Thursday, May 10, 2012

Slow Food in Huron: 10 Ways to Support Local Eating

Eating locally means that you support something called a 'food-shed'. A food shed defines an area that is able to provide food for a community or city. The term was first used in the early 20th century to describe the global flow of food, but recently the term foodshed is used to discuss local food systems and efforts to create more sustainable ways of producing and consuming food. 

In Huron and Perth Counties we are blessed with an abundant and widespread food-shed.  The Huron -Perth Farm to Table Campaign provides a detailed outline and map of our food-shed. 

Despite how easy it is to eat locally in our area, I feel most folks need a gentle reminder on how to make this possible.  Most of us still zip around the grocery store buying strawberries in December and garlic from China.  It is sad for me that bananas, oranges, and coconut milk do not grow locally here, or in North America for that matter. Aside from the occasional exotic treat or imported staples, my family aims to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible.  This means stone-fruit and berries in the summer, apples and pears in autumn.  For winter, more of the same, but some has been preserved from the summer harvest.  

I eat organic – so why is local so important?

Produce from your local grocery store travels on average 1500 miles from where it grew to where it will be eaten* – that’s half -way across Canada.  By the time it's on your plate, the nutrient profile of produce (even organic) has greatly declined, and even more importantly, its journey has depleted precious fossil fuels in transport – all so Canadians can have mealy strawberries in January.  
Local food, on the other hand, is more nutrient-dense and wastes far less non-renewable natural resources. Beyond the nutritional and environmental impact of your food traveling a vast geographical distance, honoring your foodshed helps to cultivate respect for the land where you live, the plants and animals that thrive there, and the livelihood and culture indigenous to the community. Disciplining ourselves to source food locally engenders a sense of stewardship for the land where we live rather than the flippant attitudes bred by an overabundance of cheap and nutrient-deficient food grown elsewhere.
More and more, organic is becoming a label that creates excessive costs for small farmers and a disguise for some large producers to feign good intentions.  Don't get me wrong, organic food is usually superior, but the popularity of organics has watered-down quality.  Large corporations are now growing foods 'organically' on factory farms, with no concern for the sustainability of their endeavors.  These are not quality foods.  Quality food can only be raised within the dynamics of a sustainable farm that balances the eco-system of the soil, plants and animals ensuring healthy and nutritious foods for generations to come.  

Where are the boundaries of my foodshed?

There is no exact measurement to define a foodshed – some say it’s a 150 mile radius, others say it’s an easy day's drive from home.  Personally, I think the exact radius of your foodshed is less important than an earnest intention to eat as locally as possible.
For my part, I buy pasture-raised beef, chicken, pork, eggs and lamb from farmers based about  30-80 km from my home (Organic Oasis and Meeting Place Organic Farm).  We have raised vegetable gardens in our back yard, and will buy other produce, butter, maple syrup and honey between the farmers market and a friendly Amish farm store from May to October.   This summer we will be getting our own laying hens and will be starting a winter garden to have greens, kale, swiss chard, spinach, collards most of the winter.  I make a strong effort to purchase fish that is wild caught in Canada.  And during fishing season, Bayfield is a short drive to find local fresh water fish.
I will say that some foods are worth importing for their superior quality – we buy Real Salt from Idado, ghee from New Jersey, and coffee beans grown from far away lands – but I do so consciously, not with abandon.  While many may argue that I dip way outside of my food-shed, overall I feel we don’t recklessly eat food flown and trucked in from around the world (though there’s certainly room for improvement.)
Now I know you may be grumbling about the feasibility of eating mostly local foods year-round because it is no longer a 'one-stop shop', you don't have time, and it will be more expensive.  I disagree.  When I factor in the the cost of gas to drive to Amulree, Lucknow and Dungannon my grocery bill is still less then one stop at Zehrs or Food Basics.  And because we live in a harsher climate I think we have an even greater responsibility to respect our local food-shed as devoutly as possible. Yes, it will take more creative thinking and more work, but root cellars are due for a revival, and in the meantime, deep freezers and dehydrators are a wonder of modern technology.  
10 Ways to Support Your Local Foodshed

1. Find out what grows locally, seasonally AND sustainably in your area. This may seem simple, but this is where you need to look the farmer in the eye and ASK.  When I moved back to this area and jumped into the real food movement I was amazed by some of the produce that grows in our region - figs, artichokes, and garlic - shocking I know, since you only ever see the version from China and Italy.  On the flip side, just because something is local does not give it full license to be awesome.  There are stands at our local farmers' market that get plenty of produce from the Toronto Food Terminal.  Local berries sprayed with pesticides are out too.   Check out Real Food Resources on my blog for an extensive list of farm stores, CSAs in Huron-Perth and Bruce Counties.

2. Go to the farmer's markets as often as possible. We have markets from Stratford to Dungannon to Blyth. Sometimes on different days of the week.  

3. Grow your own. Don't have room? No problem. Use a fence for vertical gardening for beans and peas, containers and window boxes for everything else.  Convert your lawn. Find or start a community garden in your neighbourhood.  Feeling inspired? Raise a couple of chickens or goats where by-laws allow.  

4. Get a farm box. CSA (community-supported agriculture) and other programs like the Huron Good Food Box help bring the fruits and veggies of your foodshed and convenience together for the mutual benefits of the farmers and consumers.

5. Visit local farms and get to know your farmers.  Seeing where and how your food is grown and raised will forever change the way you feel about what you eat.  Conversely, if you haven’t seen important documentaries such as Food Inc. and Fresh, you will be both horrified by how the the food for the masses is produced and grateful that you eat from your food-shed.  

6. Buy seasonal produce in bulk when it is abundant, then preserve by canning/fermenting, freezing, and drying for the winter. This is especially important for Canadians where our climate makes year-round local produce more difficult. Every August I will put in an order for organic plums and peaches from Organic Oasis. We enjoy them fresh for a few days and then freeze the rest to enjoy stewed plums and peach smoothies in the winter.  My parents' apple orchard has quite possibly reached organic status (they don't tend to the trees at all anymore) and there were a few apples there last year, and Meeting Place Organic Farms had a few bushels and apple butter for us.  

7. Eliminate non-essential items grown out of your food shed. I don’t know about you, but I NEED my imported organic dark chocolate, and coconut milk.  But I can happily drink organic Ontario wine rather than Chilean or Spanish vino.  Point is, be picky about what you will import.

8. Aim to reduce non-foodshed item to 10% or less of your consumption. While this may seem extreme, so is the state of our planet’s health.  For everyone I can think of that eats local neighborhood eggs, there are 3 more people eating at McDonald's and buying groceries at Wal-Mart.  We’ve got to strike a balance.

9. Find businesses (restaurants, cafes, markets) that support local food, and frequent them.  Voting with your dollar goes a long way to encourage businesses to support the local foodshed economy.  Again, in Huron County this is easy to do.  Thyme on 21, The Benmiller Inn, J's Bistro, Bayfield's Little Inn, and The Black Dog Pub offer up local, and seasonal food. 

10. Speak up. This all may seem like common sense to you. But just flip through your Facebook news feed or a stroll through a conventional supermarket, and you will be reminded that not everyone sees things from the eyes of a locavore.  Host dinners, and tell your guests about the local farms that grew their food.  Take your friends on a farmer’s market outing or on a trip to meet your pastured hens. Spread the word and support your food-shed.  One day, it may be the only food you’ve got.

Some sites that can help you find your foodshed resources:

So, I’m curious…
How wide is your foodshed? 
How much of your food do you get locally? 
For what items do you make an exception? 

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