Tuesday, if you recall, was a spectacularly beautiful day – cloudless skies of periwinkle blue, a slight breeze, pleasant temperatures, Ontario looking bright green and bushy-tailed, Vancouver still full of hope and innocence – the ideal time to set off into the countryside, heading north to Michael Stadtländer’s Eigensinn Farm. It was a private invitation, an opportunity to see a preview of the great artist’s new project, the Pine Spiel. Inspired by the waldschule, his childhood school in the forests outside Lübeck, and by the pine circles of the native peoples of Ontario, it promises to be an extraordinary creation – a walk through the pine forests on his own 100-acre farm with pathways and “rooms” fashioned in the woods, places for spiritual reflection and delectable food… So we drove north to see it, my wife, my son, his wife and me.
It has been a couple of years since I last saw Eigensinn Farm and the trees have grown up around the driveway so that I drove right past and had to double back. But there were Michael and Nobuyo and their three apprentices busy in the gardens and about the open fire-pit outside the kitchen door.
“The Pine Spiel,” mused Michael… “Actually, I’ve postponed it until 2013 – Eigensinn’s 20th anniversary.”
“Still, we can see it…”
So we walked – down to the pond, now stocked with brown and speckled trout but used more often as a swimming hole on sweltering summer nights than as a source of provender. Up the lane to the teepee field where a French landscape artist is going to create living sculptures using lines of plants along the contours of the land. Into the pine forests…
Mosquitoes were thick around us but they were Eigensinn mosquitoes and knew not to bite. We saw the work that Michael and his apprentices have already accomplished – pathways delineated by brushwood, clearings here and there, still abstract concepts, it’s true. No way this could be completed by August. And we came upon the scultpures left over from the last major walkabout – the sculptures of the Heaven on Earth project – the chef with his tray, the earth-mother oven, the god of wine, the farmer made of rusting machinery, the underground house, the play house… Michael showed us where he will plant an allee of 300 shoulder-high pine trees to lead from one patch of pine forest to the next – he’s dedicating it to David Suzuki. Then he showed us the Outside Dining Room, a new area planted to conifers where people can commission an al fresco dinner for a dozen friends. It will be ready by mid-August and is the sort of magical place that will be remembered for ever by those lucky enough to dine there.
And then we were back in the farmyard, admiring the litter of piglets (a red wattle and black English cross), the new chickens, the indolent marmalade cat lying in the herb beds, the sunlight on the blackcurrant bushes. One of the apprentices brought out a plate of lightly smoked New Brunswick sturgeon sliced onto rye bread with a dab of crème fraîche and pungent purple chive flowers. Another brought slices of Eigensinn ham and a plate of cucumber, sliced thickly and briefly pickled in the Japanese way in miso and beer.
I was going to bring some of the new Carmenere rosé from Cono Sur – my favourite foreign rosé this summer, so full of juicy flavour – but thought it politic to stick to local wine, choosing Trius Sauvignon Blanc and Cave Spring Gamay. To honour my daughter-in-law, Kayo, Nobuyo brought out various rare sakes including something I had never tasted, an awamori at 43% abv – more like an eau de vie than a sake and dazzlingly yummy. We drank it from beautiful little glasses that Nobuyo explained were made in Okinawa from vegetable ash and recycled Pepsi bottles from the local U.S. navy base. Magic! To turn the crass detritus of our shallow culture into splendid art is cause for celebration – and a toast in awamori.
Dinner took place indoors with friends, apprentices and family all sharing the farmhouse table. Nobuyo cooked rice and slippery mizuku seaweed, the first asparagus from the garden served with delicate fillets of pickerel, and a dish of crumbled wet tofu and dandelion greens. The main event was two legs of the least fortunate of Eigensinn’s piglets grilled outside on the barbecue until the juicy flesh was succulent and the crackling crispy and tissue-thin. With it came mashed potatoes stirred in with a handful of raw lovage leaves. Dessert was a rottegruze of stewed strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries and black currants in apple cider, topped with a chunk of sweet woodruff ice cream. We were eating the farm and it was heavenly.
Conversation? We discussed Haisai, Stadtländer’s whimsically beautiful restaurant on Singhampton’s main street. He will be cooking there for all of July and then passing the kitchen over to two guest chefs from Germany. They sound pretty cool and I think I’ll have to go and check it out. He is also looking for a manager/maître d’ to run the place for the foreseeable future – a brilliant gig for a front-of-house person with both savvy and soul.
We also discussed the appalling mega-quarry threatening the entire area between Eigensinn and Toronto. Even if you are entirely indifferent to the country and province in which you live, to the health of the water that you and your children drink, you ought to find out about this Satanic initiative. Below is an article by Donna Tranquada that explains the issue, originally published in Homemakers magazine.
The sun shone brightly over our small farm in Dufferin County yesterday as I worked in my garden, weeded the vegetable patch and watched tractors plow the dark earth in nearby fields. It was one of those perfect spring days in the country. Our little “homestead” is perched on the top of a hill about 90 minutes northwest of Toronto. We’re surrounded by rolling pastures, gabled farmhouses and grey-weathered barns that have survived a century of seasons. It’s one of the most stunning regions of Ontario and is known as “The Hills of Headwaters.” But looming over the landscape is the threat of a mega quarry that will destroy vital farmland, jeopardize fresh water and devastate our environment.
As you drive westward from our farm, the land rises to a vast and fertile plateau in Melancthon township, north of Shelburne. It’s the highest point of land in southern Ontario and contains the best grade of soil in the province: Honeywood silt loam. Farmers love it. Not only is it fertile and rock-free, it sits upon a massive limestone aquifer, which offers a perfect drainage system for growing potatoes and other crops. Fifty per cent of the potatoes consumed in the Greater Toronto Area are grown on this plateau.
The region is also the source of water for four watersheds, including the Grand and Nottawasaga rivers. It’s estimated one-million people downstream rely on the fresh water. Local wells, ponds and streams count on the headwaters for replenishment.
Agriculture or Aggregate
Enter the Highland Companies. Over the past few years, Highland, which is backed by a $22-billion Boston hedge fund, has purchased about 7,000 acres of the 15,000-acre plateau. At first, Highland said its focus was growing potatoes and, after assembling so much land, it’s now the largest potato producer in Ontario.
But, in March, Highland confirmed suspicions that it was far more interested in the limestone beneath the fields. Highland filed a 3,000-page application to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to tear up the fields and excavate the largest open pit quarry in Canada for the lucrative aggregate market. The proposed size is staggering. The mega quarry would span 2,300 acres. It would be deeper than Niagara Falls and plunge 200 feet below the water table.
Forever is a long time
In order to keep the quarry from filling up with water and draining the watersheds, Highland says it will have to pump 600-million-litres of water a day, 24 hours a day. Forever. That’s the same amount of water used by 2.7 million Ontarians each day.
At a recent public meeting hosted by Highland, I expressed doubts about a pumping system running in perpetuity. The hired water-management consultant replied “We have the technology.” Well, the Japanese thought they had the technology to protect their nuclear reactors from earthquakes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was equally confident about its levees around New Orleans. Pumps fail, and when that happens, the results will be catastrophic for those downstream.
Not Welcome in the Neighbourhood
The mega quarry would also be a troublesome neighbour for the Niagara Escarpment, which runs through the Hills of Headwaters and is recognized by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve. The Florida Everglades and Galapagos Islands share the same designation. The Niagara Escarpment Commission says it is “one of the world’s unique natural wonders.” The Escarpment also supports “300 bird species, 53 mammals, 36 reptiles and amphibians, 90 fish and 100 varieties of special interest flora including 37 types of wild orchids.” Yet, the largest quarry in the country would stretch alongside this environmentally-sensitive area. No government would ever allow a quarry of any size near the Florida Everglades or in the Galapagos Islands.
Deep Down on the Farm
Once Highland extracts the limestone it intends to farm the bottom of the pit. That’s right, the bottom. The company claims it will spread topsoil in this deep, massive scar and, if the pumps don’t fail, it will grow crops. But according to current provincial legislation, Highland is under no obligation to rehabilitate the quarry pit because it would be below the water table.
Help Stop the Mega Quarry
There’s so much more. Up to 300 heavy diesel trucks an hour would rumble to and from the pit each day, polluting our air and clogging our roads. And, incredibly, the largest proposed quarry in Canada is not subject to an Environmental Assessment in Ontario. This is unacceptable.
The Hills of Headwaters is normally quiet and bucolic. But it’s now noisy with opposition to the proposed mega quarry. What can you do to stop it? Write letters of objection to the province of Ontario. Please demand an Environmental Assessment. The deadline is July 11, 2011. Click here to learn more. You can also e-mail Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty here.