Locavore – “a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.”
As I browsed the aisles on my Sunday grocery store expedition today, I took notice of the wide variety of produce available from all over the world. I have access to avocadoes and tomatoes from Mexico, pineapples from Costa Rica and red peppers from Spain. Although certain foods are out of season in Canada, they are in season somewhere else, and as a result we have access to a wide variety of foods 365 days a year.
In the heart of our Canadian winter, the produce aisles can be a little bit depressing - depressing to me anyway. A lot of the food has travelled half way across the world to get to us, and generally, it is not in the best condition. Let’s be honest, you just cannot compare an in-season freshly picked tomato still warm from the heat of the sun, to a sad colourless, flavourless tomato picked halfway across the world.
The globalization of food has changed the way we eat, and ‘eating local’ is a movement that has become trendy in the last few years. As a push back to this globalized way of consuming food, you may have seen promotions to ‘support local’ or ‘eat local’ or come across restaurants that tote they are ‘farm to table’ or follow the ‘100 mile diet.’ It is funny that even when my parents were young 50 years ago, living in their small town of Fergus, ON eating local was just a way of life. Most families had gardens, they grew a lot of their own food, consumed meat and dairy from their local farms and preserved or cellared produce to keep for the winter. Since then, our way of eating and living has changed drastically.
I am not here to say to you, become a locavore - it is the only way. I personally buy bananas, pineapples and avocado etc. I just bought a melon from Peru and a peach from Spain because my three year old threw a tantrum for it. We all do it. What I am here to say is that there are many benefits to consuming local when you can, and it is possible to incorporate locally grown and raised food into your diet throughout the entire year.
So what are some benefits to eating local?
Taste: Food that has been grown locally, hasn’t had to travel as far and generally has better flavour. It is picked at the peak of ripeness and hasn’t ripened in a warehouse or on its way half way across the world.
Nutritional Value: Although some foods are very good at maintaining their nutritional value over long periods of time (carrots, beets, apples) others do not. They are not as nutritious as they would be if they were grown locally and eaten at the peak of freshness.
Supporting our local farmers and local economy.
It is better for the environment.
If a tomato comes from the next side road compared to a tomato picked in Mexico, driven to an airplane, flown here, put on another truck, and maybe another truck to then get to us.
It saves on emissions and lowers the environmental footprint.
It gives you variety in your food! I personally do not eat asparagus until it is in season in May, and holy moly it tastes so good after not eating it for a year. I eat as much as humanely possible until it is out of season and move on to the next seasonal vegetable. Eating seasonally is nutritious and it mixes up your diet. Spice up your life!
Being in the banana belt of Ontario, Niagara residents are pretty darn lucky to live in a place that is so bountiful, particularly in the Summer and Fall. The Farmer’s Market in late summer/early Fall is one of my favourite places. Peaches, Corn and Zucchini! Oh my! The markets are abound with delicious, locally grown food picked just hours before it was sold. Even in the winter (although slightly more difficult) there are ways to source locally grown food!
Here are some great ways to incorporate locally sourced produce 365 days a year –
Join a CSA. CSA stands for community shared agriculture. You can purchase a ‘share’ of a farmer’s harvest in advance and receive a weekly basket with seasonal produce. Many farmer’s offer these in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Some even offer them in the Winter. My family currently has a Winter share with Chez Nous Farms and last week our basket included kale, bok choi, tat soi, mixed salad greens and pea shoots. It is greenhouse grown, and let me tell you it is such a treat in the Winter to have some fresh, vibrant green food. Some CSA’s are sold out well in advance, so you may need to get on a waiting list. Some CSA providers that you can check out in Niagara are Chez Nous Farms in Ridgeway, Rhizome Farms in St. Catharines or Rumar Farms in Fonthill.
Find it in your local grocery store. In the summer, it is generally not too difficult to find locally grown produce. In the winter it can be challenging, but I have recently found Ontario greenhouse grown strawberries, cherry tomatoes, mini cucumbers and mini sweet peppers! Not too shabby. In the winter we have access to cellared local carrots, beets, apples, cabbage and brussel sprouts that keep well over the winter.
Cruise your frozen food aisle. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness and then flash frozen. This maintains their nutritional integrity and offers locally grown produce all year long. I have found Ontario/Canadian grown frozen fruit and veg at Sobeys and even Costco!
Go to a Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market is such an underrated destination for food. Almost every Saturday through the year we go to the market for local produce, eggs, baked goods and meat. It allows you to get to know the people who grow your food. How cool is that?
Preserve! Before we had kids we used to buy a bushel of locally grown San Marzano tomatoes, made them into a sauce and froze it for the winter. In the past couple of years we have not had time, but in coming years hope to do it again! It is such a treat! You can also buy your own fruit/veg at the peak of ripeness and freeze it yourself.
Grow your own! Although a garden can be a lot of work, to grow your own food is such a feeling of accomplishment and you cannot get any fresher than that!
So I challenge you. I challenge you to become more cognizant of where your food is coming from. I challenge you to turn off the grocery store auto-pilot and keep your eyes open for those grown in Ontario foods. They do exist. I challenge you to visit a Farmer’s Market. I challenge you to research a CSA. I challenge you to try something new.
Happy eating my friends!