Like most of us in the decades since the second world war which saw the rapid transformation of agriculture from small family farms to huge industrial agribusinesses, I was feeding my family less and less from food produced locally and more and more from food brought to us from thousands of miles away. Today it is hard to find any Canadian food in the large supermarket where I shop, let alone anything local.
Though the displays of a great variety of food from all over the world is certainly enticing (who of us can resist trying some exotic new fruit ?) eating produce which has spent days in travel is neither healthy nor appetizing. And trucking it to our town releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which we all know must be drastically reduced as soon possible.
I recently read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Harper Collins, 2007) , and was inspired to eat locally as much as possible. I grow a large vegetable garden every summer and freeze much of what I grow, but in Ontario, with our long winters, a vegetable plot is not enough.
Kingston is a medium sized university city with historical roots reaching to the early French regime in Canada. It has some fine limestone Georgian style architecture from the 1840’s. One of these is the City Hall and behind the City Hall in a newly refurbished square is the local farmer’s market, which has existed for nearly two hundred years. This colourful market provides local food all spring, summer and fall as well as local arts and crafts. Often musicians entertain the shoppers and visual artists have long documented the lively scene. But even this wonderful source of local food cannot fill all our needs.
Fortunately a local group Food Down the Road was started by National Farmers Union Local 316, to bring farmers and consumers together. On November 2, 2007, it held a Summit attended by over three hundred people. Thomas Homer-Dixon spoke on “Local Food Systems and Social Resilience”. All day there were workshops on food topics. If you are looking for local honey, for instance, the website will show the apiaries in the local area and where they sell their honey. Such networks, growing fast throughout North America, are called CSAs: Community Supported Agriculture.
Several articulate and well informed local farmers spoke at the food summit. They told how difficult it is to make a decent living on a small family farm these days. What I found remarkable and very moving was their passion for farming and their determination to make it work despite the odds against them. Establishing a viable local food system is a big step toward rewarding farmers fairly.
There is more. CSAs encourage organic farming, reduce use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, conserve soil quality, reduce transport costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Due to corporate control, most food you buy in supermarkets is trucked 1,500-1,800 miles from chain-owned sources thousands of miles away, even when local produce is available. CSA reduces that carbon footprint 100 times!
They also encourage discussion of the 100-mile diet. But that will be another story.
Food for thoughtEmily Dowling's blog Root Radical Rows, Howe Island CSA
CRAFT Kingston (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training in Ontario)
Br. David Andrews, Eating is a Moral Act 2002
Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat 2006
NFU Canada The Farm Crisis 2005, on corporate control
The Nation 11 Sep 06 issue on food summary
Greater Toronto Local Food CSA
Local Food Plus see: principles, why local, certification
Mark Lattanzi's Be a Local Hero CISA in western Massachusetts, other states, USDA info on CSAs
cartoon video The Meatrix y el mismo video en español