By Rebecca Moase
Maddy Graham was sitting in a classroom at UPEI on April 1.
Like most days, a lot of students had their laptops and phones out, but this day almost every screen was on the same webpage – peiburgerlove.ca.
As the hands on the clock grew closer to 10:30 a.m., Graham and the other students were refreshing their webpage faster and faster.
Then it happened, a list of all 73 burgers and the restaurants participating in Burger Love 2016 began to appear one by one on almost all the screens in the room. Graham’s was not among them.
“My page wouldn’t load because there was so much traffic on the website,” she said.
Everybody gets excited for Burger Love, she said.
“Whether you’re a farmer or a businessman…it’s something that everybody can be a part of.”
Island-wide involvement in the search for the perfect burger is exactly what the organizers of P.E.I. Burger Love campaign hoped to would accomplish when they came up with the idea.
The fine print on a menu inspired Robbie and Melody Dover to create P.E.I. Burger Love, a month-long, Island-wide celebration of P.E.I. beef.
It began in 2008 when the owners of Fresh Media, a marketing company on P.E.I., set out on a culinary adventure, eating at over a dozen restaurants, to find the best burger on P.E.I.
During their travels the couple noticed while lobster and mussels were clearly identified on the menu as being from P.E.I., beef was not. When they asked their servers if the beef was local, many didn’t know.
“That’s when we decided to use our creative talents as owners of Fresh Media…to develop a campaign celebrating the amazing beef we have in our own backyard,” Robbie Dover said in an email.
The first campaign was held from April 1-30, 2011. That year 14 restaurants registered, each creating burgers with unique combinations of toppings. By 2015 there were 60 participating restaurants and 65,068 pounds of beef were sold.
Graham said one of the reasons people get so excited is the unique combinations of toppings on the burgers let people try something new while supporting local producers.
“There’s a lot you can do with a burger.”
Burger Love has inspired Graham to try cooking with new burger toppings at home.
“I would never have thought to put something like cranberry on a burger, but now that I’ve tried it…maybe I’ll do it again.”
While the toppings on the burgers change from year-to year, one thing remains the same, the burgers are always made with 100 per cent Island beef.
Dover said it is a condition restaurants must follow in order to participate.
“They must promise to only use Island beef from an accredited supplier list which is provided by the P.E.I. Cattle Producers.”
Dwayne MacQuarie, the owner of MacQuarrie Meats, is one of the accredited suppliers. The campaign has been a very successful way to promote supporting local producers, he said.
While Burger Love has helped to support small butchers and cattle producers, they are not the only Island producers to benefit from the campaign. Many restaurants use local ingredients as toppings on their burgers, he said.
“Burger Love has also been good for restaurants, cheese producers, people who sell produce, and bakeries.”
Jim Evans is an accredited supplier and owner of Burlington Tender Beef.
The increase in the sale of burgers during P.E.I. Burger love is a sign of the need and the want for local products, he said.
“The farm industry is an integral part of P.E.I.’s economy and as Islanders we should be supporting that.”
As awareness of where food comes from has increased, so has the demand for local beef, he said.
Many people like that when they buy beef locally, they know where it is coming from. Local beef also typically comes from one animal, something that differs from the beef you buy at box stores, he said.
“It could be a blend of meat from 20 different animals…you don’t know,” Evans said. “There is a difference in quality.”
The noticeable difference in the quality of beef used to make the burgers is one of the things Graham likes about Burger Love.
When you bite into a burger, it tastes fresh and homemade, Graham said.
“You can’t just go to McDonalds and get these burgers.”
It’s also nice to know the meat used to make the patties came from a local farmer, and they haven’t been sitting frozen in a box while they were shipped from an unknown location, she said.
“The producer is basically in your back yard. You know that it’s P.E.I beef and that you are supporting local farmers, and you really know where your meat is coming from.”