Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Joining Forces for Local Food

Thanks to a tip from Canadiun, a fellow blogger, I learned yesterday of a story that renews my faith. Five supermarket owners in southern Ontario have cut the cord of their franchiser, Sobeys, and formed a co-op that allows them to provide local food to their customers.

The CBC reports that Dale Kropf, one of the supermarket owners, was particularly troubled by the fact that his license with Sobeys wouldn't allow him to buy local meat. "Most of our beef was Alberta beef. Chicken and pork could be U.S., so to me, that was a concern that, you know, we've got all these farmers in our back yard," Kropf says.

Kropf says Sobeys did permit franchisees to buy local fruit and vegetables, but items that don't grow in Canada or were out-of-season came in big boxes from a centralized distribution point. He says co-op members can now control the quality of their produce, and the group has hired a buyer to hand-pick fresh fruit and vegetables at the food terminal in Toronto.

"He actually looks at the quality. If the quality isn't good, we don't have it [in our store]. So before we would just get it. We'd put it out and it would either sell or it wouldn't sell," says Kropf. "Green beans is a prime example where we're now selling more green beans than we've ever sold before because they are No. 1 quality."

As Canadiun notes, we should all be doing what we can to support local farmers and artisanal producers. That could mean shopping at a farmers market or, better yet, setting up your own neighbourhood cooperative in collaboration with local suppliers.

Mostly, though, we can all start by simply THINKING about where our food comes from, and taking a moment to consider how it got there. If you're in Ontario and your meat came from Alberta, when was it slaughtered? How did it arrive in Ontario? How much processing was necessary for the food to make the journey? If blueberries grow in the area where you live, why should you be forced to buy berries that came from Chile? When we all start thinking about and asking the right questions, we will be in good shape to start demanding change.

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