CULTIVATE: A Festival of Food and Drink

Story by Meghan Sheffield

Photography by Jeannette Breward

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It’s not even seven AM yet and Jeff Bray and Amelia Sheffield are loading up a pickup truck parked in front of their brick row house. She’s carrying a cooler, he’s got a portable propane barbecue.

The newlyweds, who were married last summer, are two of three founders of Cultivate, a year-round non-profit organization focused on local food initiatives, whose biggest annual project is Cultivate: A Festival of Food and Drink — three days of live music, local food and craft beer.

On this cloudy Saturday morning in August, their neighbor Andrew, slides into the truck, and they drive down the big hill through Port Hope’s downtown, to the parking lot behind Town Hall, where the Saturday morning farmer’s market is quietly unfolding itself into the shapes of tents and tables. Farmers and artisans, a sausage maker, the pierogi lady, and an apiarist are setting up their booths, but the Cultivate booth is a little different — on the surface, they’re here to sell peameal sandwiches, but they’re selling something else, too: a festival.

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“We started doing the market as a way to raise awareness and fundraising,” says Amelia. “It’s more work in our week, but so far it’s been successful.”

It’s an unlikely way to market an event, and it’s one that shows their roots. Both Amelia and Jeff have long careers in the hospitality industry. Amelia’s work has taken her from managing a cafe in Toronto to working high end in Ireland and back, to managing a restaurant and golf course in Cobourg, while just about all of Jeff’s career working in, managing and owning restaurants has been here in Northumberland County.

That background makes the two of them a natural fit for the work they do promoting the region’s food; it also explains their out-of-the-box entrepreneurial spirit, their unblinking willingness to work long hours — and the fact that they know just about everyone who stops by the market booth this morning.

The Cultivate crew unpack the truck, unrolling a large, orange banner to hang as a backdrop behind the table where Jeff, the festival’s Executive and Artistic Director, will be cooking thick slices of Osland Farm peameal, while Andrew takes cash and makes change.

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Once the booth is set up, Jeff wanders down the row of ten by tens, nodding hello to the other vendors, to the end of the row, where he picks a few beefsteak tomatoes and sweet onions from Jamie at Ferguson Farms to use as condiments, along with his signature dijonnaise. Later, when Farmer Jamie’s daughter arrives at the market, she’ll come back down the row to the Cultivate booth and order three sandwiches — payment for the veggies.

Just before opening time, as Jeff realizes they’ve left the tongs at home, a set from another vendor seems to magically appear.

“We just put it out there, just put it out into the universe,” Jeff deadpans.

“Remember that one time we gave someone chalk, and she brought us butter tarts?” Andrew says. “That was a good trade. And she even brought the chalk back afterwards!”

In 2015, the inaugural festival was a huge success — crowds gathered to drink craft beer in a park in downtown Port Hope, while children played, gourmet local food was served up, and bands including The Strumbellas and Wintersleep played in the town bandshell. This year, Cultivate aims to build on that lucky break, by bringing even more big-name musical talent and an even greater focus on local food and drink to a weekend-long celebration.

“We want it to grow, we don’t want to do the same thing twice,” says Jeff. “We want to be able to work at Cultivate year round, and as our main revenue generator, it makes sense to make the festival bigger — especially since it was so successful in year one.”

The market opens at eight o’clock, and as the town hall’s clock tower rings eight bells, a line up forms at the Cultivate booth. Kenny’s the first customer of the day, but before ordering his sandwich, he reports on his whereabouts during last week’s market — on vacation in Alberta.

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They’ve got coffee, water and peameal sandwiches but they’ve also got modern design, handbills filled with a festival lineup, and a sense of small town hospitality. The farmer’s market seems an unlikely location for a marketing campaign, but for Cultivate: A Festival of Food and Drink, it’s the perfect fit.

Cultivate: A Festival of Food and Drink is a three day celebration of local food, craft beer, and live music in downtown Port Hope, Ontario, on September 23 to 25, 2016. Click below for tickets and more information.

www.cultivatefestival.ca

 

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