The iconic Niagara-on-the-Lake Harvest Barn has a new name and with it a new mandate to be more local.
The produce market and bakery has changed its name to Alitura, which is Latin for “to feed or to nourish.” The new sign went up Monday.
Stephanie Reis, co-owner of the transitioning market, said the change was inspired by a reaffirmation during the COVID-19 pandemic of how important it is to support local producers.
“Staying true and supporting local is more important than ever coming out of this,” Reis said in an interview, adding the move is about sticking to the “core values” of the store, but bringing in more locally grown products, increasing sustainability and switching to higher-quality products.
“We're really going to focus even more on community,” she said, noting Alitura will rely heavily on sourcing products from farmers within a 20-kilometre radius of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“So it's going to be even more local, which I'm really excited about and I think all the locals will really enjoy seeing that as well.”
Reis, who also owns Ferox winery with her husband Fabian, said the store will still carry many local favourites like its bakery items, cheese sticks, hot bar and salad bar — only now everything will be made from scratch in-house and nothing from the bakery will be frozen.
“We're going to do our own preserves, do our own hot bar, bakery. We're just going back to the roots,” she said, adding the bakery was once run by Mennonite farmers who focused heavily on selling local crops to area residents.
Reis has also partnered with the owners of Incoho restaurant in St. Catharines, which will bring the farm-to-table experience from their restaurant to the revamped market. Owners Ray Syegco and Selah Schmoll, graduates of Niagara College's culinary management program, were honoured in August with a 30 under 30 feature in Foodservice and Hospitality Magazine.
Reis said the change will not affect the St. Catharines Harvest Barn location, which is under different ownership.
She said some parts of the store will remain similar.
“Of course, there's still going to be some stuff that's going to be the same. I would say the biggest change in the bakery is it's all going to be from scratch and fresh. So there's been a lot of frozen stuff that's going to be no longer,” she said.
She said the transition will be a gradual process, but asks people to be patient as they roll out the new store.
“But towards the end, our vision is to have everything from scratch from the bakery to the hotbar to the soups no longer frozen — all from scratch. We're going to have a reduction in waste from all the produce. No waste, everything's kind of brought to use.”
Her husband Fabian said sustainability is extremely important to them. Ferox received its sustainability certification from the Grape Growers of Ontario this summer, and between Ferox and their partners at Incoho, they aim to bring that same vision to Alitura.
“So not only are we sustainable in the vineyard, through our vineyard practices, but also the winemaking procedures. We want to carry that all throughout the property. Because it's all basically one property — Alitura and Ferox,” he said.
One way they will increase sustainability is to use unsold produce themselves instead of throwing it out, by making preserves and soups.
“And just like Rancourt, when Rancourt changed over to Ferox, that's kind of how you know, Harvest Barn is now converting into Alitura, and we are locals, everyone knows who we are, we're keeping it local. We want quality over quantity.”
He echoed that the transition is “going to take some time, but that's what we're working towards.”
Stephanie said she wants the community to know the ownership will still be local. She said she's been seeing some chatter online, wondering if a large corporate owner might be taking over. But that's not the case.
“Everything's staying local.”