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Entrepreneurs leverage apple culture as 'taste of place'

The pie crust may be flaky, but the business case for culinary tourism is proving solid as 14 years of the Apple Pie Trail has created an appealing community of local entrepreneurs celebrating the apples of Beaver Valley

Locally known as 'apple country' the Beaver Valley and Blue Mountains area has also gained a reputation in the culinary tourism industry for a road-trip-style experience that explores the farm-to-table culture of local apple crops.

The route known as the Apple Pie Trail was inspired by South Georgian Bay’s apple-growing history. The area produces about 25 per cent of Ontario's apple crop every year, thanks to the warming effect of Lake Huron combined with the Niagara Escarpment. 

First started 14 years ago, the self-guided, year-round Apple Pie Trail has branched out to include 28 different stops located in the Town of The Blue Mountains, Beaver Valley, and Meaford. The stops include orchards, bakeries, restaurants, wineries, cideries, hiking and biking paths, adventure experiences, art galleries and museums that each celebrate the apple culture in the community. The stops represent generations of apple-growing history and entrepreneurs who have been bitten by the apple love. 

“The goal is to encourage visitors and locals alike to explore the region and discover so many of our local, hidden gems that they might not normally venture out to,” said Patti Kendall, director of marketing and events at the Blue Mountain Village Association (BMVA). 

According to Kendall, the Apple Pie Trail first started as a culinary experience designed to support agriculture and promote tourism in the area. It has since been developed into an interactive app and grown to include a number of different experiences and outdoor adventures unique to the area to showcase everything local apple culture has to offer. It's been recognized with the Ontario Culinary Tourism Leadership award, and as the culinary tourism event of the year, among other accolades.

“People want that authentic experience, and there is nothing more authentic than an apple grower,” said Kendall. 

Among those apple growers are the Oakleys who own and operate Goldsmith's Farm Market on Highway 26 at the west end of Thornbury. 

Debby Oakley said it is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the best of the region. 

“What a better way to explore a beautiful countryside and enjoy locally harvested and homemade food at the peak of its flavour,” said Oakley. 

The Oakley family has been growing apples and other vegetables for generations and joined the Apple Pie Trail as a small roadside fruit stand before they purchased Goldsmith’s in 2013. 

Goldsmith’s market itself has a long-standing history in the Georgian Bay area, beginning as a seasonal produce stand in the 1960s, and over the past nine years, the Oakley family has grown it to over 200 acres of apple orchards and farmland and added an on-farm specialty grocery store and bakery, open all year round. 

“The Apple Pie Trail has become a community that wants to promote all the different apple-related culinary experiences around here,” said Oakley. “People want entertainment, and they love food.” 

Oakley said it is beneficial to other businesses as well, even if they aren’t a part of the Apple Pie Trail, because it drives tourism to the area. 

For David Baker, owner and cider maker at Grey & Gold in Clarksburg, the trail has provided a supportive network and community of agricultural and culinary entrepreneurs.

“Having a number of cideries, wineries and other businesses connected through apple culture was important to us,” said Baker. “Everyone on the trail has their own little niche, so it’s really easy to collaborate with and be supportive of the other businesses.”

A newcomer to both the Ontario cider scene and the Apple Pie Trail, Grey & Gold Cider is a sustainable, farm-based cidery. The orchard-side bottle shop officially opened in the spring of 2020 and from the beginning, Baker knew he wanted to be a part of the Apple Pie Trail. 

“The culture of this area is changing,” said Baker. “I think apple culture will be a key part of this area for a long time to come, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.” 

Other experiences along the trail include apple picking at Farmer’s Pantry, educational farm tours at Good Family Farms, Georgian Trail e-bike rentals, and a paddle and wine experience along the Beaver River with a visit to the nearby Georgian Hills Vineyard.

In the winter months, add snowshoes for a snow-covered Apple Pie Trail experience. 

“I love that it showcases our region, supports our farmers, and supports small businesses,” said Kendall. “And from a visitor's perspective, it gives them that authentic experience and sense of place… And taste of place.”

For up-to-date information and details on the Apple Pie Trail, or to download the app, visit their website.

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Maddie Johnson

About the Author: Maddie Johnson

Maddie Johnson is an early career journalist working in financial, small business, adventure and lifestyle reporting. She studied Journalism at the University of King's College, and worked in Halifax, Malta and Costa Rica before settling in Collingwood
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