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Tyrone Mills, near Bowmanville east of Toronto, is one of Canada’s oldest operating water-powered mills and is well-known for its doughnuts and fresh apple cider. A majority of Canadians are increasingly wanting to support local, independent businesses, which have been hit hard by the pandemic.RICHARD ROTH PHOTO / COURTESY OF CENTRAL COUNTIES TOURISM

Treat your taste buds to the local bounty that’s available and help businesses, too.

Hands up. How many have tired of online ordering from restaurants and getting food delivered? Exploring the province for its wide variety of food and dining options sounds even more appetizing now, doesn’t it?

Supporting local is certainly resonating. The Ontario government is encouraging people to support local businesses and people are responding favourably. According to one recent survey by Interac Corp., 90 per cent of Ontarians think local businesses in the province have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Also in that poll, 75 per cent of Canadians said the pandemic has made shopping at and supporting local businesses more important to them. And 55 per cent said they are shifting their spending closer to home because of the desire to support local businesses.

“What I have noticed is people are much more conscious of this,” says Robert Shafer, owner and operator of Tyrone Mills.

Located in Tyrone, a small community close to Bowmanville, Ont., east of Toronto, Tyrone Mills is one of Canada’s oldest operating water-powered mills. It was built in 1846 and is still a lumber manufacturing and flour production shop. Famous for its fresh apple cider and doughnuts, Tyrone Mills has also added an outdoor pizza oven. It’s also a cycling hub for people in the region.

“People definitely want to support smaller, independent businesses. I am hearing it all over the place,” Shafer says. “I have been in business 40 years and that has not been the prevailing idea. It was always where you could get it cheapest and fastest. People now see the pain that a lot of small businesses have gone through. So that’s a positive thing this whole lockdown has brought about. Small businesses really have a role to play in the community.”

When it comes to food, there’s increasingly an appetite to learn more about where our food comes from locally, and why farmers do what they do.

Heatherlea Farm Shoppe, located in Caledon, Ont., about an hour northwest of Toronto, is a family-run business that is dedicated to giving its guests a true farm-to-market experience. There they will see cattle roaming and grazing in the fields and horses strutting by, and hear the sounds of chickens in the background when they arrive. Visitors can experience an on-farm butchery and aging vault. The flavours of meat get deeper and more complex as it ages, a process the operators and butchers at Heatherlea are happy to explain.

Heatherlea Farm is a family operation dedicated to raising healthy and happy animals, and create food that is in turn healthy for people. Its store offers butchered items and specialty foods, and its café offers delicious meals made from scratch.BARRY BEST PHOTO / COURTESY OF CENTRAL COUNTIES TOURISM

Their mission is to raise the highest-quality meats from grass-fed animals without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics and make meals for its food shop and café using natural ingredients and local products. Heatherlea’s ethos is founded on transparency, and guests can fully interact with the farmers and staff to learn where their food is really coming from.

Melinda McArthur is part of the family that owns and runs Heatherlea. She says she recently has been seeing a great response from Ontarians who are looking to travel within the province and experience what it has to offer.

“We’re hearing, to no surprise, that people are tired of computer time, Zoom meetings and juggling online school,” she says.

“Talk of mental health for everyone, including children, has definitely increased.”

Experiences that can get us away from screens and closer to our relationship with the planet and tuning into things that stimulate our senses can all help with that.

“You can’t miss the wonderful smells in the store,” McArthur says. “It might even be the first thing you notice. It’s the freshly baked goods, espresso drinks and made-from-scratch meals that will tempt you to grab lunch at the café. Sit outside to enjoy the country atmosphere (and watch the occasional tractor roll by!) or take it to go on your next adventure. There are some incredible local trails that are perfect for your takeout picnic!”

One interesting self-guided tour can take you all the way back to the Prohibition era. It has you stop at landmarks that will teach you about the bootleggers and juice joints of the early 20th century.BARRY BEST PHOTO / COURTESY OF CENTRAL COUNTIES TOURISM

Mrs. Mitchell’s, also located in Mulmur in the northeast corner of Dufferin County, is a charming and renowned local restaurant, another one of these Ontario destinations that’s custom made for a summer drive.

The restaurant opened in an old schoolhouse in 1980 and was named after one of the school’s dedicated teachers. Dining tables sit in a lush garden, surrounded by six-foot hedges, for privacy.

The menu features products sourced locally – starting with a local pinot noir from Windrush Estate Winery, or a bohemian pilsner from Caledon Hills Brewing Company.

For dessert, Sheldon Creek Dairy in Loretto has great chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches. The folks there produce and bottle their milk completely on the farm, maximizing freshness.

And with many of these destinations, there’s a rich back story that accompanies them. One of the best is Temperance and Temptation, a tour that takes you back to Prohibition times. The regions of York Durham Headwaters were the home to bootleggers and juice joints back in the early 20th century.

There are both self-guided and guided tours. Guided tours are on hold because of COVID-19. But the tourism group for the region – yorkdurhamheadwaters.ca – has curated a series of driving podcasts with stops at landmarks that you make along the way that takes you back in time to that rich, albeit illicit and scandalous, history, and the businesses and characters that populated it.

Fun and original, the Temperance and Temptation tour will surprise you, opening up a past and a world you may think never existed in Ontario.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.