Conference players agree: Ontario farmers can boost local food by focusing on quality, consistency

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham, Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable model for farming in the province. If you'd like to receive a transcript of Elbert's Corner Post address each week, send an email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message.

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Editor’s Note: The Toronto Food Policy Council partners with business and community groups to develop policies and programs promoting food security. To learn more visit the Toronto Food Policy Council website.

April 25, 2003: Farmers, processors, distributors, retailers and chefs participated recently in a conference about local food sponsored by the Toronto Food Policy Council. They came to network, develop a local food cookbook, create an electronic marketplace for local food dubbed "O-Bay" and make the case
for eating local. Toronto's historic Montgomery Inn provided a storied setting.

Retailers cautioned that developing a market based on local food takes time, especially if the local culture still needs to be developed or is dominated by fast food. They questioned if consumers still know what to do with unique products.

They recommended that farmers consider using distributors to
create a steady flow of product, keep their products in the consciousness of more retailers and persuade these distributors to highlight local products on their lists. They were interested in developing guidelines for small growers and urged them to focus on specialties.

Their ideal is to serve people who want to eat well -- the foundation of health. They presented themselves as an alternative to the long distance; "cheap food" system dominated by big box stores and questioned our awareness of the hidden environment and health costs of fast food.

Chefs asked for quality -- meaning fresh -- and for consistency of supply - meaning consistency in every sense of the word. It doesn't matter what size a vegetable is, chefs just want them all to be the same size. They want reliability and convenience of delivery -- meaning a fixed day of the week and delivery definitely between 2:30 and 5:00 p.m. FedEx it if you have to.

Their ideal is to serve the food of the region -- food that reflects local soil and climate, and the history and culture of the district. While chefs were unequivocal in their praise for Ontario vegetables in general, they want food from a specific region, a specific farm that is legendary. While Ontario may have the best of land, a great climate, and reasonable prices, chefs want to make food a bigger part of our traditions and economy and are
convinced that local food is an extra level of service that can win a better price.

Locally produced food has often been equated with cheaper food. Many farmers at farmers markets cater to those who buy in bulk for home processing and canning projects.

There is a much bigger future available to local food. It means replacing the image of food by the bushel at very reasonable prices with cuisine with the farmer's face on it, the chef's expert presentation, and every buyer honored as a connoisseur. Then we will see local food become storied food, a "must have" for all.

For more on the myths about hunger and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a Christian response to hunger visit


Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post is archived on the website of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario: www.christianfarmers.org. To be added to the electronic distribution list of Corner Post, send email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message. To remove your name, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE as the message.