Ian Walker of Mariposa Farm is more than just a hard-working farmer. He's also a passionate advocate for understanding where the food you eat is coming from and has done much to integrate better ingredients into our region's food supply network.
His products are universally praised by many of the region's top chefs and Ian is celebrated as one of the pioneers of the local food movement.
Did you always want to be a farmer? Yes, because I grew up on a hobby farm; as a boy I raised chickens myself, then butchered and sold them. My wife, Suzanne Lavoie and I have been farming for almost thirty years now.
You run a multi-faceted operation. What goes on at Mariposa? We specialize in producing and marketing Barbarie Ducks, Embden geese and crossbred pigs, as well as having some commercial vegetable gardens. We are also a distributor for other regional producers. In our renovated old barn, we have a farm store and offer lunches on Sunday as well as cooking lasses.
You've long been urging people to think more about where their food is coming from. Why is this so important to you? Even as a kid, I was conscious of the crucial link between farm and table. Our society has become disconnected from its food sources. How do you know if your food is safe or healthy if you don't know where it comes from or how it was produced? To me, it's far more important to find a quality local product than an organic one that's been trucked thousands of kilometres to get to your table.
What do you do to educate people about sustainable agriculture? We're always glad to talk with people who come for lunch or to the store. I have gardens at Ashbury College and Operation Come Home in Ottawa where I work with youths, teaching them about local food. We also give tours to chefs, classes from Le Cordon Bleu and other groups.
Did you ever expect to have such close relationships with chefs in the region? Not at first, although Robert Bourassa, who was at Café Henry Burger at the time, and John Taylor of Domus were among my early supporters, along with Kurt Waldele and Guy Blain of L'Orée du Bois. I'd drive into town and they'd buy just about anything I had to offer, because it was local. Now it's pretty exciting for me to go to many of Ottawa's better restaurants and know I'm being served local products, some of which have come from Mariposa.
What one simple thing can people do to eat better? Shop at your local farmers' market. It gives you an opportunity to meet, talk with and support the people that are feeding your family.
RECIPE: Mariposa Farm's Pan-seared Arbarie Duck Breast and Red Wine Mushroom Sauce
Preheat oven to 400 F. Place 2 duck breasts skin-side up. Using a sharp knife, score four 1/4-inch deep cuts across the skin at a 45 degree angle. Sprinkle meat side of each breast with salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Place an oven-safe sauté pan over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add duck breasts, skin side down, and cook for 5 minutes, or until skin is brown and crispy. Flip and cook for 2 more minutes. Finish duck in pre-heated oven for 5-7 minutes for medium-rare. Prepare sauce while duck is in oven. Remove duck from oven and let rest for 5 minutes, then slice thinly. Serve duck with sauce drizzled on top; pass remaining sauce at the table. Serves 4.
Red Wine Mushroom Sauce:
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp canola oil
2 shallots, minced
2 pounds assorted mushrooms
Leaves from 2 fresh thyme sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Cabernet Sauvignon
1/4 cup duck (or other meat) stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp minced fresh chives
Place a skillet over medium heat. Add butter and oil. When butter starts to foam, add shallots and sauté for 2 minutes to soften. Add trimmed, sliced mushrooms and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Stir for a few minutes. Add red wine, stirring to scrape up any stuck bits; then cook and stir to evaporate the alcohol. When the wine is almost gone, add stock. Let the liquid cook down and then take it off the heat. Stir in cream and chives; season with salt and pepper.