Way to grow

Kerri Breen
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Local organic farm yields national tourism award

Melba Rabinowitz of the Organic Farm in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's got a standing ovation in Saint John, N.B., Tuesday when her family farm won at the National Awards for Tourism Excellence ceremony.

After presenters read the farm's name from an envelope, Rabinowitz stepped on stage to receive a glass statue and give an acceptance speech she was supposed to have prepared, but didn't.

Mike Rabinowitz tends to his garden at the Organic Farm in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's. The farm received a national award Tuesday for its work. Telegram file photo

Melba Rabinowitz of the Organic Farm in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's got a standing ovation in Saint John, N.B., Tuesday when her family farm won at the National Awards for Tourism Excellence ceremony.

After presenters read the farm's name from an envelope, Rabinowitz stepped on stage to receive a glass statue and give an acceptance speech she was supposed to have prepared, but didn't.

"It's like the Academy Awards of tourism - no, seriously. Like, it's all black ties. It was huge and amazing," she said.

Beating out two other nominees, the farm received the Starwood Hotels and Resorts Corporate Partner of the Year award from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada for its work in supplying fresh, organic produce to high-end restaurants that tourists frequent such as Magnum and Steins in St. John's and Atlantica in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's.

"We really do grow and try to cater to what people in the restaurants in and around St. John's need," she said. "That's what makes us a corporate partner."

She says it's the farm's relationships with the chefs and the businesses they supply that make it worthwhile despite the challenges of organic farming in the province.

"What I tried to explain to the group last night is, because basically we're a small town and everybody knows everybody, it's more like family."

Rabinowitz and her husband Mike moved to Portugal Cove-St. Philip's from Seattle in 1975.

In the summer of 1977, they bought a heavy-duty, walk-behind tractor to turn the sod for a vegetable garden. Not long afterwards, they discovered that gardening on the Avalon Peninsula is a lifetime challenge.

Mike Rabinowitz says the farm was created out of their desire to feed themselves and show people just how many things can be grown here.

Over the years, their 10,000 square-foot family garden expanded into a three-acre organic farm, partially to give his teenagers and those from the neighbourhood something to do.

"It sort of grew out of hand after that."

Now, they grow everything from artichokes to zucchini. Rabinowitz says he believes the province could be producing a lot more local food with enough effort.

The biggest challenge is not the weather, he says, but the acidic, rocky soil, which lacks in nutrients, making organic farming - growing without chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, preservatives or genetically engineered seed - very difficult.

The farm has never broken even, he adds.

"It's not an easy thing to do here."

Earlier this year, the farm received the Corporate Partner of the Year award from Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador's Tourism Excellence awards, leading to its nomination for the national award.

Melba Rabinowitz says the recognition is not just an honour for the farm, but is significant for the organic movement in the province, which they have been leaders in.

"It brings attention to (the fact) that restaurants want good, local food and prefer organics," she said.

kbreen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Starwood Hotels, Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Atlantica

Geographic location: Portugal Cove, St. John's, Saint John Seattle

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