often first out of the gate with its berry harvests, offering big, juicy strawberries that kick off local fruit season in the region. They keep coming until the first fall frost, too. The store is also a source of fresh baked goods, including pies and muffins, which act as vessels for the area’s bounty. The shelves get more crowded with fresh produce and sweet treats as the season goes on.
This third-generation fruit farm is a one-stop shop for just about every tree and vine fruit Niagara has to offer. Come high season, the Romagnoli Farms stand is the place to go to eat the rainbow, offering berries of all kinds, cherries, peaches, pears, table grapes and apples. This farm stand is one of the very few in the region where you can find doughnut peaches, a flat version of Niagara’s flagship fruit, that’s easy to pack for a picnic and tidy to eat for when you’re on the go. Early season offerings include honey from bees used to pollinate the Romagnoli orchards and maple syrup from nearby sugar bushes. Curbside pickup is an option, too, thanks to a website set up for online orders.
Hildreth Farm Market is a welcoming and popular stop for tree fruit grown on this fourth-generation family farm. Vegetables and other produce grown by the Hildreth family’s friends nearby make it easy to fill fridge crispers at home with everything that’s in season now. The market is open June to October and is complemented by a pick-your-own strawberry operation, and later, pick-your-own cherries.
Organic peaches are an elusive fruit, thanks to the high humidity of July and August in Niagara. That doesn’t stop Bizjak farms from trying to grow peaches with as few manmade and chemical interventions as possible. The emphasis of this family farm is on using organic and sustainable growing practices. The Bizjaks do this by nurturing soil health and using beneficial insects and plants in their orchards to fight disease and crop-damaging pests. Prefer canned tender fruit to the tree-ripened stuff? Home-preserved harvests are also available to feed the nostalgia for peaches and pears floating in sweet syrup.
Restaurant Pearl Morissette (RPM) has carved out a reputation as one of Canada’s best. The reason is simple: unparalleled talent in the kitchen and in the gardens just outside the dining room’s door. RPM is dedicated to growing food using regenerative and sustainable farming methods that honour the health of the soil and the people growing and eating the harvests. New this year, RPM has added a farm stand that’s open weekends for anyone to purchase the latest pickings, including the vegetables and herbs that make up memorable menus, and flower bouquets that help create the conviviality for which Pearl Morissette is known.
Warner’s Farm is a standout because of the variety of fruit that farmer Torrie Warner grows. Warner isn’t afraid to experiment, planting new or rare fruit on his farm, and making his the place to go for the hard-to-find harvests. That includes German plums, those small, sweet blue orbs that make German plum cake the coveted late summer treat it is. There are crabapples and quince for the jelly makers among us, table grapes that don’t yet have mass-market reach, and countless varieties of apples that also go into cider. Warner’s cider has won awards at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Conference’s annual sweet cider competition.
Werner Fruit Farm is a quaint stop just over the Welland Canal on St. Catharines’ easternmost periphery. Don’t let the small, simple red gazebo fool you. This fruit stand has lots to offer, all grown on this small family farm. All the usual stone fruit suspects are here but in addition, Werner’s sells white peaches, a less common variety boasting a floral scent and the taste of honey. Cob corn here goes quickly when in season and so does the garlic. This is also an ideal stop for reasonably priced seconds, those imperfect fruits, slightly misshapen or blemished, that are ideal for preserving.
There’s a reason why crowds gather here at the height of the season. The MacSween family grows gorgeous fruit and vegetables on this waterfront farm. They only sell what they grow, with the exception of asparagus, which comes from their friends down the road at Thwaites Farms. The season kicks off here with those stalwart spring spears, rhubarb and strawberries, and carries on with beets, new potatoes, zucchini blossoms and garlic scapes, a precursor to Quiet Acres’ notable garlic harvest. All the while, Quiet Acres’ stone fruit harvests shine, starting with Royal Ann cherries in late June, an early white variety that resembles the Rainier in colour and taste.
Small but mighty describes this farm and charming roadside stand that’s on a concession less travelled. Serluca Family Farms sells flawless stone fruit from cherries, to peaches, nectarines and candy-like yellow plums to blue plums. The Serluca family also grows beautiful cornerstones of the quintessential Italian summer garden: tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini. Honey, preserves and sunflowers are available, too.
Most of what’s grown on this stunning lakefront swath is bound for the grocery store. But Thwaites Farms is the springtime destination when the family sells bundles of its asparagus from their packing shed. This is the place to come in May to get your fill of green spears days before they hit store shelves, and at the very moment you feel like you can’t eat another winter storage vegetable. Firsts and seconds are available for two months before asparagus season ends and the Thwaites turn all their attention to their fruit crops for the mass market.