We hopped into our photographer’s car one Sunday evening after the Community Butcher Shop closed for the day and threaded through the winding country roads leading to Stoney Lake, where the Walsworths built their cottage.
The evening would be spent with Professors Scott and Kara Walsworth, owners of the Community Butcher Shop, along with their family and friends. With a modest amount of Publican House High Noon warming us and the welcoming and light Ontario breeze, we ventured through the Kawarthas.
We were reminded of the vast community of Peterborough; the lush lands, scenic waterfronts, community gardens and farms in the surrounding areas weave themselves intricately away from our charming downtown.
With the return of students this fall, downtown is more alive than ever. New businesses such as Caffeina add life to the ever-growing culture of our unique town.
Located at 374 George Street North is an experiment in meat; something radical. And yet it is a very old idea that was commonplace at one time. It is a replica of the way your great grandparents bought meat: a farmer at the edge of town raises animals by grazing them on pasture, brings them to the slaughterhouse just down the road, the butcher picks the carcass, cuts them into smaller portions and sells them in town.
With the recent GMO controversy in the United States, where it is not required to label foods with genetically modified organisms, this idea of natural meats is becoming a rarity. When asked why Scott Walsworth chose to pursue the local food movement from his past career as a university professor in Saskatchewan, he told Arthur: “The key advantage of eating local is having control over how your food is raised and treated. A true local food system allows consumers to buy meat directly from the farmer or from a retailer with a close relationship with the farmer.
This relationship is maintained by both farm visits and farmers coming into the shop and exchanging information. As soon as the retail location is further than a short drive from the farm, you lose that connection and you are not eating ‘local’. For that reason we have a strict 50 km rule, making all of our farms a short drive away.”
Walsworth and his wife Kara have a passion for local food sourcing. They are raising four young boys and nourishing them with hormone-free food in a society where it is becoming difficult to discern authentic meat within an industrial meat market.
“It was hard finding meat we were comfortable feeding them. So we started small. We bought a lamb because we wanted to do something more local. We cared about what we were putting in their bodies,” she told Arthur.
When we arrived to Stoney Lake, we hopped in a small boat manned by the Walsworths’ eldest son. At 12, he confidently directed us to get in the boat and sped that baby across the blue, avoiding the giant jutting stones the lake is so aptly named after. We finally docked and set foot on a stony, mossy island nestled amongst other clusters of similar islands.
The freedom with which their boys ran across the land and navigated the waters so self-assuredly painted a picture of a generation growing up with a certain self-awareness of their environment and of their connection to the land. This, paired with how the Walsworths are raising them to have a relationship with food, and specifically meat, indicates an optimistic and holistic future.
These inspiring professors and entrepreneurs provided insight into the disparities in the industries encompassed by the farm-to-table ideology. In caring about this community as they do their own children, they have created employment opportunities and workshops open to the public that better our community.
Exploring the lake on two separate boats, the Walsworth family shared with Arthur and their own staff the pure joy and beauty of the Kawarthas. The rugged geography and navigating through it as respectful participants and observers of the Sacred Land that we inhabit. It served as a reminder that there is a greater, intricate web of life all around us; that every decision we make as we walk this land is a testament.
Interviewing the staff at Community Butcher Shop was evocative of the commonly heard phrase ‘life after Trent’; a looming reality that post-graduates are confronted with. Almost every employee at the shop is a Trent University graduate, further revealing the important connection between campus and downtown businesses.
Grant Salvin, a Trent graduate with a degree in Philosophy and English, spoke to the frustration experienced in finding employment in Peterborough after graduating: “Most grads wind up in the service industry trying to stay in town to make ends meet. I ended up serving downtown, like a lot of my friends, but that’s just what happens… after going to school gaining these skills and spending money at university, you are told your degree doesn’t translate in the job market.
Trying to figure out a path for myself after graduation, my career counselor asked me what I had studied and what my qualifications were. English and Philosophy. They then asked me if I was willing to relocate to Toronto, and you’re almost at the point where you’ll say yes.”
For Salvin and Will Taylor, the apprenticeship at Community Butcher Shop was an employment opportunity that excited them. Taylor, an International Development Studies major, came into the shop with his resume when they weren’t even open. Scott and Kara were not yet in the process of hiring staff, but the two eager young men asked to be kept in mind for the future.
“They’ve been with us since the beginning,” Kara told us, “and we are so blessed to have them. They are such good people; it really contributes to the community dynamic we are all about.”
Sylvie Dansé, an Indigenous Studies and Environmental Studies major at Trent, is also a shining new addition. With an interest in agriculture, she is a fresh face who enjoys the work environment of Community Butcher Shop as well as what they stand for.
Their chef, Kayla Wichrowski, is vegan. This was revealed when we were being jokingly evasive about the photo shoot, teasing the crew that it would involve them getting in the nude and being covered in blood. “You guys would be okay with that right? We’re all meat eaters here.”
“Uh, well,” Wichrowski interjected, “I’m a vegan.” It was very intriguing to us that a vegan would find her values in line with a local butcher shop.
Wichrowski is a graduate from Georgian College in Barrie says she has fallen in love with the beauty of cottage country. When we inquired as to how she could reconcile her veganism with working at a butcher shop, Wichrowski explained that she tastes her recipes but never ingests the meat. “My ideologies are parallel to what Community Butcher Shop is all about; ethical practices and an ideology that vegans can appreciate. It’s the best option if one is going to eat meat, because the animals aren’t force-fed antibiotics or caged,” she told Arthur.
“Our no exception, hyper-local model makes us unique,” says Scott Walsworth, “as far as I know, we are the only butcher shop in Canada sourcing all of our meat from within a 50 km radius. Peterborough is well positioned to serve as a leader in the larger local and progressive food movement: it is surrounded by excellent pasture land and, flowing from Trent University, it has an urban population with an ingrained culture of critical thought, intellectualism, and activism.
There are a lot of other ‘local’ models in town that are bullshit. Other shops (grocery stores and specialized shops) say they are local because they buy boxed meat (not whole animals) from a large food distribution company that promise that it is from somewhere in Ontario.
In my opinion, this is not local because the actual farming practices are not known and the direct connection between the farmer and the retailer is broken.
Still, other retailers claim to be ‘local’ despite selling industrial meat purchased from food distribution companies sourcing from Canada, US, Mexico and Brazil, because they also sell a few items from local farmers when it is convenient. To the detriment of the movement, this is but a token effort aimed at taking advantage of confused consumers, rather than providing meaningful retail support for the local farming community. If anything, it is a hindrance to the movement because it tricks consumers into believing they are part of something progressive.”
What may seem like a humble effort to bring local farm products to town is in fact an intentional act of defiance. It rejects every so-called advance of the modern industrial food system.
The movement avoids feedlots where animals are confined to small pens and cages and fed an unnatural high calorie diet, long grueling transportation, inhumane mass slaughterhouses. It also avoids large multinational companies, food distribution networks and chain grocery stores.
That a strict adherence to traditional animal husbandry and butchering traditions is seen as a radical business model is surely a sign of how much the food system has changed in recent decades. Make no mistake about it, the Community Butcher Shop has waged war on the modern meat industry.
Walsworth comments: “Today a baby animal was pushed into a small cage located in a large warehouse and will live in concentration camp-like conditions, never feeling the sun, never taking a fresh breath of air, never walking on anything but concrete and steel grates, and eating unnatural high calorie gruel. This animal was put there because of us. Big food companies know we will walk into a grocery store and buy it in a few months. The only way to prevent this from happening is to refuse to buy industrial meat. It is that simple. We are responsible for what we eat.”
If animal cruelty does not resonate with you, consider the health implications of eating meat full of growth hormones, dyes, steroids and antibiotics. If that still does not raise concern, consider that confined animals are removed from pasture fields and fed a high calorie corn-based diet which requires much more water to grow, having a greater impact on the environment.
Finally, if you are still unconvinced, consider the boost to the local economy from keeping jobs and money within the community and out of the hands of multinational companies.
The arguments for a traditional, hyperlocal food system are evident, yet the local food revolution is in a David and Goliath battle with the established industrial food system.
“It’s hard to compete with multi-million dollar marketing budgets employing shiny celebrities telling us how tasty the pulled pork is, without mentioning the cages and feedlots,” says Walsworth. And yet the response in Peterborough is growing: “to build a viable, activist-oriented business, I first needed a small city surrounded by excellent pasture fields. Peterborough excels in this regard.
More importantly, I need a city where critical thought and a willingness to challenge the norm was ingrained in the urban culture. I have no doubt that per capita, Peterborough has a large number of cultural and consumer leaders. These are people who think for themselves; people who have decided that mainstream meat is not good enough; people who look around for an alternative, people who walk into my shop and make change possible. Trent University’s long-standing tradition of activism has spilled over into the greater community.”
The shop’s connection to Trent is intentional. “I want to leverage the research, energy and activism that flows from campus. I employ Trent students with a genuine interest in the progressive food movement; we have partnerships with the Trent Market Garden and other units on campus.”
Walsworth also teaches on campus in the School of Business. Trent students and faculty are often spotted in the shop and Walsworth notes that even the president is a regular customer. “I have been very fortunate to have the support of the Trent community. In my mind there is no better place for young activists to hone their skills.”
So where else can you find Community Butcher’s meats? They sell to downtown restaurants and caterers such as Kettle Drums, McThirsty’s and Fresh Dreams. We encourage local businesses to contact local butchers and form relationships that support this model of sustainability within our own initiatives in town.
Students are urged to go into Community Butcher Shop with $5 and see what Scott Walsworth can offer them for a meal, as we guarantee there is always an option if you are on a budget. There have been many times where we’ve been short on grocery funds but do not want to eat Pizza Pockets for dinner. We have walked in with a fiver and walked away with a grand hunk of meat just waiting to be spiced up and grilled.
We encourage parents of these students to purchase gift cards so your kids aren’t buying a packet of Mr. Noodles when they are too stressed out to plan a study meal. From soup bones to broth to marinated fresh meats, there are quick options here that will nourish you and sustain a healthy life at Trent.
As for ‘life after Trent’, with businesses like these growing and expanding, it will take the community’s support to ensure that these establishments thrive so that young people are able to give back and foster the growth of success in something that is entirely our own.
The Peterborough and Kawartha community can only flourish from here, and we are now witnessing the seeds of a mindful food movement that is the necessary spark for a fight against inauthentic, corporate-controlled meats.
When you look around at these lands, what do you see? An ancient tree, a roaring river, dozens of roads leading to waterfronts, stoney beaches, country fields and cliffs, all within immediate reach.
The wildlife and flora of the Kawarthas is expansive, as are the breadth of decisions we can make as autonomous beings. What we put into our bodies actively affects our quality of life. Essentially, Community Butcher Shop advocates humanity and humility over the threat of big industries seeking profit over health. The shop offers a simple solution right in the heart of downtown Peterborough.