Words and Photos Heather Goldsworthy
Ask a group of people to define ‘Local Food’ and you’ll get a variety of answers. For some it means food produced within 50km of their home, for others Ontario-grown or Canadian-grown fits the bill. What they do agree on is the belief that what we choose to put on our plates makes a big impact on our communities, environment, economy, and health.
The Georgian Bay region has a rich agricultural heritage that plays a big part in our economy and there is room to grow. If every household in Ontario spent $10 per week on local (Ontario) food the result would be $2.4 billion into our local economy. Keep that money circulating and it grows to $3.6 billion and 10,000 new jobs. That’s no small potatoes.
Farmers are our land stewards and supporting those who understand the importance of sustainable farming techniques helps to preserve and maintain our farmland, water and green space. Healthy soil produces healthy food. Food picked at peak ripeness and with shorter time between harvest and table means less nutrient loss and more flavourful produce.
Farm Markets can be found along many of the major routes throughout Simcoe and Grey counties making them a convenient option for stocking up on your way home or en route to the cottage. While some exclusively sell produce from their own farms, many also carry products from other producers within the region.
Focused on selling seasonal ingredients some markets, such as Currie’s Farm Market and Fernwood Farms, are open Spring through Fall while others like Goldsmith’s Orchard and Giffen’s Country Market remain open year-round. From produce, eggs, dairy and locally-raised meat to baked goods, pre-made meals and preserves– farm markets are a great way to get fresh ingredients, learn more about what is grown in the region and discover locally made treats.
Sharing that commitment to supporting local producers are food co-operatives such as the Farm to Table Market and The Barn Co-operative. Open year-round and run by folks passionate about local fare and sustainable food systems, co-ops provide smaller farms an outlet to get their products into the baskets of more people while offering convenient shopping for consumers.
Making the trip to a specialized shop is well worth it. There is nothing quite like the intoxicating aroma when walking into a bakery like Collingwood Bread Co. and purchasing a still-warm loaf made with organic, Ontario-grown grain. Buying meat from a butcher, like Black Angus Fine Meats & Game, or cheese from The Cheese Gallery offers the added benefit of knowledgeable staff who can provide information about their suppliers and they often carry cuts and varieties from smaller, local producers that you won’t find at the big box grocers.
For those ready to make a longer-term buying commitment, weekly CSA produce baskets are a great option. CSA stands for Community Shared Agriculture (or Community Supported Agriculture). Members purchase a share of the farmer’s crop prior to the growing season commencing. This allows the farmer to purchase seeds, supplies and cover the costs of production for the season.
Membership not only provides the benefit of fresh, healthy food but the chance to connect directly with the farmer so you know exactly how your food is grown. Purchasing a CSA share ensures farms receive the upfront capital they need to stay afloat which is especially important for young farmers getting into the market—a key part in ensuring the longevity of our local food system.
In Southern Georgian Bay the CSA growing season runs roughly from July through October and, as demand increases, some farms are beginning to offer winter CSA’s. The crops grown, length of season and size and cost of shares vary from farm to farm. A complete directory of CSA’s in Ontario along with some helpful tips about how to choose the CSA program that is right for you can be found at csafarms.ca.
Some CSA farms, including Kolapore Gardens and Sideroad Farms, can also be found at the farmers’ markets. This is a great opportunity to talk to them about their farming techniques and try some of their produce before committing to purchasing a share.
Many towns in our region, including Collingwood, Stayner, Creemore, Thornbury and Meaford, host weekly Farmers’ Markets from late May through to Thanksgiving. Farmers’ Markets provide a vibrant, social atmosphere and a chance to buy directly from the producer, learn about how our food is grown, and connect with other community members through a shared love of food.
Workplaces, health care facilities and schools are an often overlooked opportunity to incorporate more local food. Ask about their food procurement policies and request that more regionally-grown produce be added to the menu. When booking a conference or luncheon look to caterers, like Culinary Designs, Sol Kitchen and Men with Knives, who’s menus feature local and seasonal fare.
Our region boasts an impressive number of restaurants, cafes and caterers that have made a commitment to showcasing local ingredients. Many note their suppliers on their website or menus but not all do so ask your server about where they buy their food from.
One way to find locally-minded Chefs is to look for Feast ON designated establishments. Feast ON is a criteria-based certification program that recognizes restaurants, like Azzurra, Bruce Wine Bar, Culinary Designs and Casero Kitchen Table, who spend a minimum of 25% of their annual food and beverage receipts on Ontario-produced food and beverage.
Another great tool for finding local food is the Simcoe County Farm Fresh website which includes a comprehensive farm and food directory and information about our food systems.
Simple changes in the way we look at food and spend our dollars will make a big impact on our health, economy and environment. The more we purchase and ask for locally-produced food the more we will receive and that is just good for everyone.
What will you put on your plate today? |E|
Heather Goldsworthy is a freelance photographer based in Georgian Bay. Her work explores our food culture and systems. Visit Heather’s website at imageobscura.com