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Farm-to-table dinner puts food insecurity on the menu in downtown Orillia (11 photos)

'It's just a nice Orillia event,' said participant of event which showcased local produce while shining the spotlight on food insecurity in the community

Orillia and area residents explored local tastes and flavours with a tasty farm-to-table dinner Saturday evening.

The sold-out event held on a stretch of Mississaga Street between West and Andrew Streets saw select local restaurants using local produce to serve 125 people who sat around a massive table on a beautiful fall evening.

“It seemed like a good idea to get out and support the community,” said Kevin Vennard, who was attending for a second time. “It’s a unique event.”

The Orillia resident said it was magical last year and it only made sense to come out again this year.

Vennard said eating a seven-course meal, which costs $100, in the middle of the street, points out the contrast between the haves and have-nots, one that you see everyday in downtown Orillia.

“I don’t feel bad about being here,” he said. “This isn’t the only time we raise funds to support the community.”

For a majority of the people here, who are involved in other fundraisers, too, that’s sort of their way of life, said Vennard.

Chris Peacock, executive director of the Sharing Place Food Bank, hoped the event would help focus on the issue of food insecurity, as well as raise funds through a silent auction.

“This is an opportunity to start a dialogue and remind people that 12% of our community is food insecure,” he said.

That percentage of people do not have the financial resources to be able to afford food throughout the month, said Peacock.

One in six kids in Canada is from a food-insecure home, he added.

Peacock says here are two aspects of food insecurity.

One aspect is the work food banks do around the city. The other is to create a food secure community by supporting local growers.

Local producers, such as the Kitchen Garden Farm, Rama Community Farm, Hewitt’s Farm-Market, McBrides Organic Farm, and Bulbs of Fire, were able to contribute to the food that was produced by participating restaurants, including Shine Juice Bar and Café and Era 67.

“Our tomatoes came from the Rama Community Gardens and the basil is from our own garden,” said Lisa Particelli, co-owner of Tre Sorelle, talking about the ingredients used in the caprese pasta salad they presented.

For those returning to the event, not only is it a way to support the community, but it’s also a way to establish camaraderie with new people.

“It’s just a nice Orillia event,” said Mary Keeler of Orillia. “I came out with a group of three and now I’m talking to seven or eight people.”

The event has proven to be a success and was expanded this year to accommodate 25 more seats around the 128-foot long table.

“I think it’s a great event to showcase local produce, local talent and goods,” said Kelly Seymour, who was attending for the first time. “It looks like a beautiful night and it’s esthetically pleasing. It’s even better with local produce being used and local merchants and restaurants creating and serving the food.”

The Orillia resident said as a social worker she is acutely aware of the dichotomy that exists in society.

And that’s why Seymour said she hoped by raising awareness and some money through the silent auction would lead to people taking more steps to help out.

Courtney Thompson, event and marketing director for Downtown Orillia Management Board, said the event date was changed from Starry Night in August to September for a couple of reasons.

“Downtown restaurants are already super busy that night, so you're just creating more work for them,” she said. “It makes sense to do it when they aren't so busy and September tends to be a shoulder season. Also, harvest is ready in September, too, so we have an abundance of local produce, too.”

Thompson said the event encourages partnerships between local restaurants that don't always use produce from local farmers.

“Now they are introduced to them and vice versa,” she said, adding food producers are welcome to come by and chat with the attendees to educate them and share knowledge about the advantages of growing food and buying locally produced food.