Everywhere there was song and celebration: Foodstock fights the mega-quarry

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Foodstock. Photo: LexnGer/Flickr

Imagine you are walking through a gold, orange and red canopied autumn woodlot. You've got a fragrant, steaming mug of cider to ward off the chill, and as you wander, eating and drinking, local buskers serenade you as you make your way through crowds of friends to a stage where your favourite Canadian musicians are playing live. Nice dream, eh?

Sometimes these dreams become reality. On Sunday, Oct. 16th, more than 28,000 people drove (or were bussed) from all over Ontario, through shifting rain and sun, howling winds and chill air, to a woodlot in the middle of Lennox Farms, about 90 minutes north of Toronto. Their reason for confronting the weather, and the inevitable mud is Foodstock -- a culinary adventure with dozens of contributing chefs, and Canadian recording artists and activists on the main stage. More than 40 acoustical bands and individual artists played in the woods along the muddy trails that led from one food station to another.

This was an event in the planning for several months with farmers, activists and even township councillors pitching in to create a fundraising and awareness event in support of the courageous efforts by locals to stop the building of a mega-quarry on prime food-producing farmland. Chef Michael Stadtländer convinced about 100 chefs from across Ontario and Canada to volunteer their time and food for the cause. As Footstock volunteer co-ordinator David Waters said so succinctly, "you can't eat gravel."

The theme was, "think global, eat local" and so the event featured chefs using locally grown food and ingredients to create gastronomic treats for rockin' Foodstockers to sample. Clearly the food was good -- I saw lineups at tents so long it was hard to tell where they began. Despite standing in queue for long stretches, knee-deep in cold squelchy mud, everyone continued to chatter energetically with their neighbours, talking about the politics of food, about what an environmental obscenity the proposed mega-quarry is, about Occupy Toronto, etc.

Along the pathways leading through the woods were buskers and artisans -- painters, sculptors, carvers -- who were selling their wares, with a percentage going to the Stop the Mega Quarry campaign. I spoke to a local wood carver and asked him how and why he became involved with Foodstock.

"I'm here to stop this, just like we all need to stop this," says local carver Jim Lethied. "A friend of mine who organized the buskers also connected to some artists, so I jumped on board... I'm going to take a percentage of my sales and hand it over so we can pay for some lawyers." I asked Jim if he thought it would really come down to that. "I hope not!" he replied, "but they have a too much money invested for them to not do anything and everything to make this quarry happen."

Lethied lives in Dunedin, about 15 minutes away from the Foodstock site, on the Noisy River. "I can't think of anything that would piss me off more than to wake up one morning and not have that river running. I would lose it!" He adds, "you have to remember that, for them, this is just about money. It's a bunch of rich people, highly rich people who want even more money."

Everyone -- from volunteers in the local farming community to speakers like Mohawk activist Danny Beaton, musical artists Ron Sexsmith, Jim Cuddy, Barenaked Ladies members and Sarah Harmer, to the tens of thousands who attended -- all passionately expressed how they felt about the proposed quarry and the water and agricultural land it would destroy.

All visitors were treated to the products of agricultural land; we ate potato risotto, wood fired pizza, pancakes with wild berry compote, Hungarian goulash served in a locally grown cabbage leaf bowl, elk stew (I was picking elk out of my teeth for hours), lobster risotto, numerous soups, pastas and veggies, and many more tasty food samples that we dutifully heaped on the bowls, plates and mugs we were required to bring with us to the event.

Of the attending chefs, I can only mention a few: Jamie Kennedy from Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, Albert Ponzo from Le Select Bistro, Carole Ferrari from Locale Café, Fawzi Kotb from Veloute Bistro and Catering, Rob Fraser from Fraser Café (Ottawa), Stefan Czapalay from Culinary Design Solutions in Nova Scotia, and Moe Mathieu from Saskatchewan.

At we left the farmer's field that served as one of several parking lots, we were astonished by how little garbage and waste were left in the wake of 28,000-plus visitors. Hard-working volunteers definitely kept things in order, but I noticed everyone consciously using recycling bins that were numerous throughout the site.

As the Occupy movement grows, and I see events like Fookstock grow (hopefully it will become an annual event), it strikes me that we -- all of us who share in this economy -- have been pushed to the wall, and are now fighting back. Regardless of the particular issue, we are all fighting the good fight that builds a more balanced and equitable future for our children and ourselves.

Meg Borthwick is one of the moderators of babble, rabble.ca's online forum.

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