Hungry in Timmins? How about a bacon mac-and-cheese burger, or a blueberry basil pita pizza? Or maybe a sweet potato carrot pâté sandwich is more your speed. But save room to satisfy your sweet tooth, because there are banana split eclairs, an orange creamsicle cake, and cotton candy cupcakes for dessert.
Sound delicious? It is. And all of it is freshly made, using local ingredients sourced from producers in Timmins and throughout Northern Ontario. This eclectic mix of mouthwatering menu items can only be the brainchild of Radical Gardens, the one-of-a-kind combination organic garden-farmers market-restaurant launched in 2014 by Brianna Humphrey, who is at the forefront of a food and cultural renaissance in Timmins.
“There’s definitely no harder working crew than my crew, that’s for sure,” Humphrey said. “They work as hard as they can to make sure that we’re only putting out stellar food, and we do as much as we can.”
Her idea started with a 100-square-foot garden on the outskirts of Timmins where she cultivated a variety of crops she would sell at the farmers market and through member shares. An online farmers market followed, and she added products from other agri-food producers from around the North to the list of available items. Then, in 2015, Humphrey opened a restaurant in downtown Timmins where she and her staff prepare fresh, new meals every day, and cater a variety of events with up to 150 people.
To highlight the burgeoning food and drink scene in the North, Radical Gardens regularly holds unique local food-centric events, like the annual Dinner in White — attendees dress in all white and chefs each prepare a course using local ingredients — and the Super Secret Supper Clubs, secret, pop-up themed restaurants. In 2016, they hosted the inaugural Baconfest, a three-day food, music and craft beer festival in downtown Timmins.
Since they launched four years ago, Humphrey has seen an increase in awareness of local food production and an appreciation of quality food and cultural events in Timmins.
“Now you see a lot of growth and change,” Humphrey said. “Maybe not just using local products, but at least there’s change.”
But earning a seat at the Northern Ontario agri-food revival table has not been without its setbacks.
Radical Gardens faced its toughest year in 2016 when the restaurant was targeted nine times by vandals, who smashed windows, stole the cash register, pilfered food, and nearly made off with the farm truck.
That activity was exacerbated by a breakdown of equipment — a broken fridge, a broken hot water heater, broken pipes, a broken furnace — that left Humphrey and her crew scrambling to keep up.
“If we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck,” she joked.
Now, the recent introduction of Bill 148 — provincial legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour — is threatening all she’s worked toward. Layoffs and cutbacks are inevitable, she said, and a restructuring of the company is planned this fall.
Humphrey contends a less resilient business owner would have packed up and quit the business years ago, but she’s determined not to give up. “I’m hoping that we’ll be OK; I just don’t know what that OK will be, because I don’t particularly want to raise my prices by 40 per cent,” she mused. “I don’t want to sell a $14 sandwich — nobody will show up for it.”