We drive past the Barrie’s Asparagus sign every time we head to the 401 from Paris, and each time the tug from this mysterious local foods brand grew stronger. We finally stopped in to the farm see what it was all about, and we weren’t disappointed, not one bit.
This past winter our weakness was chips (or crisps, as Mark would say). The end of long, often stressful, always full days called for comfort food that required no prep-work and no clean up. In particular we fell in love with Spud’s Finest, a Barrie’s Asparagus brand of simple kettle-cooked potato chips. These chips are salty, crunchy, dense and – perhaps best of all – totally local. We picked up ours at our Sobey’s in Paris. (For whatever reason they aren’t in the chips aisle, but rather near the front of the store with produce.)
Having been enamoured with Spud’s for some time it was only natural that our curiosity would compel us toward Cedardale Farm, the mothership of all things Barrie’s Asparagus. But for all its proximity to us and its products’ accessibility in nearby supermarkets, we had never visited and it was high time we did.
We stopped in on one of the season’s first sunny days after a Grand River Trail hike at the Waterloo Pioneer Memorial Tower – a fabulous walk, by the way, to take a princess-obsessed preschooler with its fairytale-esque tower and play park. The farm’s owner, Tim Barrie, wasn’t in, but we spoke to his sister, Becky, who without hesitation invited us into their store, its lore, and their fascinating family history.
The 170 acre farm has been in the family for over 100 years. The family originally ventured here by sleigh, which took two days from Caledonia. They carried with them a piece of barn board commemorating the establishment of their original farm in 1892. It wasn’t until recent decades, however, that the family turned toward asparagus. Tim’s parents transitioned the farm from beef and cattle to asparagus after noting the soil and drainage was perfect for it and that they would essentially corner the local asparagus market. All throughout the store are signifiers of a familial nostalgia – photographs, keepsakes, and signage – concrete reminders of the farm’s devotion to family traditions.
May is when the asparagus season truly begins, with rhubarb as another early, robust crop. For the rest of the year the Country Market is open daily selling everything from frozen asparagus to countless local products that incorporate its namesake: Asparagus ravioli made in Cambridge, asparagus pasta, Grandpa Homer’s pickled asparagus, soap scrub with asparagus fiber, asparagus tea, rhubarb salsa and salad dressings, and of course their signature potato chips (and a fabulous new one we discovered – buttery, garlicky Multigrain and Chia Chips, on sale while we were there for $2 each, bargain!).
It was during our initial tour that we learned “Spud” was Tim and Becky’s mother’s nickname, and that the product was lovingly named after her. “Homer” of the pickled asparagus was Spud’s dad. And we learned that the vintage photos adorning all the packaging are not just stock photography – they are actual family photos. Their dad on a motorcycle, or riding a horse named Mae West. You can’t make this stuff up.
In another turn of the heart, the market also features soap emblazoned with a dragonfly in memory of a Kitchener toddler named Lily who bravely fought brain cancer. A portion of the soap sales continues to go toward brain tumour research. Lily’s mother also sells jewelry toward the back of the store.
At the risk of sounding redundant, we were genuinely impressed with this outfit. Barrie’s Asparagus does an unusually fantastic job at remaining authentic at scale. The welcoming old barn still captured our imaginations with a sense of timelessness while managing to introduce the service and variety of products that satisfy modern expectations. Nice work Barrie’s – we hope you have a fantastic asparagus season this year!