Gallery on the Farm

Story By Katie Ryalen | Photos by Kirsten McGoey

Culture and agriculture. Long have they been similar words with vastly different meanings. Now, however, Hampton-area farmer Eric Bowman has connected the two unrelated concepts by creating a real, working farm that is also an art gallery. Welcome to Gallery on the Farm.

It may seem like a stretch at first considering it. What do farming and art have to do with one another? But in the inexplicably wonderful way that people are multifaceted with many different interests, Eric loves farming and art. He is a visionary whose medium is both canvas and soil. “On the one hand, I know artists who think I’m crazy for farming,” he laughs. “And then on the other, I know farmers who think I’m totally nuts for being an artist.” But his vision with Gallery on the Farm is not just about art, it’s about community. It is a place where he can showcase not only his own work, but also the work of other local and emerging artists.

“We’re trying different things,” Eric explains. “When we started, we had a little store that was totally empty. But as we got going and more and more people came out to the farm for our organic beef, they became interested in our gallery. Soon, other artists began finding us and asking if we would allow them to join. You know, provide them with a place to show their work as well.” It’s become a mutually beneficial relationship since then. Local artists benefit from the traffic coming to Gallery on the Farm for the organic beef, and the farm itself benefits from the traffic of people coming to check out the art.

Because Eric is a member of the Oshawa Art Association, he has been able to make these connections with local artists. “Most of the people I know were people with whom I just got to talking,” he explains. “They were strangers, but now they’re not. But most are newbies and are just starting out. At that stage, it’s hard to get recognition and exposure.” As an artist himself, Eric understands the struggles that emerging artists face to become known. He recognizes how difficult it can be to have one’s work shown in galleries and established venues. So in this way, he’s hoping to open up opportunities. “We’re giving our local artists another place to be recognized, to have exposure to the community,” he says. “And we hope that the people who come are able to connect a particular artist they’ve seen here with some of their other work out in the community and in other places.”
Though he started painting in 1985, Eric has been an artist since he was a child. Unfortunately, given the time in which he grew up, there was not much opportunity to pursue art through the school system. “I was planning to be a farmer,” he says, “so I took agriculture. That was the stream I went into. You couldn’t take back then what you can now. It was pretty much art, music or agriculture.” Eric was fortunate enough to experience drafting in high school, and was able to hone his drawing and precision skills somewhat that way. But it wasn’t until he was an adult that he took lessons, which were given to him as a Father’s Day present. He bought himself about $75 worth of art supplies and prayed that he would enjoy it. Fortunately his prayers were answered, and he’s been painting ever since.

The pursuit hasn’t been without its hiccups, however. Eric recalls with humour, “I got kicked out of my first class for critiquing what the teacher was putting into his paintings. He was using reds and yellows and all kinds of colours that I had never seen as a farmer in the context he was using. Being a farmer as an artist gives you a totally different perspective.”

As to the farm itself, Eric and his wife Jennifer began in 1976 when they took over the family’s multi-generational dairy farm. After many years of dedicated work, the Bowmans decided dairy farming was too much for them to handle. “When we sold that, I guess I was too young to quit farming,” Eric says, “and so I went into the organic beef.”

The decision to farm organically was an easy one to make. Eric had already been on his way to phasing out the use of chemicals and fertilizers anyway, and ran what is called a “closed herd,” in which outside materials are not brought in as an alternative to antibiotics in controlling the spread of disease. From there, it was not a far leap to implement organic farming as an official practice. “It’s challenging, and we’re still on a learning curve,” Eric admits. “For example, we do cover crops and I save the soil as much as I possibly can from wind erosion and water erosion.”

Despite its challenges, promoting local, organic farming is a rewarding experience for the Bowmans. After all, local is a big movement today. People want to know where their food is coming from, and they want to support their regional economy. As a farmer who is interested in supporting local, Eric wants to make sure he spends time teaching the visitors to his farm what he can about farming. “People don’t know enough about it,” he says, “and I blame the farmers for that. We’re so busy farming, we forgot to educate others about how we do it.”

In a further effort to connect their community, Eric and Jenny are both involved in a local tourism initiative known as A Country Path, which is a group of businesses in the surrounding area working together to direct visitors to one another. “That was my wife’s idea,” Eric says. “She was talking to a couple of tourist people about how we’ve all been helping each other for years. And one thing led to another and we decided to turn it into an official experience. Now we’ve got brochures and a website.” He adds, “I always say that there are so many people just fifty miles away from here, and they all want something to do. So we can work together and help them move around from place to place. We’ll get more working together than separately.”

Gallery on the Farm
1721 Durham Regional Road 3, Hampton
(905) 263-8245


Winter Wonderland

By Katie Ryalen

This season, don’t let the cold keep you indoors. Winter is the time of year for scenic landscapes and fun in the snow. It’s the time of year for good friends, good times and the exhilarating outdoors. Here in Durham, we’ve got some of the best winter activity destinations for the whole family that are sure to thrill and chill.

Alpine at Dagmar

One of Uxbridge’s winter favourites since the 1960s is Dagmar Resort. It’s a popular destination for school trips, for parents to bring their kids for some winter activity, and for the adult adventurers who know that the secret to staying young is staying active all year round. More recently, however, owner Caroline Yli-Luoma has noticed a wonderful resurgence of families coming out as a group to ski and spend time together. “We’ve always been about family,” she states, “but this year we’re starting to see a definite trend in families getting together—even with the grandparents—and learning to ski.”

With ski schools for beginners, a range of runs from starter to advanced, up-to-date snow-making equipment for alpine, and scenic cross-country trails, Dagmar makes skiing accessible to everyone. “We have easy, gentle hills and the magic carpet conveyor,” Caroline says. “So that makes it easier for beginners to come out and not be intimidated. This year we’re going to be expanding on our Puppy Pound terrain park, making it larger and more family friendly. It’s always been beginner friendly, but we want to make it even more so.”

That is perhaps the most important message Caroline wants people to know, that there is nothing to be afraid of or intimidated by at Dagmar. She says, “It doesn’t matter if you’re in your forties, fifties or even sixties. We have grandparents that are coming out and don’t know how to ski. But they’re taking the Adventurous Adults ski course. So it just goes to show you that there is the opportunity for the entire family demographic to get out, do something, and make those memories.”

As a bonus, on the weekends Dagmar’s kitchen offers full meals. “Whether it’s spaghetti and meatballs or lemon chicken and rice, our chef is very creative,” Caroline explains. “Our restaurant has really stepped it up, and the home-cooked meals are a big hit. But of course you’re always going to find the hotdogs and hamburgers, stuff that kids always love.”

Terrain at Brimacombe

To the east of Dagmar, in Orono, is another one of our popular outdoor resorts. Brimacombe has been in operation since 1937, and is a not-for-profit facility which is open to the public. In addition to its traditional ski runs, magic carpet conveyor, snow-making capabilities and even a full service retail store, Brimacombe offers terrain parks for both the beginner and the experienced enthusiast. “We’re one of the bigger ski resorts in Ontario,” states General Manager Mark Rutherford. “We are out on the edge of the Ganaraska forest, so it’s woods as far as the eye can see.”

Whatever activity you choose to pursue, and whatever your skill level, Brimacombe urges people to remember that getting outdoors is what’s important. “We spend the better part of our lives indoors,” Mark says, “or out on the roads stuck in traffic with our daily commutes. When you’re skiing, you’re in nature. You’re getting out and you’re leaving the city behind.”

Like Dagmar, Brimacombe offers beginner lesson packages. “Our Discover Package is for every level,” Mark says, “from the never-ever to those who have been on skis before, but maybe not for a while and want to get their feet wet again.”

Tubing at Lakeridge

If skiing is not your thing, or if perhaps you’re interested in some winter fun with no skills required, why not give tubing a try? In addition to its skiing and snowboarding runs and terrain parks, Lakeridge Ski Resort in Uxbridge offers a tubing park that is fun for all ages.

According to John Tustian, Director of Outdoor Operations, anyone visiting the resort to give tubing a try can expect a really fun ride. “Basically you’re in an inner tube that sits in its own little cover with a plastic bottom,” he says. “The neat part of the whole experience is that you get to ride in your tube up the hill. We have six tubing lanes made with snow walls in between so you will stay in your own lane. You can go in groups, and it’s just a great time.”

He adds, “We all did tobogganing when we were kids. So this is just a little bit more of an exciting ride.”

Given his occupation, it is no surprise that John loves the outdoors in the winter months. “Before I got into this business, certainly I enjoyed winter,” he admits, “but when I got into the business I really enjoyed winter. It’s great to realize that you put a couple of extra layers of clothes on, and you get outside and you’re not cold. If you dress for the weather, it’s fine and it’s fun. Especially if you get an activity where you can hang out with some friends and enjoy the outdoors rather than being cooped up inside.”

The views at our ski resorts are some of the best in Durham. On a clear day, John says that guests can see all the way across Lake Ontario from the top of Lakeridge’s hills. With fresh, winter air and memories to be made, John urges people to venture outside, and experience the outdoors when it’s blanketed in white. “People just need to embrace winter,” he insists. “Get out and check it out. I didn’t start out as some die hard skier. But now skiing has become my favourite activity and winter has become my favourite time.”

Dagmar Ski Resort: 1220 Lakeridge Rd., Uxbridge,, (905) 649-2002
Brimacombe: 4098 Regional Road 9, Orono,, (905) 983-5983
Lakeridge Ski Resort: 790 Chalk Lake Rd., Uxbridge,, (905) 649-2058

Upcoming Events
Ajax Winterfest
February 19
McLean Community Centre
95 Magill Drive, Ajax
For information visit:

2018 Canadian Synchronized Skating Championships
February 23 to 25
Tribute Communities Centre
99 Athol Street East, Oshawa
For information visit:

February 24 and 25
4098 Durham Road 9, Orono
For information visit:

Maple Syrup Festival Purple Woods
March 9 to 11, 14 to 18, 24 to 25 and April 7 to 8
Purple Woods Conservation Area
38 Coates Road East, Oshawa
For information visit:

Chocolate Dreams

By Katie Ryalen

Artisan chocolate. The very words sound magical, and conjure sensations of melt-in-your-mouth glory. Artisan chocolatiers, whether they are emerging or established, know that quality ingredients make a quality product, and that the freedom to experiment lead to some of the most innovative and creative flavours and experiences. Let us introduce you to two of our own chocolatiers who can be found right here in Durham Region.

DesBarres Chocolate

Uxbridge-based DesBarres Chocolate is one of our newer independent artisan chocolatiers, and was founded by husband and wife duo Erik and Ariane Hansen from their very own kitchen counter. “We started looking into making chocolate in late 2013 early 2014 after a lifelong passion of consuming it,” says Erik. “We’ve always been real do-it-yourselfers as a couple, and have thought for a long time about starting a business together.”

It was the bean-to-bar movement in the United States that sparked the Hansens’ interest, and they began to consider importing their own beans as a way of exploring chocolate. “We started looking into not only the ability to be able to do it ourselves,” says Ariane, “but also tasting what was coming out of these other small factories.” It was in this way that the couple was introduced to the idea of bean origins and the different types of flavours that could be found in chocolate. Today, the DesBarres brand can be purchased from local stores like The Passionate Cook, The Second Wedge Brewery and Nexus Coffee. They have even expanded outside of Durham, and can be found in Toronto’s The Candy Bar and Ottawa’s JoJo CoCo.

At the heart of DesBarres is the idea that bean-to-bar methods are a way to ensure that beans are ethically traded. Erik says, “It allows us to feel better about where we’re getting our product. There has been a dark side to the chocolate business, with the practices from both the human rights and the environmental perspectives in the chocolate producing nations. We’re very selective about the cooperatives that we source our beans from for that reason. We want to know that our money is going to support farmers and good practices, both at the human and the environmental management level.”

Ariane and Erik find that processing chocolate is much like wine making, in that the soil, climate, and year-to-year conditions all influence flavour. Erik says, “The same beans can go to different chocolate makers, and because of the variation of techniques, they may carry a range of flavours in the chocolate.” Ariane adds, “One of the things we find so fascinating is that there are a number of spots along the chocolate making process where the flavour of the final product is impacted. The first part is the bean itself, and where it’s grown and how it’s fermented. But once it’s in our hands, there are a number of spots along the process where we can impact the flavour. It’s almost an infinite number of permutations.”

This was a concept the Hansens understood a little about at the beginning of their journey. However, they admit that no one can understand it fully until they start going through the process themselves. “There have been times where we turned out some really horrendous chocolate,” Erik laughs. “It was a real learning process. Some of the beans we had at the beginning were some of the most challenging beans to work with in terms of the complexity of the flavour. But they’re also the beans that wind up giving you the best chocolate in the end.”

But it is that creative process which is one of the most rewarding aspects of being chocolate makers for the Hansens. Erik says, “I think I’m allowed to experiment with about half the number of batches I’m allowed to, because we have a list of products we have to get through.” That experimentation has led to some of DesBarres best chocolate—not least of which is its Black Pepper Cardamom bar, which won gold at the Canadian competition of the International Chocolate Awards, and went on to win bronze in the International Chocolate Awards world final. “This is the most fun of the chocolate making process,” Ariane exclaims. “It is fun to get the flavours out of the bean with the single origins, and to aim for that. But it really is inspiring, the flavour combinations you can come up with.”

Ultimately, DesBarres Chocolate wants you to love your chocolate experience. “You may have your favourite, but the real thrill is exploring and finding the next one,” Erik explains. “So, explore the world with us. Let us know your feedback and we’ll continue to grow together.”

Chocolats Favoris

For a chocolate experience that goes beyond taste alone, may we suggest Chocolats Favoris in Ajax? This Quebec-based retail chocolate store is dedicated to making your chocolate experience nothing less than magical.

“Our mission,” says Marketing and Communications Manager Audrey Boisvert, “is to create magical chocolatey moments with family and friends. For us, everything is about the experiences we create and being able to gather people together through chocolate.”

Founded in 1979 in Quebec City, Chocolats Favoris originally offered Easter chocolate moulds and Valentine’s Day chocolates. Its first innovative launch which revolutionized the image of the chocolate retailer was the ice cream dipped in real chocolate which could be purchased at Chocolats Favoris’ shop. In 2013 the organization’s current president, Dominic Brown, purchased the company. His original intent was to manage it for only a year or two. However, he quickly fell in love with the business, and has remained at the helm ever since.

“What essentially we’re all about is innovating while staying true to our artisan roots,” Audrey says. “Yes, we’re bigger and there is technology to make us more efficient, but everything is created by our chocolate artisans.”

Since its inception, Chocolats Favoris has ventured into different retail opportunities. One of their more recent is an at-home fondue kit that can easily be prepared as an after-dinner treat, or for a more formal gathering. “This is the first time Chocolats Favoris has come into people’s homes instead of waiting for them to come to us to create the experience in our chocolate stores,” Audrey explains. She adds, “We’ve also launched a baking line with chocolate. And we launched a cookbook in French which is gaining a lot of popularity. We hope to launch that cookbook in English in the future.”

At its heart, Chocolats Favoris is dedicated to bringing people back to their childhood. “The experience in the store is very important,” Audrey states. “What we try to do is to make it feel like you’re in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.”

Chocolats Favoris boasts three flavours of chocolate that are exclusive to its stores. Audrey explains, “There is our original milk, our original dark, and dulce de leche. Those flavours are made especially for Chocolats Favoris, so if you love it and you want to buy it, you couldn’t get it anywhere else.” And, a visit to Chocolats Favoris means sampling one of several chef-inspired recipes of—you guessed it—ice cream toppings. “All of our recipes are created by chocolatiers who have training that goes back to European chocolate making,” Audrey says proudly.

Visit Chocolats Favoris in Ajax at 7 Rossland Rd. East. Visit them online at, or call (905) 239-9777.