It’s harvest time: Backyard Bounties links consumers to farms and fresh, local food

ARTHUR – It started with eggs.

Back in March, when the pandemic was new and life was uncertain, Nicole McReynolds saw a Facebook post by someone selling eggs.

A gardener by choice and a rural girl by birth, it got her thinking about the pending planting season and the new challenge for farmers of getting produce to customers with farmers’ markets closed.

So she started the website as a virtual farmer’s market that lists farms in southern Ontario and links to their websites, where customers can place orders and arrange pick-up.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said in an interview on Aug. 27.

“I didn’t know how to build a website, but I figured it out.”

She subscribed “to all the farm pages I could find,” and added their information, gradually building the site until it was ready to launch.

That was April and McReynolds hoped she might get 100 followers.

“So far, we have 4,700 members,” she said.

“A lot of people wanted this so bad and many are now shopping at farms regularly. And the farmers love it. It’s brought them customers.”

NICOLE McREYNOLDS (Submitted image)

McReynolds is a little bowled over by the success.

She first was focused on farms in Wellington County, then added neighbouring municipalities Dufferin and Waterloo, and eventually all of southern Ontario – because the internet knows no boundaries and “local” depends on where you are.

The website quickly spawned a Facebook group Backyard Bounties of Southern Ontario and that’s where most of her time is spent right now – monitoring comments and posting replies.

There’s also an Instagram account, backyard_bounties.

Her background is in cooking and occasionally a farmer will give her some produce and she’ll create a dish and post the recipe on the website.

“I’ll make something and feature it on a page, so people know what to do with it,” she said.

Cooking and preserving locally-grown food is as important as growing it, she said.

Inspired by the strong, positive reaction to the website, McReynolds has plans to add a YouTube channel and is currently making a video tour of her own backyard garden in Arthur as she gets to know her camera.

“Once I get good at it, I want to tour different farms, talk to the farmers, and see what they grow. Everyone wants to see the farms their food is coming from,” she said.

For McReynolds, this is a passion project.

“I make no money from this. I just want to help people,” she said.

“That’s the gift for me. And I had no idea it would become a resource like this. It almost feels like I was meant to do this.”

But in the bigger picture, it’s to help farmers and educate shoppers about making healthy food choices.

“Local produce can cost a bit more (than a regular grocery store), but when you see it and taste it, you can see why,” said McReynolds.

“I want to get as many people eating healthy and supporting farmers as I can.”