Food + Drink

Buying Local: A Better Shopping Model?

Buying locally is something of a hot topic that has gained popularity in recent years. Food produced locally is great-tasting, fresh, good-for-you, and can support employment in your area. Additionally, the production of local food can quickly be altered to respond to local tastes and demands. The Danforth is a vibrant neighbourhood whose population has certain culinary preferences. For one, there is a demand for local (and fresh) food. Just look at the number of households in this neck of the woods which have their own vegetable garden.        


Let’s look at the benefits of buying locally:


  1. For starters, there’s the subsequent creation of jobs for Ontarians that comes with supporting farmers and businesses who sell their goods. 


  1. As it stands, the majority of our produce is imported. As a result, Torontonians have, on average, access to only about three days’ supply of fresh produce at any given time. Greater access to local produce will mean that more produce is available for a longer amount of time. Not to mention that local food is fresher and therefore tastes better.


  1. Let’s not forget environmental factors. Buying locally helps to sustain Ontario’s farmland which, in turn, helps to preserve biodiversity (that is, the variety of life which exists on Earth). It also aids the environment by reducing the amount of transportation it takes to bring food products into Canada from other parts of the globe.


That being said, there is more than one side to every argument, and the same is true of whether or not to buy locally. Some potential downsides to purchasing locally grown or harvested foods are as follows:


  1. First, there is the issue of seasonality. Of the fruits and vegetables grown in Ontario, few are available all (or, nearly all) year round. Sweet potatoes, rutabaga, lettuce, mushrooms, and apples are examples of Ontario-grown produce which can be purchased in nearly every month of the year. Grapes, cherries, blueberries—all three of which are high in antioxidants and can help your body fight off diseases—as well as eggplant, green peas, and zucchini, however, are available only in a rather limited window.


  1. While greenhouses can be utilized during non-peak season, their use means that out-of-season produce may be pricier. With food prices generally on the rise, this added cost can pose a problem. 


  1. While eating locally does have environmental benefits, it seems to also have a few potential downsides, environmentally speaking. While the carbon dioxide emissions that arise from food transportation can be reduced by buying locally, there are other factors which also contribute to food-related climate concerns. For instance, much of the impact that food production has on the climate comes from non-carbon dioxide emissions, namely, nitrous oxide and methane emissions. Emissions from nitrous oxide, for instance, come from nitrogen fertilizer. In addition, the use of greenhouses contributes to increased energy usage and, therefore, to increased emissions.


Should you choose to buy locally, there are a number of avenues that you can take. Farmers markets are a great option. Ontario’s first farmers market started in Kingston in 1780 and the prevalence of these markets has steadily increased in the over 200 years since. From East Lynn Farmers’ Market, to Withrow Park Farmers’ Market, to the annual Taste of the Danforth, there are plenty of nearby opportunities to sample wholesome, healthy, and locally sourced cuisine and ingredients.   


If you are looking for a year-round option, there are a number of grocery stores and food stalls in the Danforth area that you can visit to buy healthy, tasty food, all while supporting Ontario’s growers. One such place is The Big Carrot. According to their website, The Big Carrot makes a “commitment to local food”; that is, it buys from local producers whenever possible. It is also committed to food that is natural and non-GMO.   


Another place that is fairly close to home is Fresh from the Farm. Located on Donlands, north of Danforth, Fresh from the Farm has been around since 1996. According to their website, Fresh from the Farm offers drug- and hormone-free meats, produce, eggs, and dairy—all sourced from Amish and Mennonite farms around Ontario. Owners Jacqui and Tim Schmucker have been in business for twenty-one years and have been getting their wares from these local farms since the beginning.   


When asked if she noticed any competition between her store and other, larger retailers, Jacqui confirmed that the competition was definitely evident. “When we started, there were few people around doing fair trade, buying from Amish and Mennonite farmers . . . [the meat was] really good quality, grown with no drugs or hormones. Lately, with mass production, the large grocery stores are taking over.” In keeping with this, a 2014 survey was conducted in Peterborough in order to gauge the reaction of consumers on buying locally. This survey concluded that consumers believe that the lack of access to local food in larger grocery stores is the major impediment to those consumers buying locally.


Many of her customers seem to genuinely care about buying locally and supporting businesses such as Fresh from the Farm. However, there are other customers whom she occasionally sees, who believe that ease of access takes precedence. According to Jacqui, “there are other customers who say, ‘I can just get this at Longo’s,’” simply because, for them, it is easier to get to. There are still many devoted customers who return to Fresh from the Farm time and again. Jacqui says, “my customers prefer to buy locally, and they support us.”

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