I first heard about the Incredible Picnic four years ago. A member of the Department of Agriculture had just come home from a trip to France where they celebrated the country's bounty by having a same-day, nationwide picnic featuring local food and drink. And what better way to herald the flavours of Nova Scotian products than to recreate the event here? So The Incredible Picnic was born---a Select NS event where communities host picnics across the province. Last year an estimated 10,000 people attended the picnic events across Nova Scotia. This year will feature 12 picnics between August and September.
The concept has evolved since the first year: each community now chooses a day that best suits. Halifax's Incredible Picnic will take place this Sunday, August 21, on the waterfront at the Sands at Salter and will include roughly 20 participants. The picnics showcase local meats and seafood, produce, cheese, breads and drink. Attendees are invited to bring their own picnic lunches, but are encouraged to purchase from the producers too---many of whom have created dishes especially for the event. The picnic will also feature demonstrations from the Ecology Action Centre, Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, children's activities and live bands.
The picnic "is a great opportunity for chefs to create dishes using products that are in season; it makes them excited," says Jennifer Reynolds of the department of agriculture. "There are a number of producers involved that don't often get to interact with their customers so they take pleasure in seeing people enjoying their product."
This event is also in part a learning experience. "Buying local is a journey," explains Reynolds. "People are starting to learn what foods are available to them and what's being produced in their area."
The picnic gives producers and chefs the chance to interact with and educate attendees about the many products, from land and sea, available at our fingertips. Organizations such as the EAC and the NS Federation of Agriculture take this education to a higher level, informing the public on issues like how we can shorten the distance from field to plate.
Ditta Kasdan, owner of Dee Dee's Ice Cream says the picnic is for "everyone who loves food," particularly those who are interested in what we eat, where it comes from and how it arrives in our stores and markets. She says the event caters to a large population that doesn't think about where food comes from.
"This event is for people who shop at grocery stores," as opposed to the local farmer's markets, echoes Jennie Dobbs, owner of Morris East.
Reynolds also speaks of the fulfilling experience of getting to know your community. This is another common outlook among this year's participants: the food is important, but the opportunity to share a meal is what really makes it special.
Renée Lavallée, who works under the moniker The Feisty Chef, calls the picnic "a convivial, communal event that anyone and everyone should try to attend.
"It's about bringing people together to try great food," she continues, "and to talk to the farmers, cooks and chefs."
Halifax's Incredible Picnic will certainly be worth the trip. Not only will you have a delectable local lunch, but you'll have fun, be entertained and be educated and will likely meet some new friends while catching up with old ones.