Why I believe in local food…and why the farmer’s market WON’T kill you (anytime)

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It’s kind of funny, I was planning out this post in my head last night, and today something happened that makes it all the more relevant.

As you may have heard, Galen Weston (Chief of Loblaw corp.) was quoted yesterday as saying:

“Farmers’ markets are great. . . ,” Weston began. “One day they’re going to kill some people though….I’m just saying that to be dramatic though,” he quickly added.

While I don’t want to get into the million reasons why he said this and why I don’t think he’s that intelligent, I will say I think it’s pretty self serving but also really transparent. Recent information has the local food industry now growing faster and worth more worldwide than the organic movement. I guess that would scare me if I was the head of a supermarket company. Loblaw corp. has their own organic line, but really, how does a giant chain compete with the farmer’s market? That’s just it. They can’t, and that’s the whole point of what I want to talk about. There’s a fundamental difference in the reason for being between the supermarket and the farmer’s market that deeply impacts my life, your life, and our futures.

Why do I shop at a farmer’s market, grow my own food, and preserve foods in season?

  • Taste! Have you ever tasted a strawberry bought at the grocery store in January? yeah. It’s gross. Frankly, I think a lot of people think they don’t like fruits and veggies, because they’ve been eating out of season nastiness for too long. If you eat a strawberry you picked yourself at the farmer’s field the same day, you will taste what a strawberry is SUPPOSED to taste like! It’s sweet like candy and so flavourful, not sour at all. The same goes for a tomato, a peach and the list goes on. Do I eat bananas in the winter? Sure I do. But I make all my smoothies with fruit that froze in the summer time after I picked it or bought it at a farmer’s market. And it’s totally worth it.
  • Nutrition– Food that is grown in other parts of the world needs to be picked days, or even weeks, before it’s ripe so that it can get to the grocery store where you buy it. The moment anything is picked, the clock starts ticking and valuable vitamins and phytochemicals are lost. As well, many things are treated with ethylene to force them to ripen in transit, like tomatoes, picked when they are still green. Foods at the market are minimally, if at all, processed.
  • Food Safety– this is a big one. We’ve all seen the recent news reports of E. Coli and Salmonella outbreaks, even Listeriosis here in Canada, due to a food system that is broken. I guess this is what Mr. Weston was referring to. But here’s where he’s wrong. When you purchase something from a farmer’s market, you know where it came from! You know the person who grew that item, or perhaps you grew it yourself. The funny thing is, all the reports of contamination in the past 10 years have come from industrial farms that sell exclusively to grocery chains. Many things are grown in countries who do not adhere to the same standards that we do in North America. In fact, in many places it is perfectly acceptable to irrigate with raw sewage. Really? Do you think a quick rinse on your bell pepper is going to clean that off? I’m not leaving out local meat. Canada has far better restrictions on what hormones and drugs can be given to animals than any of the countries we import from, including the US. I don’t eat a ton of meat, but I’ve been told local grass fed beef will change your life.
  • The Environment– Talk about carbon footprint. Yummy grapes in February? Those came from Chile, where they were put on a truck which took them to a boat or a plane, which took them to another truck, to the grocer’s depot, to another truck and finally to you. Also, how many pairs of hands touched those grapes? You might want to wash them again. At the farmer’s market, one person picked those items (probably that morning) and put them on a vehicle from which they are being sold out of to you.

Local farms not only reduce the carbon footprint, but they preserve valuable farm land and uphold good farming practices that keep our environment healthy. When you buy local food it is securing that source of food, which in the event of a global catastrophe, is a pretty important thing to have. When we rely on food from outside sources, we are making ourselves vulnerable to outside influences….. I know you think I’m being dramatic but just wait….

  • The Economy– Maybe I should save another post for this because I could talk for days about the implications of a locally grown food economy. Not only are you supporting your local economy, but sometimes not buying a foreign product does more for that producer than anything. Here’s my best example: In the past few years, the grain quinoa has become quite popular. This grain is grown almost exclusively in Bolivia. At first this was great for the Bolivian farmers! People around the world are buying their product! But soon, Bolivian farmers stopped planting anything but quinoa, after all they were making enough money selling it to buy food to  feed their families. Now several years have passed and Bolivia is in a severe food shortage crisis and people are starving. They aren’t growing what they need to eat.

That’s a simplified example. But you get it. There are other economic reasons that I think I’d like to write on separately: corn, wheat and soy subsidies to be specific.

The bottom line: even if you’re not trying to make any statements, try a local farm market- you’ll have a tasty experience and might find something new! I know I missed a thousand points on why Local is great, but this is my best attempt at a summary.

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