Sunday, March 22, 2009

Visiting the Jones Popcorn Farm (near Point Pelee)

We love popcorn but not the convenient microwavable pouches. The real stuff. We don't want pricey miniscule gourmet packages or the pre-popped popcorn you find in the potato chip section of your grocery store. This makes popcorn hard-to-find in Canada. 

We've had some luck at Costco in the United States. We got popcorn in Florida and Detroit. We bought as much as 30 pounds. Once we found bottles of Orville Redenbacher popcorn near our home. We were very happy.

With our supply exhausted, we searched online for nearby places with our favourite snack.

Popcorn Doesn't Grow On Trees
You've seen images of large-scale automated factory farms that destroy our environment but make money for the corporate owners. Have you seen the other extreme, a family farm specializing in a specialty crop. You probably don't think of Canada as a popcorn growing country but we found an Ontario farm near picturesque Point Pelee National Park, which is near Windsor/Detroit.

Jones Popcorn is located in Blytheswood, which is near Canada's tomato capital Leamington. The farm grows three types of popcorn 
  1. butterfly-shaped: the light, fluffy popcorn you find in movie theatres ("normal" popcorn)
  2. mushroom-shaped: sturdier and rounder for hot air poppers and caramelizing
  3. ruby red: dark red on the outside and as white as snow when popped (until you add butter)
This farm does everything onsite from planting to packaging.

The Excitement
If you like thrill rides or action movies, the tranquility and fresh air of a farm may bore you (especially during the off-season). You might even be outside a cell phone zone.

You won't suffer long. Buying popcorn is quick. You pick a type, pick a size and pay. You're done in five minutes. The speed hardly warrants an eight hour round-trip from Toronto, though. 

Personal Touch
Luckily, farmer Russell Jones spent over an hour giving us a tour and answering our numerous questions. Russell clearly loves popcorn and farming. This shows in his enthusiasm and license plate: P-O-P-C-O-R-N.  You're instantly confident that you're getting top grade popcorn made as well as possible.

We found out
  • the best way to prepare popcorn
  • why rodents leave raw popcorn alone
  • how coconut oil makes popcorn taste and look better
  • the reason for buying fresh popcorn seed for planting
Corn is Corn?
We learned that popcorn is especially difficult to grow. Besides the whims of nature, the long growing season brings the risk of damage by frost. You can learn more on the Jones Popcorn website or by asking when you visit.

Worth A Visit?
Definitely, if you're in the area. Point Pelee is certainly worth seeing (same latitude as Rome and northern California). If you're visiting during the off-season, it's a good idea to phone ahead. 

You leave feeling enthusiastic about popcorn. We just wish there were free samples so we could taste the different types. We stocked up on butterfly and ruby-red popcorn. We got special salt with the consistency of fine flour. This type sticks much better than table salt and has a nicer taste. We then doubled our order.

We had ruby red last night. Delicious!

We are what we eat. So eat and share what's made with love and care.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Comparing WestJet With Air Canada

I just used WestJet for the first time. Here's an unscientific comparison with Air Canada from an infrequent flyer. Both flights were roundtrips from Toronto to Calgary within the last three weeks.

Seat Selection
Air Canada assigns seats in advance. WestJet doesn't. You pick your seats online up to 24 hours in advance. This is more democratic but a drag if you're travelling without online access.

Winner: tie (each approach has merits and drawbacks)

WestJet boarded right on schedule. What's more, everyone boards at once. I thought this would create a bottleneck but this process worked extremely well: different parts of the plane filled at the same time.

Air Canada uses a class system and then fills the plane from the rear. If you're not Platinum Ultra-Elite Preferred and seated near the front of the plane, you wait a long time to board.

Winner: WestJet wins for being democratic

WestJet departed right on time. Air Canada departed 30 minutes late due to deicing, which is a good reason.

Winner: tie

In Flight
Air Canada is the clear winner with free headsets and movies. While going, ancient ceiling-mounted tube screens were used. While returning, passengers got their own widescreen displays.

WestJet has free commercial tv channels but charges $3 for headsets and $6 for movies. The low resolution screen uses the obsolete 4:3 format. On the return flight, I couldn't change channels from annoying Fox News (I like the one showing where we are on a map) and the screen beside me didn't work. There was no Off switch :(

WestJet had a restricted selection of meals for sale. Only nonvegetarian sandwiches --- luckily I brought my own. Air Canada had much more choice, including soup and pizza.

Winner: Air Canada

Return Flight
Flights were late for no apparent reason. The weather was fine (sunny and dry).

Tie: both losers

Attendants were pleasant and competent on both airlines. WestJet provided less service in French. Routine messages were prerecorded. The pilot's message was English only. Air Canada was bilingual, not that this mattered to me.

There's no clear winner. Each airline has strengths and weaknesses. Air Canada feels more professional and complete. WestJet feels more democratic and flexible.

For my next flight, I'll choose based on a combination of price and flight times. Maybe I should pick a different airline for each direction :)

Thanks to the competition, we all win.