Cathy Hansen is a farmer who cooks and a cook who farms. Working from soil to the table, she grows wholesome organic vegetables and herbs to use in her small farmhouse kitchen. The results are delicious.
“I love the creativity (of food). I’m not an artist, but a kitchen painter. I can taste things in my head… I guess I have a reasonably good palate.
Cooks are lucky; we have an opportunity to give all the time and short circuit the necessity to buy something.”
After pursuing an agricultural science degree at the University of Guelph she turned her attention to farming. With a student body that was 75% male, the balance being women who were raised on farms and 4-H clubs, she was strikingly different. “I grew up in Oakville and my dad was an airline pilot. Because I wasn’t a farmer’s kid, I looked at things differently.”
Cathy is a renaissance woman who began farming when women didn’t become farmers; they married them. Early in her career, she and a handful of women made the headlines of newspapers, Women farmers take on the world!’ and glancing at the faded news clippings, she smiles and says, “I guess the media thought we were a novelty. But you know, females bring different ideas to agriculture; we are mothers.”
Cathy and her husband Kaj’s organic three-acre farm is narrow strips of land that is completely forested on three sides. Her vegetable garden is a mixture of silt-loam soil, sitting on a very high water table, so although crops are harvested later in the season, she benefits from not having to irrigate in the summer.
Her small fields produce over fifteen types of vegetables: potatoes, squash and mixed greens, which she delivers to a number of families who own food shares purchased from the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program. In the morning, you’ll find Cathy in her back field harvesting vegetables, and later that same day she is busy distributing food to drop off zones in Guelph and Erin. Just in time for dinner!
Cathy is a certificated chef who paid her dues in a local restaurant, supplying them with food, managing the kitchen, and working with other chefs developing recipes. She also jars, cans fruits and veggies, and has conducted workshops to teach others to how use in-season, local produce. “There’s a huge lack of knowledge out there about the basics of food and cooking. I think people waste so much food because they often don’t know what to do with it.
The beauty of farmers like me who work with CSA’s, is that there’s no waste. I use everything I harvest. I call my side, ‘Holistic production’ and my customers’ side, ‘Holistic consumption’.
Cathy’s food connection reflects a puzzling disconnect in our society. Most of us—cooks and eaters alike—love our food, but have very little understanding of the complexity of farming and food production. But how is this possible? Given that we have fingertip access to millions of internet food-related sites and Indigos’ 5,000,000 books about food.
Cathy is a participant and advocate of ‘Transition Erin’ – “An open group of community members who are committed to fostering resilience, increasing sustainability, and enhancing the quality of life for the people of Erin, Ontario, Canada.”
Erin’s Food Shed model is committed to eating in a climate friendly way using these five food principles:
Choose Organic food.
Choose Local food.
Choose Seasonal food.
Choose simple recipes and share them.
Choose to tell the story of our food.
Remember the 1970’s bumper sticker, “If you ate today, thank a farmer”? Being grateful is step one. Step two is to recognize the impact of agriculture in our communities and economy. And step three is just as Cathy says, “Food is not just about your itty-bitty body. It’s about the environment, the eco-system and protection of water tables and the quality of soil for the future.”