Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/Manager of Board & Committee Services
This past week was Local Food Week. In Ontario we are blessed with a vibrant local food culture. This is a happy marriage between amazing entrepreneurial farmers and local processors, and enthusiastic local foodies. At its best, the local food culture aims to bring farmers and eaters together in a much more direct relationship.
This fosters greater appreciation for the food, where and how it was grown, and by whom. This local food culture thrives in part because in Ontario we have such diverse agricultural products being produced close to urban populations. This is the case not only in southwestern Ontario, but in all areas where farmland and settled populations are close together. Local food and agri-tourism opportunities are growing across the province.
Although June may not be the most abundant time of year for local food, this is a perfect time to start thinking about local food, and planning to enjoy the abundance that is ramping up already. Farmers Markets are opening now, and for those that run all year, they may add more days a week through the summer months. Spring foods like fiddleheads, asparagus and rhubarb are something to anticipate the year round, and nothing compares to a fresh June Ontario strawberry.
But it is not only the classic seasonal foods that are available from local producers. We have a thriving greenhouse vegetable sector that produces excellent local produce year-round. Local dairy, eggs and meat products are available year round too. Innovative producers are also able to extend the seasons for many local foods, bringing things to market earlier than you might expect, and keeping them available fresh for longer in the season.
There are so many different ways to get local food and to enjoy the process too. You can buy directly from the farm, you can join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), a farmer cooperative, or a local food buying club. Some of these will have regular food boxes, while some are more like an online ordering system, so see what options are available in your area and what suits your family best.
The farming community is well aware of the negative impacts that can result when eaters are disconnected from the source of their food. Misconceptions, misunderstandings, and worst of all, deep mistrust can result when the reality of food production and processing are too far removed from eaters. As the demographics in Canada are changing, more and more eaters are a generation or two removed from any direct family connection with farming. New ways to bridge that divide are vital to keeping a strong relationship between eaters and farmers.
Local food at its best is about more than just food, it is about relationships and experiences too. The vibrancy of the local food culture in Ontario is a clear indication that urban and rural eaters alike are interested in having a positive relationship with farmers, and are willing to spend the extra dollars for good quality food, and a pleasant experience to go with it. A Saturday morning trip to a farmers market, a day out at a pick-your-own farm, a visit to a local vineyard, a local food bike-tour, or fresh local bread delivered to the door, are all amazing food experiences. With local food the experience can be as important as the food itself.